Barack Obama is planning to deliver an important foreign policy speech on Tuesday, aides to Obama just told me.
The speech is going to be billed as a comprehensive, substantive proposal for improving American’s damaged international standing and fortifying its security by dealing more proactively with failed states.
I got to talk a little bit about it with Samantha Power, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author on the subject of genocide and an informal advisor to Mr. Obama’s campaign who is helping to write the speech.
“We’re going to hear something very unusual on the left, which is a genuine pride in what America can be again,” she told me. “It’s a bigger story about failing states. It’s not a regional story. It’s more freedom from fear and freedom from war.”
Drafts of the speech, she said, call for a return to “legitimacy and competence” as the two pillars upon which America should rebuild its standing in the world and fortify its national security.
Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton confirmed that the speech would be delivered on Tuesday, but made a point to say that it was but one of many major policy addresses in the works.
Another of Obama’s foreign policy advisors said that the speech will “lay out his vision of where American leadership needs to take the country in the 21st century to protect its interests and the American people.”
The speech will also deal with “priorities,” said the advisor, who said it would “start with Iraq and go from there.”
The advisor added that the vision is “uniquely Obama and can be said by Obama.” The point, the advisor said, is to demonstrate that “Obama has a uniquely international background. He is American first and is proud of America and is proud of what only America can do.”
Power has been advising Obama on foreign policy since the campaign started, and worked in his Senate office as what she called a “big think” role between 2005 and 2006 as part of a Council on Foreign Relations fellowship. Talking about the speech, she told me that drafts of the upcoming speech reflect Obama’s “alluring pragmatism,” and added that it would be followed by several, more detailed addresses on how to deal with specific challenges, including failed states and nuclear proliferation.
Drafts of the major address, which Power was working on with Obama’s foreign policy team and his chief speechwriter, Jon Favreau, argue that “respect” is the essential currency in conducting effective foreign policy, and that the foreign policy blunders and embarrassments of the Bush administration have weakened the nation’s hand in influencing world affairs.
“When he talks about restoring American’s standing in the world,” Power said, “it’s born of a very clear-eyed, almost cold understanding that in these international bodies we will not get what we want — we will not get the solutions we need if we do not have respect.”
Ms. Power said that drafts of the speech make the case that national security will be strengthened by a greater respect for America in “Africa, where people join rebel movements, and in countries where people are joining terrorist groups.”
Power also contrasted what she said was Obama’s effort to look forward with the foreign policy attitudes of his Democratic rivals John Edwards and Hillary Clinton, who she suggested was stuck in a 1990s view of the world, when American influence was much greater.
“Edwards is less prone to this than Hillary,” she said, adding “Let’s be clear, those tools that we got away with by the skin of our teeth are not the tools that are going to work in the 21st century.”
While many of the Democratic candidates, and especially Mr. Edwards, have made a restoration of international respect for American a lynchpin of their foreign policy philosophies, Power argued that Obama was the only candidate who intended to use the respect as an instrument of change.
The other candidates, Power said, called for “respect for respect’s sake.”
Obama, who was a state Senator from Illinois two years ago, has been the subject of criticism from rival campaigns about his inexperience on foreign policy matters. The series of policy addresses, presumably, represents an effort to put those concerns to rest.
UPDATE: Samantha Power asked me to clarify that her comments about Clinton and Edwards are her personal opinion as a professor of US foreign policy, and that she was not speaking in her capacity as an advisor to the Obama campaign.