Kevin Mattson offers a good analysis of the core difference in foreign policy philosophy between Obama and Romney in the wake of Monday's debate:
For all their seeming consensus, the two candidates represent two distinct political and intellectual traditions that were carved out during our post-World War II past. Obama’s foreign policy touchstone is the work of the Cold War liberal Reinhold Niebuhr. In “The Irony of American History” (1952), Niebuhr presented a vision of America’s role in the world tempered by his doctrine of sin and his deep sense of tragedy. Niebuhr’s central paradox, as his biographer Richard Fox points out, was that “human beings bore responsibility for their actions despite the inevitability of the sins they would commit.” Holding an ironic disposition could force Americans to battle the spread of communism while rejecting naive optimism in favor of a sense of humility and circumspection. It probably comes as no surprise that Niebuhr became an early critic of America’s entry into Vietnam. Overextension of American power was just as dangerous to Niebuhr as denying that we had enemies in the world. Such was the lesson of Niebuhr’s Christian realism.
Obama has ingested his Niebuhr, and it shows in various foreign policy areas. It animates the so-called “lead from behind” doctrine (a term an Obama adviser used in an interview with the New Yorker) and his continued faith that we must hold open discussions even with enemies like Iran. It animates his belief that America should not act alone in the world but build alliances – the sort of alliances his predecessor George W. Bush eschewed. The resultant view of American power is: Yes, America can stand for good abroad but must be cautious and act with a sense of humility. Obama has channeled his inner-Niebuhr ever since he made ending the Iraq War so central to his foreign policy.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, projects a dangerous philosophy that America can reshape history to its liking. Throughout the campaign, Romney has tried to depict Obama as tentative and almost embarrassed by American power. Last night, he reiterated his bizarre charge that Obama went on an “apology tour” in the Middle East. Romney last night talked more about “peace” than about war, but in his key statement on foreign policy, an Oct. 8 address at the Virginia Military Institute, he talked up a president’s right and duty “to use America’s great power to shape history,” and cited the need for “confidence in our cause” and “resolve in our might.”
The whole thing is well worth reading.