About the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan — not merely the proposal to surge more troops into the quagmire but the occupation itself — he says: “I want people in Iowa, people in Arkansas, people in Arizona, to call their congressman and say, ‘Listen, I don’t think this is right.'”
Who is this radical peacenik who fails to recognize the necessity of the mission in Afghanistan, let alone the role that it plays in the broader “war on terror”?
His name is Matthew Hoh.
What’s his story? Oh, you know, the usual: Former Marine Corps captain with combat experience in Iraq, where he received citations for “uncommon bravery”; uniformed officer serving at the Pentagon; top recruit to the State Department; senior U.S. civilian official in Afghanistan’s Zabul province, where he has confronted the challenges posed by the Taliban firsthand.
In a four-page letter to the State Department’s head of personnel, Hoh wrote: “I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan. I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end.”
The occupation, Hoh says, is fueling the insurgency.
In other words, the continued U.S. presence is making things worse rather than better in Afghanistan.
That’s not a radical conclusion. It parallels statements made by veteran Central Intelligence Agency analysts, diplomats and soldiers in Robert Greenwald’s powerful documentary, “Rethink Afghanistan.”
As such, the decorated Marine says, the point of the continued occupation is called into question.
In his letter, Hoh noted that the families of soldiers who perish in combat “must be reassured their dead have sacrificed for a purpose worthy of futures lost, love vanished, and promised dreams unkept.”
Unfortunately, he concluded, “I have lost confidence such assurances can be made any more.”
Statements like that one made Hoh’s September 10 letter one of the most potent statements about a mission that has long been misinterpreted by generals and misunderstood by official Washington.
Making his objections known as President Obama is weighing calls for a dramatic expansion of the U.S. military force in Afghanistan, Hoh’s letter is a blockbuster.
The Washington Post identifies Hoh as“the first U.S. official known to resign in protest over the Afghan war, which he had come to believe simply fueled the insurgency.”
According to the Post:
The reaction to Hoh’s letter was immediate. Senior U.S. officials, concerned that they would lose an outstanding officer and perhaps gain a prominent critic, appealed to him to stay.
U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry brought him to Kabul and offered him a job on his senior embassy staff. Hoh declined. From there, he was flown home for a face-to-face meeting with Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“We took his letter very seriously, because he was a good officer,” Holbrooke said in an interview. “We all thought that given how serious his letter was, how much commitment there was, and his prior track record, we should pay close attention to him.”
Holbrooke, who admits that, “I agreed with much of his analysis,” tried to get Hoh to join his staff in Washington — pushing the notion that “if he really wanted to affect policy and help reduce the cost of the war on lives and treasure (he should be) inside the building, rather than outside, where you can get a lot of attention but you won’t have the same political impact.”
But Hoh did not want his criticism of the occupation to be buried in the bureaucracy.
Frustrated by the low turnout and rampant fraud that characterized Afghanistan’s August 20 presidential election — “The Afghan government’s failings, particularly when weighed against the sacrifice of American lives and dollars, appear legion and metastatic…” he writes — and by the mounting evidence that the insurgency had significant popular support, Hoh suggests in his letter that the U.s. presence in the country “has violently and savagely pitted the urban, secular, educated and modern of Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate and traditional. It is this latter group that composes and supports the Pashtun insurgency.”
That insurgency, argued Hoh, “is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies. The U.S. and Nato presence in Pashtun valleys and villages, as well as Afghan army and police units that are led and composed of non-Pashtun soldiers and police, provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified.”
This is an essential message for the administration to hear.
To the credit of Vice President Joe Biden, his staff has arranged a meeting with Hoh for this week. Hopefully, Biden will use the insights to strengthen his case against the proposed escalation.
If Biden fails, then the necessity of Hoh’s decision to leave the building where Holbrooke and others had hoped to keep him will become all the more evident.
Hoh will be able to do what a patriot must in times like these: tell the people in Iowa, the people in Arkansas, the people in Arizona, to call their congressman and say of the Afghanistan imbroglio, “Listen, I don’t think this is right.”