Obama’s UN speech: Return of the neocons?

In his second annual address to the U.N. General Assembly, Obama spoke more directly than he has previously about the importance of human rights and democracy in ensuring a stable world economy and global security. His words evoked those of his predecessor, George W. Bush, whose emphasis on promoting democracy once drew Obama’s criticism.

The speech marks a shift in emphasis for Obama, who early in his presidency appeared to play down the importance of human rights and democracy in foreign policy, focusing instead on the “mutual interests” of nations in promoting U.S. economic and national security goals. The administration’s attempts to promote human rights discreetly have been criticized as ineffective.

Obama’s democracy agenda, as one adviser called it, will seek to encourage economic and political reforms carried out from within countries, namely through civil society groups that the administration intends to strengthen.

The approach contrasts with the Bush administration’s “freedom agenda,” which went beyond supporting grass-roots efforts to include direct outside influence on oppressive governments through regime change resolutions, sharp rhetoric, and, in the case of Iraq, an invasion.