Thursday, October 29, 2009

Will Matthew Hoh Turn Out to be the Daniel Ellsberg of 21st Century?

I don't know, of course, because time will always determine that. But he has certainly spoken truth to power.

Here is the full text of his letter of resignation:

Ambassador Nancy J. Powell
Director General of the Foreign Service and
Director of Human Resources
U.S. Department of State
2201 C. Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Ambassador Powell:

It is with great regret and disappointment I submit my resignation from my appointment as a Political Officer in the Foreign Service and my post as the Senior Civilian Representative for the U.S. Government in Zabul Province. I have served six of the previous ten years in service to our country overseas, to include deployment as a U.S. Marine officer and Department of Defense civilian in the Euphrates and Tigris River Valleys of Iraq in 2004-2005 and 2006-2007. I did not enter into this position lightly or with any undue expectations nor did I believe my assignment would be without sacrifice, hardship or difficulty. However, in the course of my five months of service in Afghanistan, in both Regional Commands East and South, 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. To put simply: I fail to see the value or the worth in continued U.S. casualties or expenditures of resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year old civil war.

This fall will mark the eighth year of U.S. combat, governance and development operations within Afghanistan. Next fall, the United States' occupation will equal in length the Soviet Union's own physical involvement in Afghanistan. Like the Soviets, we continue to secure and bolster a failing state, while encouraging an ideology and system of government unknown and unwanted by its people.

If the history of Afghanistan is one great stage play, the United States is no more than a supporting actor, among several previously, in a tragedy that not only pits tribes, valleys, clans, villages and families against one another, but, from at least the end of King Zahir Shah's reign, 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 Pashtun insurgency, which is composed of multiple, seemingly infinite, local groups, 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 and operations in Pashtun valleys and villages, as well as Afghan army and police unites that are led and composed of non-Pashtun soldiers and police, provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified. In both RC East and South, I have observed that the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul.

The United States military presence in Afghanistan greatly contributes to the legitimacy and strategic message of the Pashtun insurgency. In a like manner our backing of the Afghan government in its current form continues to distance the government from the people. The Afghan government's failings particularly when weighed against the sacrifice of American lives and dollars, appear legion and metastatic:
  • Glaring corruption and unabashed graft;
  • President whose confidants and chief advisers comprise drug lords and war crimes villains, who mock our own rule of law and counternarcotics efforts;
  • A system of prvincial and district leaders constituted of local power brokers, opportunists and strongmen allied to the United States solely for, and limited by, the value of our USAID and CERP contracts and whose own political and economic interests stand nothing to gain from any positive or genuine attempts at reconciliation; and
  • The recent election process dominated by fraud and discredited by low voter turnout, which has created an enormous victory for our enemy who now claims a popular boycott and will call into question worldwide our government's military, economic and diplomatic support for an invalid and illegitimate Afghan government.
Our support for this kind of government, coupled with a misunderstanding of the insurgency's true nature, reminds me horribly of our involvement with South Vietnam; an unpopular and corrupt government we backed at the expense of our Nation's own internal peace, against an insurgency whose nationalism we arrogantly and ignorantly mistook as a rival to our own Cold War ideology.

I find specious the reasons we ask for bloodshed and sacrifice from our young men and women in Afghanistan. If honest, our stated strategy of securing Afghanistan to prevent al-Qaeda resurgence or regrouping would require us to additionally invade and occupy western Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, etc. Our presence in Afghanistan has only increased destabilization and insurgency in Pakistan where we rightly fear a toppled or weakened Pakistani government may lose control of its nuclear weapons. However, again, to follow the logic of our stated goals we should garrison Pakistan, not Afghanistan. More so, the September 11th attacks, as well as the Madrid and London bombings, were primarily planned and organized in Western Europe; a point that highlights the threat is not one tied to traditional geographic or political boundaries. Finally, if our concern is for a failed state crippled by corruption and poverty and under assault from criminal and drug lords, then if we bear our military and financial contributions to Afghanistan, we must reevaluate and increase our commitment to and involvement in Mexico.

Eight years into war, no nation has ever known as more dedicated, well trained, experienced and disciplined military as the U.S. Armed Forces. I do not believe any military force has ever been tasked with such a complex, opaque and Sisyphean mission as the U.S. Military has received in Afghanistan. The tactical proficiency and performance of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines is unmatched and unquestioned. However, this is not the European or Pacific theaters of World War II, but rather is a war for which our leaders, uniformed civilian and elected, have inadequately prepared and resourced our men and women. Our forces, devoted and faithful, have been committed to conflict in an indefinite and unplanned manner that has become a cavalier, politically expedient and Pollyannaish misadventure. Similarly, the United State has a dedicated and talented cadre of civilians, both U.S. government employees and contractors, who believe in and sacrifice for their mission, but have been ineffectually trained and led with guidance and intent shaped more by the political climate in Washington, D.C. than in Afghan cities, villages, mountains and valleys.

"We are spending oursleves into oblivion" a very talented and intelligent commander, one of America's best, briefs every visitor, staff delegation and senior officer. We are mortgaging our Nation's economy on a war, which, even with increased commitment, will remain a draw for years to come. Success and victory, whatever they may be, will be realized not in years, after billions more spent, but in decades and generations. The United States does not enjoy a national treasury for such success and victory.

I realize the emotion and tone of my letter and ask you excuse any ill temper. I trust you understand the nature of this war and the sacrifices made by so many thousands of families who have been separated from loved ones deployed in defense of our Nation and whose homes bear the fractures, upheavals and scars of multiple and compounded deployments. Thousands of our men and women have returned home with physical and mental wounds, some that will never heal or will only worsen with time. The dead return only in bodily form to be received by families who must be reassured their dead haves sacrificed for a purpose worthy of futures lost, love vanished, and promised dreams unkept. I have lost confidence such assurances can anymore be made. As such, I submit my resignation.


