Obama's words are inspirational, but if anything will be learned from the Bush administration, it is that leadership must run deeper than rhetoric. Berlin's freedom was won with blood and treasure. It was secured neither with withdrawals nor unilateral disarmament.
Consistency matters. Obama has yet to recognize that grand strategy cannot be as ephemeral as public opinion. Polls measure short-term desires, not long-term wisdom. After the devastation of World War I, Britons wanted no more war. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich convinced he had fulfilled their wishes, but his diplomacy only emboldened his enemies. The American public punished Harry S. Truman for sending troops to die in Korea. Today he is remembered as among the greatest presidents, and deservedly so, as any juxtaposition between North and South Korea attests.
We must work with our allies, but we also must recognize that multilateralism comes with a price. Coalitions can dilute effectiveness. The European concept of multilateralism is Washington's obeisance to European positions. Western Europe exists in a bubble of stability and affluence, unable to fathom how dangerous extremist ideology in Tehran and Pyongyang can be. Multilateral organizations are not the answer; at best, they are ineffective soap boxes, at worst cesspools of venality. Rose petals and well-digging have never stopped bombs, racism or genocide. A strong military has.
Obama says, "Let us remember this history." Let us hope he first learns it. Leadership is about more than rhetoric.