Ryan Prior: Romney vs. Niebuhr





Ryan Prior is a college correspondent for USA Today and has previously written for David Frum’s blog at Newsweek and the Daily Beast

Last week’s announcement that former World Bank president and U.S. Treasury official Robert Zoellick would lead Mitt Romney’s foreign-policy transition team rankled hawkish conservatives, who fear that the credentialed realist might find his way to becoming secretary of state. Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post blogger and outlet for neoconservative unease, projected: “Zoellick … couldn’t be a worse match for Romney.”
 
The response to what should have been an uncontroversial appointment has been revealing. Despite the backlash, or more likely because of it, the move has prompted conservative skeptics of Romney’s Bush-era foreign policy boilerplate to give the campaign a second look. Several commentators, including Gideon Rachman and Jacob Heilbrunn, latched onto the news as a sign that Romney was interested in forging a different path.
 
So far Romney’s foreign-policy rhetoric has resonated with few beyond the GOP’s knee-jerk hawkish contingent, which is apparently satisfied by Romney’s awkward efforts to portray Obama as someone “with an apology on his lips and doubt in his heart.” Romney recently told the VFW, “if you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I am not your president. You have that president today.” But the apologizer-in-chief rhetoric and the emphasis on Obama’s “weakness” and Romney’s imagined strength find no footing because there’s no major foreign-policy disaster to attach them to. Republicans have painted Democrats this way for a generation. But Obama simply does not have that naïve “liberal” view Romney accuses him of.
 
If Romney wants to speak the right language in critiquing Obama’s foreign policy, he’d be wise to read up on Reinhold Niebuhr, whom the president has described as his favorite philosopher...



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