I have heard this comparison before, but it’s worth repeating here.
In a lot of ways, Obama is America’s Fabius Maximus.
Back in the old days, before Julius Caesar and whatnot, the Roman military was super, super macho. You just advanced on the enemy and pounded the shit out of them until they surrendered. And this worked pretty great for a pretty long time, because there were a lot of Romans, they were well trained, and they just kept coming.
But then Hannibal Barca came along and crossed the Alps. And Hannibal was not stupid. Hannibal never committed to a pitched battle he didn’t think he could win. He evaded and evaded the Romans until he had them where he wanted them – and then he kicked the everliving shit out of them.
Because the Romans always thought they could win. Always. They were the Romans. Winning was what they did. They were the big winners, every time. And because they always thought that, they kept losing to Hannibal.
Hannibal almost took Rome itself. The Romans, desperate, appointed Fabius Maximus as their dictator. And Fabius did things very differently.
Fabius fought like Hannibal. He evaded pitched battles, and he fought conservatively, trying to contain Hannibal’s forces and drag them into a long, slow war of attrition, exhausting them over time, because Hannibal had no easy access to more reinforcements. He’d crossed the Alps. He was stuck here. You just had to avoid another devastating battle.
This is where “Fabian Warfare” comes from – you don’t fight the enemy. You exhaust them, picking them off one by one and disrupting their operations until they don’t want to fight anymore. It takes the calm, long view of leadership, rather than the immediate, short-term view of battles.
This worked quite well. For a while.
Because the Romans FUCKING HATED IT.
This wasn’t macho! This wasn’t brave! This wasn’t Roman! This was cowardly. They started calling Fabius “Cunctator” – meaning “lingerer” – out of sheer disdain for his leadership. (It didn’t help that Fabius also had internal political enemies undermining every single thing they did.)
Tired of this, the Romans brashly dismissed Fabius. They installed new leadership, who would fight the old way, the Roman way, and Make Rome Great Again.
The Romans then met Hannibal at the Battle of Cannae – and their whole army got absolutely, completely annihilated. Cannae is, to this day, generally considered to be the single greatest defeat in Roman history, and one of the worst military losses of all time. Hannibal and Cannae would go on to haunt the minds of Romans for generations.
After that, Fabius’s conservatism and his caution didn’t look so bad. The term “Cunctator” stopped being an insult and became a phrase of respect.
So here we are. A cautious, conservative leader who takes the reins in a period of great turmoil; a leader who focuses on the long term and refuses to commit to immediate fights; a leader who doesn’t react quickly enough to internal political enemies undermining his efforts; a leader whose style and character is disdained and discarded in exchange for a new style of tough, masculine leadership, the old way of doing things.
Obama Cunctator. And many a Cannae await us.