Omnium consensu capax imperii nisi imperasset. -- Tacitus
Tacitus immortalized the otherwise extremely forgettable emperor Galba this way: "No one would have doubted his ability to command if he had never been emperor." (Galba was one of the three emperors between Nero and Vespasian.) Everyone agreed that Nero was a bad man and a bad emperor; most agreed that Vespasian at least provided competent government once again. But despite Galba's delusions of grandeur, I wonder if the Roman Empire would have been substantially different if Fortune or Ambition had never plucked him from obscurity and brought him to prominence for a few months before dropping him. Maybe he talked a lot about transformational change and demanded unpopular sacrifices.
It must have felt a little like watching children play a made-up game, one of those with constantly evolving rules and no winners, to the political wonks of the first century. It certainly feels like that today. So we are apparently going to experiment, as Rome did before us, with massive cuts in areas such as defense. Or would the proper word be "defaulting?" I'm not sure, I'm really just an ordinary citizen who is appalled by the leadership deficit coming out of Washington. I wonder how many more Benghazi-style attacks our outposts will see. It's nice to know that the Senate has confirmed a man to command our military who feels that Israel is the real problem in the Middle East, who has to be slipped a note to inform him he misspoke, and then misunderstands the note. That will send a strong message that America means business.
As I was watching Argo with Steve last Friday, I was enraged by the weak America portrayed there: an America where it was in doubt whether a handful of endangered State Department employees were worth the risk to rescue. Enraged also, of course, at the regime that oppressed our people without fear of reprisal, because it held our citizens hostage. I wanted to see America swoop down on them in military might like an avenging eagle, but of course it was a movie about patience and subterfuge. And Carter was president, not Reagan. Patience and subterfuge were about the only things available to us in that situation, and even they were in doubt.
At least our citizens didn't die, completely abandoned by those sworn to protect them. Even with as little leadership as he provided during that time, Carter is looking positively noble compared to our current executive.