"(O)ur power alone," said Obama, "cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please." Rather, "our power grows through its prudent use." While a repudiation of neoconservatism, these ideas are fully consistent with the traditional conservatism of the Founding Fathers.
Proceeding on to the wars in which we are now engaged, the new president declared, "We'll begin responsibly to leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan."
That "hard-earned peace in Afghanistan" echoes Ike on Korea, 1953. And, "leave Iraq to its people" sounds like Nixon seeking "peace with honor" as he brought the 525,000 American soldiers home.
To implacable enemies like al-Qaida, Obama declared, "You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you." But to authoritarian and dictatorial regimes with which we are not at war, he offered, "We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."
This is not Winston Churchill's "victory at all costs!" nor JFK's "we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe ... ." Nor is it George W. Bush's Second Inaugural "ending tyranny in our world." It is rather the sober statement of a president who understands that his country, great as she is, is overextended and there needs to be a retreat from empire.
"As much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which the nation relies," said Obama, as he began to recite the values on which America depends, "honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old. These thing are true. ... What is demanded ... is a return to these truths." Again, Reagan comes to mind.
"What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility, a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties ... ."
None of this is to suggest the new president is some born-again conservative; and there is much in his speech to argue he is not.
But this inaugural was the work of a mature and serious man who knows his county is in deep water, who seems to understand what got us there and who appreciates that, on some things, the right has indeed been right from the beginning.