At first, the Roman Emperor Nero was very much like Bill Clinton:
They were both mass entertainers: They both loved to perform in front of audiences. They were both charismatic and at first wildly popular. They presided over peace and an economic boom.
Eventually crises erupted around the world. Palestine exploded in rebellion for Nero (sounds familiar). Clinton failed to prevent genocide in Rwanda, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and the economic advice of his administration brought ruin to the Russian people. He failed to bring peace to the Holy Land too. But no one back home in Imperial Rome (sorry, Washington) cared.
Nero, like Clinton loved show business. Clinton brought Hollywood glitz – and sleaze – to Washington. There were the girl friends. That was pure Nero.
Nero adored show business and fancied himself the Michael Jackson of the ancient world. But eventually the scandals and bungles got too much. Nero presided over the burning of Rome: Then he burned hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Christians. Only Waco and its cultists burned under Clinton but it was a horrible enough little scandal.
The Romans were luckier – and wiser – than modern America. Nero, after committing suicide – was succeeded by the wise and restrained Vespasian. We got George W. Bush.
Vespasian finished a war he did not start in the Middle East – yet again in Palestine – with total and merciless victory. Bush waged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and contrived to totally bungle both of them. The idea of empire was getting a bad name again.
After yet another unfortunate short era of scandal and murderous rule under Domitian, the Romans arranged to have a century of really good emperors again from Trajan to Marcus Aurelius.
Trajan set the standard by withdrawing Rome from Eastern Europe and the deeper Middle East. He pulled the Roman Army out of what is today Iraq and Romania. He refused to start any new wars in Syria, and flatly refused to “liberate” or “defend” Germany, Poland or Ukraine. He was convinced it wasn’t Rome’s business.
Instead we got Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Rome flourished after Vespasian and Domitian because the hereditary principle was abandoned. Sons of emperors were not allowed to succeed their father’s. The next time it happened under Commodus (played by Joachim Phoenix memorably in the hokum movie “Gladiator”) it proved to be a very bad idea indeed.
With Hillary Clinton poised to succeed George W. Bush after a gap of only eight years, we are getting ready to replace a Nero or a Domitian with a Commodus far more quickly.
In Ancient Rome, there were plenty of warning signs that the bad and feckless “sons” and family heirs – Caligula, Nero, Domitian and eventually Commodus – were very bad news indeed. But no one had the courage or simple initiative to s to tweak the succession and say “No.”
Rome, as the British libertine and wit Lord Robert Boothby liked to say 50 years ago, had a couple of centuries of perfectly enjoyable decadence before it collapsed. The bungling British prime ministers of the 1930s, culminating on Neville Chamberlain, achieved the same imperial collapse in less than a decade, Boothby pointed out.
One wonders what he would have said about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Martin Sieff is an editor at Sputnik, the Russian-owned news organization. He is the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East (2008), Gathering Storm (2014) and Cycles of Change: The Three Great Eras of American History and the Coming Crisis that will Lead to the Fourth (2014). Follow Martin on: @MartinSieff