Obama “the Delayer”

A little while back, this blog opened a post as follows:

“It was said about Quintus Fabius Maximus, Roman dictator during the invasion of Hannibal, that ”Unus homo nobis cunctando restituit rem”—”By stalling a single man preserved our state”.

Fabius earned this praise, and his moniker “the delayer”, by resisting the famous Roman urge for aggression, and instead pursuing a policy of avoiding battle with Hannibal’s forces in order to prevent the destruction of Rome’s military capabilities. Eventually Fabius was overcome by a camp of more aggressive populists, which lead to catastrophic Roman defeats at Lake Trasamine and Cannea. But until that point Fabius’ tactics had gained Rome precious time, and Rome’s subsequent pursuit of Fabian policies ultimately left Hannibal no choice but to break off his Italian campaign and return to Carthage.

Though the stakes today are entirely different, Obama’s approach to Syria has been characterized by similar ‘Fabian tactics’.”

Browsing realclearworld yesterday, I saw the same historical analogy pop up here:

“The American strategy has failed. But is it Obama’s fault? It’s quite possible that Turkey represented the only viable option for American diplomats. But one of the key features of US foreign policy in the Middle East was the tendency to wait. Obama may well deserve the nickname “Cunctator,” Latin for “the Delayer.” The name first arose as an insult against the Roman Emperor Fabius Maximus, who refused to confront Hannibal in an open battle during the Second Punic War. Maximus had to weather harsh criticism at home, as Romans preferred blood-and-glory warfare over postponement tactics. In the end, however, Maximus’ strategy succeeded and the agnomen turned into a recognition of strategic wisdom.”

This underscores the relevance of thinking of Obama through the Fabian paradigm. This is not merely to say that Obama’s policies have been characterized by carefulness. There is also no doubt that, as turned out the case for Fabius, Obama hopes that his ultra-rational, cautious tactics will become a favorable part of his legacy, and earn him the praise of future historians. Of course it is much in doubt whether in Obama’s case this will turn out the way he hopes.


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