Here's his argument, if you want to check it out.I strongly dispute this. Cleopatra was playing the geo-political game on extreme difficulty with virtually no external allys of note, there was literally no one or nobody that could’ve been put in her position and been likely to succeed without Rome being sucked into a time vortex by Alien Space Bats.
Obviously read the whole article to get his argument but here's his thesis paragraph:
And I won’t bury the lede here: Cleopatra, it seems to me, chose the interests of her dynasty – (and her own personal power) over those of Egypt whenever there was a choice and then failed to secure either of those things. Remember, we don’t have a lot in the way of sketches of Cleopatra’s character (and what we have is often hostile); apart from a predilection to learn languages and to value education, it’s hard to know what Cleopatra liked. But we can see her strategic decisions, and I think those speak to a ruler who evidently was unwilling or unable to reform Egypt’s ailing internal governance (admittedly ruined by generations of relatively poor rule), but who shoveled the resources she had into risky gambles for greater power outside of Egypt, all of which failed. That doesn’t necessarily make Cleopatra a terrible ruler, or even the worst Ptolemaic ruler, but I think it does, on balance, make her a fairly poor ruler, or at best a mediocre one.
You are kind of right in that Cleopatra could not succeed in the position she was in. I think what you miss though is that this was a position of her own creation. Egypt did not have to get absorbed into the empire during her rule, just as it had not done so during the rule of Auletes or anyone between him and Ptolemy X Alexander. And Egypt's direct absorption into the empire is wholly unique for Octavian's foreign policy in the east and imperial Rome's eastern foreign policy until the middle of the 1st century. None of the other client rulers of the east were absorbed into the Roman Empire by Augustus, and there were plenty of them (and all of them had sided with Antony, though crucially none had thrown in everything to his cause. They kept at least some of their options open). The only other example of this in the period of the civil wars is Pontus, and for similar reasons as Cleopatra's fate-Pharnaces made a similar mistake Cleopatra did.
Cleopatra made a gamble that she did not have to make, made a serious of super risky decisions that were not necessary (but in theory had a high reward were they to pay off). They were unwise gambles, and so she lost her kingdom and her life. We know rulers in her position (being a foreign monarch in a far, far weaker position to Rome in the east) could have succeeded (read: survived) in that position because most of them did so, largely because they bowed to reality and accepted their position as clients in their relationship to Rome. Cleopatra, like Pharnaces, had loftier ambitions than that, but lacked the political skills or resources to pull it off.
Anyway, he addresses this in the blog:
And here is where the normal argument is that Cleopatra can’t be faulted because the position of an monarch in the Eastern Mediterranean trying to survive the chaotic Roman civil wars was an impossible one, to which the obvious counter example suggests itself: Cleopatra’s own local rival Herod. Herod backed Antonius too, but unlike Cleopatra who was a reckless gambler strategically, he was cautious and kept his options open and so when Antonius lost, Herod was in a position to be able to bargain with Octavian and keep his throne, his life and his dynasty. This was not an impossible needle to thread – though it was doubtless very difficult – but it seems to have required a degree of caution that Cleopatra lacked. The irony is that Herod certainly seems in the sources a much less talented fellow than Cleopatra, just more cautious, though certainly no less ruthless.
For Cleopatra’s gamble, then, what was the payoff? It was certainly not a better deal for the Egyptians. Instead, what Antonius eventually promised her – the ‘Donations of Alexandria’ – were huge chunks of Roman territory: Cyprus, Cilicia, Cyrenaica, Syria and Armenia, with Cleopatra’s children also getting titles as rulers of Media and Parthia which Antonius presumably hoped to conquer but hadn’t. Actually reassembling those territories would have recreated a kingdom on the core combined Ptolemaic and Seleucid territories, the closest thing to reconstituting Alexander’s empire that anyone had done since the end of the fourth century.
And I think we need to understand that this is what Cleopatra – cash-strapped, debasing the currency – is buying with the wealth of Egypt: an empire outside of Egypt. By spending her money backing Antonius first against Parthia and then against Octavian, she’s hoping to buy a renewed Macedonian Empire. There are a lot of things she could have spent that wealth on. She could have tried to rebuild an Egyptian army worth the name, or engaged in actual legitimacy building in Egypt, or simply stabilized the currency. She doesn’t do those things: she has money in her pocket and so she gambles it on empire.
And loses. Again. Now our sources for the Battle of Actium (31) are not great; they cannot agree, for instance, on how many ships were present and of course they are uniformly hostile to Cleopatra. Nevertheless there are some things that are pretty clear: Antonius’ key supporters recognized almost immediately that having Cleopatra with the combined land-and-naval force was a liability. They also seem generally to have opposed her military judgment, which given that Cleopatra has, at this point, mishandled every army and fleet she has ever touched, seems reasonable. But Cleopatra doesn’t seem to have wanted to leave and given the extent of her support, Antonius could hardly send her away. Her insistence on staying motivated the defections of several of Antonius’ key supporters, both Roman but also some of his client kings. Cleopatra also pushed Antonius to formally divorce Octavia, a political misstep that empower Octavian’s PR machine in Italy. In short, as in Rome in 46-4 and as in Alexandria in 51-49, Cleopatra, while charming, intelligent and eloquent, seems to have been quite bad at the basics of managing difficult politics, alienating people Antonius needed to not alienate just as her pre sence in Rome alienated people Caesar needed to not alienate. ... I find it striking at this point that Antonius and Cleopatra return to Egypt after the battle and, as far as we can tell, make no effort to prepare for Octavian’s inevitable invasion. Antonius makes some desultory efforts en route to gather some of his remaining Roman forces (these fail), but Cleopatra doesn’t seem to have, for instance, attempted to raise an Egyptian army to defend Egypt. Cleopatra spends the rest of 31 trying to negotiate with Octavian, but makes no effort to prepare a defense of Egypt or even to raise a meaningful army which might serve as a bargaining tool. Crucially, and I think this serves as a rather grim final word on Cleopatra’s efforts – however substantial they may have been – to woo the Egyptian people. Even with a foreign invader on Egypt’s doorstep, there’s no evidence of any native Egyptian rallying to Cleopatra’s cause.