Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Classic Quotable: Livy on CVE Wannabes

"Classic Quotable: Livy on CVE Wannabes," publicdiplomacycouncil.org

Sunday, August 28th 2016
Looking back on a year at the Public Affairs Section at the American Embassy in Kabul, I realize that two things could jar my diplomatic calm, my sangfroid.  Make me hot under the collar.  Torque my jaws. 

One was people in Washington who sent us advice, as in, “you can win the war by taking my suggestions (and doing the hard work).”  They were modest in not revealing how they would then take the credit for what we achieved.  These were the “countering violent extremism wannabes” who preferred life in Washington rather than at a PRT in Afghanistan.  Theodore Roosevelt knew the type -- “critics” not “in the arena.”

The other was the “war tourists” visiting Afghanistan for a few days.  I usually think of young Congressional staff or junior people on foreign policy task forces.  They met the Ambassador and high Afghan officials, helicoptered around the country, and rode in convoys protected by our troops.  What’s not to like?

Imagine my gratified surprise, then, when I came across this quote from the Roman historian Livy [Titus Livius, 59 BC-17 AD] in Book 44 of his History of Rome.  The passage quoted the Roman consul and general Lucius Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus [229 BC-160 BC].  Here’s the section that caught my attention:

[11] I am not one of those who think that commanders ought never to receive advice; on the contrary, I should deem that man more proud than wise, who did everything of his own single judgment. What then is my opinion?

[12] That commanders should be counselled, chiefly, by persons of known talent; by those, especially, who are skilled in the art of war, and who have been taught by experience; and next, by those who are present at the scene of action, who see the country, who see the enemy; who see the advantages that occasions offer, and who, embarked, as it were, in the same ship, are sharers of the danger.

[13] If, therefore, anyone thinks himself qualified to give advice respecting the war which I am to conduct, which may prove advantageous to the public, let him not refuse his assistance to the state, but let him come with me into Macedonia. He shall be furnished by me with a ship, a horse, a tent; and even with his travelling charges.

[14] But if he thinks this too much trouble, and prefers the repose of a city life to the toils of war, let him not, on land, assume the office of a pilot. The city, in itself, furnishes abundance of topics for conversation;

[15] let it confine its passion for talking, and rest assured, that we shall be content with such councils as shall be framed within our camp.

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