Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Matthew Hoh: A Senior U.S. Civilian Advisor in Afghanistan Resigns in Protest

Matthew Hoh 36, is a former Marine Corps captain with combat experience in Iraq. Hoh had also served in uniform at the Pentagon, and as a civilian in Iraq and at the State Department. By July, he was the senior U.S. civilian in Zabul province, a Taliban hotbed.

But last month, in a move that has sent ripples all the way to the White House, Hoh, became the first U.S. official known to resign in protest over the Afghan war, which he had come to believe simply fueled the insurgency. Hoh wrote Sept. 10 in a four-page letter to the department's head of personnel,

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 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. In an interview, Holbrooke said,

We took his letter very seriously, because he was a good officer. 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 .... I agreed with much of his analysis. ... [I asked Hoh] ... if he really wanted to affect policy and help reduce the cost of the war on lives and treasure. [ why not be] inside the building, rather than outside, where you can get a lot of attention but you won't have the same political impact?
At first Hoh accepted the argument and the job, but changed his mind a week later. Last Friday, in an interview Friday, two days after his resignation became final, Hoh explained,

I recognized the career implications, but it wasn't the right thing to do .... I'm not some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in love. [This was]the second-best job I've ever had ... There are plenty of dudes who need to be killed.... I was never more happy than when our Iraq team whacked a bunch of guys.
The text of his four-page resignation is not yet available to me. According to accounts, he wrote that many Afghans, are fighting the United States largely because its troops are there — a growing military presence in villages and valleys where outsiders, including other Afghans, are not welcome and where the corrupt, U.S.-backed national government is rejected. While the Taliban is a malign presence, and Pakistan-based al-Qaeda needs to be confronted, the United States is asking its troops to die in Afghanistan for what is essentially a far-off civil war.

Hoh's journey — from Marine, reconstruction expert and diplomat to war protester — was not an easy one. Over the weeks he spent thinking about and drafting his resignation letter, he said,

I felt physically nauseous at times... I realize what I'm getting into . . . what people are going to say about me. I never thought I would be doing this. [but] 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 .... American families, must be reassured their dead have sacrificed for a purpose worthy of futures lost, love vanished, and promised dreams unkept. I have lost confidence such assurances can be made any more.

At one point in his duties, Hoh had been assigned to research a response to a question asked by Adm. Mike Mullen, (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) during an April visit: why the U.S. military had been operating for years in the Korengal Valley, an isolated spot near Afghanistan's eastern border with Pakistan where a number of Americans had been killed?

Hoh concluded that there was no good reason. The people of Korengal didn't want them; the insurgency appeared to have arrived in strength only after the Americans did, and the battle between the two forces had achieved only a bloody stalemate. Korengal and other areas, he said, taught him

... how localized the insurgency was. I didn't realize that a group in this valley here has no connection with an insurgent group two kilometers away. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of groups across Afghanistan, had few ideological ties to the Taliban but took its money to fight the foreign intruders and maintain their own local power bases.

That's really what kind of shook me. I thought it was more nationalistic. But it's localism. I would call it 'valley-ism'.
Hoh had hopes that the Obama administration might bring some new thinking.
I already had a lot of frustration. But I knew at that point, the new administration was . . . going to do things differently. So I thought I'd give it another chance.
Nevertheless, Hoh's doubts increased with Afghanistan's Aug. 20 presidential election, marked by low turnout and widespread fraud. He concluded, that the conflict
...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 ... the truth is that the majority are residents with loyalties to their families, villages, valleys and to their financial supporters... multiple, seemingly infinite, local groups. [The insurgency] 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 week, Hoh is scheduled to meet with Vice President Biden's foreign policy adviser, Antony Blinken, at Blinken's invitation. Hoh is certain to recommend force reduction:
We want to have some kind of governance there, and we have some obligation for it not to be a bloodbath. But you have to draw the line somewhere, and say this is their problem to solve.
Because, Readers, it isn't even nationalism in Afghanistan. It's Valleyism! Primitive. Medieval. Pathetic.


  1. Vigil I think you need to change the name of your blog once again. I recommend you call it "Afghanistan."

    I think there is a consensus, among your readers at least, that we need to get out of Afghanistan. The reasons for removing our troops are legion, and yet there are reasons to stay. When you peel the proverbial onion, however, I think the reasons for leaving outweigh any considerations for remaining. I do not make comparisons between Vietnam, LBJ, and etc. I simply don't want to spend the money, not to mention spill the blood, in a third world country that doesn't want us there, and has little strategic value, at least not enough to keep sending body bags. As I have said time and again since one of your carefully reasoned pieces changed my mind about our role there....we need to pull our troops. If the Taliban or their friends [al Qaeda] act out we just bomb them straight to hell. Good article by the way.

  2. The president painted himself in a corner during the campaign calling Afghanistan a war of necessity. Now the left wants to bail and the right wants him to throw more bodies into that Hell. Either way he will lose and end up a one-term president.

    If we do leave the president better have the balls to do as Mike said and bomb them to Hell.

    The old saying of: "Kill them all and let God sort them out" holds true here. And that means the innocent as well as the guilty.

  3. Excellent comment, Beach. Totally. I have had those thoughts, too. But didn't have the balls to actually lay it out like you have.

  4. I'm not sure Beach's suggestion is all that helpful. Bomb them to hell? How much further is that from where they are now?

  5. Applying the Powell Doctrine:

    1. Is a vital national security interest threatened? Nope!
    2. Do we have a clear attainable objective? Nope!
    3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed? Nope!
    4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted? Yep!
    5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement? Nope!
    6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered? Nope!
    7. Is the action supported by the American people? Nope!
    8. Do we have genuine broad international support? Nope!

    1 for 8? Measures up to 13%?

  6. VIG; Great post. Interesting comments.

  7. Heard Matthew Hoh on NPR on the way home tonight. Interestingly, he said at one point that it's not the point that Afghanistan cannot not be "won", (whatever that means). His point is, will winning it with whatever it takes be worth the sacrifice?

  8. VIG; I believe that if Obama does send more troops. Which i believe he will. My guess is 20k. Then he should first define two words "win" and "exit". The problem he faces is that there is no definition to this. I truly believe that sooner or later power will be handed over to a [quasi-taliban] with a small [t]. One that will -sort of- play ball with the west.