Symbolism is incredibly important. When Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an "Evil Empire," the reverberations within the East Bloc went far beyond what Reagan's own supporters realized. Likewise, the moral clarity evident in Reagan standing before the Berlin Wall and declaring, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" did as much as tens of millions of dollars poured into influence operations aimed at the Soviet bloc. Nor can anyone forget the symbolism of East Germans, with hand and hammer, tearing down that symbol of oppression.
Alas, Pres. Barack Obama's decision not to celebrate one of the seminal events of the 20th century--an episode that illustrates the victory of freedom over totalitarianism and peace through strength--is also replete with symbolism. Just as Reagan's advisers had no idea just how much his rhetoric would reverberate, I'm afraid that Obama does not understand how important his refusal to attend commemoration events will be, not only to those still suffering under the yoke of oppression, but also to adversaries who see American isolation and weakness as a phenomenon to be exploited.
Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at AEI.