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Published on March 1st, 2013 | by James Russell


Ball of Confusion

by James A. Russell

It’s been a bad week for the United States. If ever the world wanted another example of America’s dysfunction and decline, this would be the time to see how the “Ball of Confusion” just rolled right over us.

Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong’s lyrics from the Temptations’ 1970s hit chronicled the many destructive forces tearing at the fabric of American society 40-odd years ago, but they could just as well have been describing the United States of 2013.

America’s enemies must be having a good laugh as they look at our strategic confusion, unbelievably petty politics, and, well, just plain stupidity.

It’s hard to make sense of it all, but that may be because things just don’t make any sense any more — as Whitfield and Strong suggested. On the one hand, the Congress appears intent on forcibly shrinking the size of government and throwing the country into a recession at the same time that it’s girding for another war that would have to be fought by, guess who — the very same government that is starving of cash and being supported by an economy that will only grow weaker as a result.

Astonishingly, as the Department of Defense and other Federal agencies are handing out furlough notices to employees (myself included), the Senate appears set to take up a joint resolution endorsing the idea of the United States joining an Israeli attack on Iran.

The non-binding resolution, introduced yesterday by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), suggests that the nation should effectively outsource the decision to go to war to another country.

Weeks after publicly castigating incoming Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel for his previous remarks suggesting that the Israeli lobby exercised too much influence in Washington, these Senators have, well, just shown how craven they are to that same lobby on the eve of the annual meeting of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). We can be sure that many of their colleagues will join Graham and Menendez in this push for another war.

Just how this country is supposed to fight another war while its cutting back on the civilians that keep the Navy’s ships at sea, its Air Force planes in the air and its land forces in the field, is a mystery. That is to say nothing of the myriad of other federal agencies whose workers police our borders, gather intelligence on our enemies and perform countless other functions to help keep the US safe. Perhaps the Senate has a plan to count on a NRA-sponsored citizens’ militia to make up for the shortfall?

Senators Graham and Menendez and those who want another war would be well advised to take a week out of their valuable time and travel to Fort Lewis, WA to talk with the soldiers of the 3-2 Stryker Brigade who have just returned from a year-long deployment in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. After visiting the brigade this summer in the field, I recently spent a week with them myself in Fort Lewis while conducting research on learning and adaptation in the field by our military units.

The harrowing tales told by these committed and professional soldiers might give the senators pause before they beat the drums of war before enthusiastic AIPAC crowds. Amazingly, however, the story of the 3-2 Stryker Brigade is unremarkable and a shared experience among the truly dizzying array of units that have deployed and redeployed to Iraq and Afghanistan many times over during this last decade of war that has consumed trillions of dollars and thousands of lives.

So if this country is to be sent off into another war in the Gulf — this time with the match set by the Israelis — maybe the Senators and their equally enthusiastic colleagues in the House should think twice about furloughing workers that will dutifully and competently support their new war, not to mention the brigade combat teams that have exhausted themselves in the last decade.

What will we say to these soldiers, sailors, airmen and their supporting civilians? Perhaps the lyrics of Whitfield and Strong’s “Ball of Confusion” would be a good place to start.

Photo: Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bob Menendez introduce their Bipartisan resolution on US support for Israel during a press conference on February 28, 2013. 

About the Author


James A. Russell is an Associate Professor in the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, where he is teaching courses on Middle East security affairs, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and national security strategy. His articles and commentaries have appeared in a wide variety of media and scholarly outlets around the world. His latest book is titled Innovation, Transformation and War: US Counterinsurgency Operations in Anbar and Ninewa Provinces, Iraq, 2005-2007 (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2011). He is currently working on a book about learning in irregular war, focusing on US military operations in Afghanistan. Prior to arriving at NPS from 1988-2001, Mr. Russell held a variety of positions in the Office of the Assistant Secretary Defense for International Security Affairs, Near East South Asia, Department of Defense. During this period he traveled extensively in the Persian Gulf and Middle East working on various aspects of US security policy. He holds a Masters in Public and International Affairs from the University of Pittsburgh and a Ph.D. in War Studies from the University of London. The views he expresses here are his own.

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