Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Colin Gray’s 40 maxims on strategy: 3 big reasons the Americans screwed up in Iraq

40 Maxims on Strategy would be a much better title for Gray’s book than the actual one, which is Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace and Strategy. I was put off by that title but bought the book after I saw Gen. Mattis recommend it. It is good stuff. Here are some of the ...

betancourt/Flickr
betancourt/Flickr
betancourt/Flickr

40 Maxims on Strategy would be a much better title for Gray's book than the actual one, which is Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace and Strategy. I was put off by that title but bought the book after I saw Gen. Mattis recommend it.

It is good stuff. Here are some of the things I underlined:

The socio-cultural context has been emphasized here because it has been, and remains, the prime area of strategic weakness in the behavior of the U.S. superpower.
(p. 5)

40 Maxims on Strategy would be a much better title for Gray’s book than the actual one, which is Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace and Strategy. I was put off by that title but bought the book after I saw Gen. Mattis recommend it.

It is good stuff. Here are some of the things I underlined:

The socio-cultural context has been emphasized here because it has been, and remains, the prime area of strategic weakness in the behavior of the U.S. superpower.
(p. 5)

… strategy must convert one currency (military behavior) into another (political effect).
(p. 11)

Competent strategy is all but impossible in the absence of a continuous dialogue between policymakers and soldiers.
(p. 12)

Tom again: These aren’t the only reasons, of course. But they are a good start.

Gray also made me think I should go back and read Thucydides again. Last time I used a tiny print Penguin Classic edition because I was reading it on my commute on the Metro. This time I think I will try the big fat Landmark edition with all the maps, which I have lying around somewhere.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

More from Foreign Policy

A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Lessons for the Next War

Twelve experts weigh in on how to prevent, deter, and—if necessary—fight the next conflict.

An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse

Not planning for the possibility of disintegration betrays a dangerous lack of imagination.

An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.
An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine

The artillery-fired cluster munitions could be lethal to Russian troops—and Ukrainian civilians.

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol  January 8, 2009 in Washington.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington.

Congrats, You’re a Member of Congress. Now Listen Up.

Some brief foreign-policy advice for the newest members of the U.S. legislature.