Has Obama Learned the Folly of 'Multilateralism'?

As for the daring Navy SEAL rescue of Captain Phillips, once again we demonstrated that nothing quite matches the brutal efficiency of the American military. As David Ignatius aptly put it: "Just as the policy mavens were beginning to debate elaborate political-military strategies for dealing with the Somali pirates, we were reminded that the best solution is sometimes the simplest and most direct -- in this case the sniper's rifle." And, he might have added, one which requires no meeting of the UN Security Council or consultation with our allies.

The greater lesson, one which must be relearned from America's infancy, is that great powers which fail to assert the freedom of the seas find themselves in continual peril. Even the New York Times could find the message after recollecting the story of the Barbary pirates:

But Somali piracy is not an isolated problem. It's the latest symptom of what afflicts an utterly failed state -- a free-for-all on land that has consumed the country since the central government imploded in 1991. As any warlord there can tell you, the violence is almost always about cash. "We just want the money" is their mantra.

If that sounds like the 1800s, it also invites talk of solving the problem the same way: pound the bravado out of the pirates by taking the battle to them where it hurts most -- on shore. But any effort to wipe out Somali pirate dens like Xarardheere or Eyl immediately conjures up the ghost of "Black Hawk Down," the episode in 1993 when clan militiamen in flip-flops killed 18 American soldiers. Until America can get over that, and until the world can put Somalia together as a nation, another solution suggests itself: just steer clear -- way clear, like 500 miles plus -- of Somalia's seas.

In his remarks on Monday, the president once again resorted to promising multilateral action to deal with the threat of piracy. The rub, as always, will come when our allies shrug their collective shoulders and we must, once again, act to defend both our and our friends' security interests.

So if the president is in a reflective mood, perhaps he will grasp that the rhetoric of multilateralism and the Left's fetish of running down America do not get him very far. It might even embolden our foes (as when North Korea shot a missile while Obama talked disarmament).

What has worked historically and what continues to offer the best hope for success is bolstering American military might and demonstrating resolve -- making clear our intentions and impressing upon friend and foe alike that if multilateralism does not achieve the desired result promptly, the U.S. intends to defend our interests and those of our allies by acting on its own. If multilateralism, and the painstaking process of reaching consensus, impedes prompt action to defend the security of the U.S. and its allies, then the price may be too steep. And if multilateralism necessitates that the president denigrate our accomplishments and moral standing then it is counterproductive, and not simply a waste of time.

The president has seen how multilateralism works in practice. Perhaps it will guide his actions and inform his speeches as he settles into his role as commander-in-chief. What sounds good on the campaign trail or in the halls of Harvard doesn't necessarily work in the Oval Office. We can only hope the president is, as he says, not "naive" and comes to recognize this simple reality. Then he can begin to conform his words to his actions and provide clarity to friends and enemies alike.

That has usually served our country well.