Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Gray and strategy (III): Not using time in warfare? Then it may be used against you

I was glad to see Gray in his 17th essay tackle time as an issue in warfare. This was something that I puzzled about in Iraq but never really felt I came to understand. In the first two years of the war I had the sense that time was wasting, that opportunities were passing by ...

Biblio Archives/Library Archives/Flickr
Biblio Archives/Library Archives/Flickr
Biblio Archives/Library Archives/Flickr

I was glad to see Gray in his 17th essay tackle time as an issue in warfare. This was something that I puzzled about in Iraq but never really felt I came to understand. In the first two years of the war I had the sense that time was wasting, that opportunities were passing by not to come again, but that no one seemed to be noticing this. (I also was amazed back in 2004 that the phrase "tactical patience" was seen by some officers as a contradiction in terms.)

"Time is rarely neutral," he writes. "If it is not used wisely by one belligerent, it is likely to be a vital weapon in the enemy's arsenal."

I would have understood the war better if I had seen this sentence back in 2004: "in irregular warfare, that between guerrillas and regular forces, time can actually be the prime weapon of the militarily weaker side."

I was glad to see Gray in his 17th essay tackle time as an issue in warfare. This was something that I puzzled about in Iraq but never really felt I came to understand. In the first two years of the war I had the sense that time was wasting, that opportunities were passing by not to come again, but that no one seemed to be noticing this. (I also was amazed back in 2004 that the phrase “tactical patience” was seen by some officers as a contradiction in terms.)

“Time is rarely neutral,” he writes. “If it is not used wisely by one belligerent, it is likely to be a vital weapon in the enemy’s arsenal.”

I would have understood the war better if I had seen this sentence back in 2004: “in irregular warfare, that between guerrillas and regular forces, time can actually be the prime weapon of the militarily weaker side.”

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

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.