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Breaking down the essays

From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
The worldviews of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are clearly very different. Romney harks back to some of the policies of Ronald Reagan, particularly regarding increased defense spending. Obama, meanwhile stresses diplomacy and exudes confidence in his own potential powers of persuasion with world leaders. Though it remains to be seen how Obama would react if his diplomacy is rebuffed and he doesn't quite get what he wants from world leaders.

One clear difference between Obama's and Romney's essays: the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Obama mentions it quite high up and vows a "patient" and "personal commitment" to the process should he be elected president. Romney, however, never specifically mentions it. Instead Romney writes: "Yet the jihad is much broader than any one nation, or even several nations. It is broader than the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, or that between the Israelis and the Palestinians."

Romney maintains the Republican line with regard to some facets of his energy independence policy, specifically on his support for drilling in ANWR, and with his criticism of the United Nations.  But he is not an isolationist and not necessarily a unilateralist.

He and Obama actually agree that the UN needs sweeping reform. Both candidates, in their clear attempts to show support for Israel, cite the UN Human Rights Council's passing of multiple resolutions condemning what they say are Israel's human rights violations, but being far less outspoken on worldwide human rights atrocities, particularly in Darfur.

Also, Romney only discusses Afghanistan with the context of discussing Iraq. It's always, "Afghanistan and Iraq" or vice-versa. Obama goes through what he would do about the specific conflict in Afghanistan, which Romney does not touch on by itself. Clearly, since Romney does not want to remove troops, or soldiers, from Iraq, he wants to link Iraq and Afghanistan as part of his foreign policy. Obama, on the other hand, sees them as independent of each other.

A final key difference is how they structure their essays -- and choose how to open and close them. Romney bookends his with writing about divisiveness in Washington on foreign policy – between what he calls "realists" and "neoconservatives." It's not clear which camp he's in, but maybe that's his point – that his policy is the right one and is a compromise between the two.

Obama, as has become his trademark, tries to use words like "vision" and "hope" and "trust" to convey his message. In fact, Obama uses "vision" or "envision" four times in his essay, Romney uses it twice; Obama uses "hope" three times, Romney none; but "trust" takes the cake: Obama employs it five times, while Romney does not use the word a single time. Obama also talks about "America at its best" and regaining "trust" and "faith" around the globe. His closing line: "This is our moment to renew the trust and faith of our people -- and all people -- in an America that battles immediate evils, promotes an ultimate good, and leads the world once more."