Senior Civilian Representative
Zabul Province, Afghanistan
I have elected not to add emphasis or boldfacing to encourage the reluctant/impatient reader to recognize, pause, and reflect over major points. There is just too much in this statement not to let it be taken in as a whole. It contains a major historical witness which, in the future, will haunt all those would-be statesmen who do not heed its message today.


  1. I agree that Hoh is a truthsayer. But he is no Ellsberg. It will take someone much higher up, with some real dirt to reveal. Hoh heard his conscience. He listened, and reacted. Unfortunately his story will have no legs.

  2. Here is the crux:

    Our presence in Afghanistan has only increased destabilization and insurgency in Pakistan where we rightly fear a toppled or weakened Pakistani government may lose control of its nuclear weapons. However, again, to follow the logic of our stated goals we should garrison Pakistan, not Afghanistan.

    Obama is about to stand the domino theory on its head.

  3. SP; Keep listening for a Free Baluchistan. It will most likely be a main domino to fall, or is it fail?

  4. We can only hope he will turn out to be a modern-day Ellsberg, but I'm sure Liz and Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh, along with all the other ditto heads, will soon find a way to carve him up and discredit him. The U.S. is truly losing its mind.

  5. Matthew Hoh's letter is brilliant. I have no question he is completely correct in his every observation and conclusion.

    The real question is what will President Obama do? Will he see the wisdom in Hoh's words? Or will he differ to his General's advice? Or will he try to walk a narrow political middle path, holding back troops but failing to recognize the truth on the ground in Afghanistan so clearly communicated by Matthew Hoh?

  6. The dude who calls himself Reality Zone is wrong. Matthew Hoh's story is not on it last legs.

  7. Boris; I hope i am wrong. But, i do not believe he will be getting much press in say, oh, even a week. a month max. The memory span of most americans is very short, and shallow. Abdullah Abdullah will be the story for the next week. Shillary will get some press with her [Israel first] statements in Israel.

  8. The U.S. command in Afghanistan is considering a strategy that involves pulling back from the countryside and focusing on protecting more heavily populated areas (which might be called, with the first U.S. Afghan War of the 1980s in mind, the Soviet strategy). The underpopulated parts of the countryside would then undoubtedly be left to Hellfire missile-armed American drone aircraft. In the last week, three U.S. helicopters -- the only practical way to get around a mountainous country with a crude, heavily mined system of roads -- went down under questionable circumstances (another potential sign of an impending Soviet-style disaster). Across the country, Taliban attacks are up; deadly roadside bombs or IEDs are fast on the rise (a 350% jump since 2007); U.S. deaths are at a record high and the numbers of wounded are rising rapidly; European allies are ever less willing to send more troops; and Taliban raids in the capital, Kabul, are on the increase. All this despite a theoretical 12-1 edge U.S., NATO, and Afghan troops have over the Taliban insurgents and their allies.

  9. Did he say "Sisyphean"??? Well done, Vig. It's a poignant letter, filled with the reasonable-ness of pulling out of Afghanistan. "Sisyphean" is right on.... a philosophy of the absurd! Quite rightly Mr. Hoh has pursued the only option, revolt. The meaningless task of the hero to push a rock up a mountain only to watch if fall down over and over again...Sisyphus aptly describes our 'efforts' in Afghanistan.

  10. Good, creative comments above.

    The more I read, the more I am convinced that the USA & NATO should see that they have to choose between dominoes, Afghanistan or Pakistan. The fact that there are no good options does not mean that either option is equally bad.

    The more I read, however, the more I dispair about Obama's choice. As one wag put it, our deployment in Afghanistan appears to our government as the Bail-Out option. That is to say, it is already too big to fail. But McChrystal wants Obama to double-down on Kabul.

    IMO, it is the exact opposite direction that is warranted.

  11. I have to wonder what you will write about when Afghanistan fades into history. Regardless it is a good letter, but I doubt it says anything the president does not already know, which is why he is taking the time to make an informed and progressive decision. Finally, I have to agree with Reality Zone: It is today's news and soon it will be tomorrow's old news. It is little more than a flash in a great big pan.

  12. P.S. Great picture of your beautiful swimming dog. By the way, I assume you know that sharks love dog meat, especially dog meat that is black, like seals. I assume Sozadee is in Northern California and if so it is prime great white territory. I'm just sayin' cause I have more interest in CB than I do in Afghanistan. At least today...

  13. Mad Mike doesn't get it any more than General McChrystal gets it. Scott Ritter lays it out. Here are the best words of Ritter's from Truthdig:

    ..... One must remember that the general has accomplished little of note during his short tenure to date as the military commander in Afghanistan. His entire reputation is built around the potential to turn things around in Afghanistan.And to do this, McChrystal has said he needs time, and 40,000-plus additional American troops. There are currently around 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. McChrystal’s request would raise that number to around 110,000 troops – the same number as the Soviets had deployed in Afghanistan at the height of their failed military adventure some 20 years ago.

    ..... McChrystal operates under the illusion that American military power can provide a shield from behind which Afghanistan can remake itself into a viable modern society. He has deluded himself and others into believing that the people of Afghanistan want to be part of such a grand social experiment, and furthermore that they will tolerate the United States being in charge. The reality of Afghan history, culture and society argue otherwise.

    ..... The Soviets tried and failed. They deployed 110,000 troops, operating on less restrictive lines of communication and logistical supply than the United States. They built an Afghan army of some 45,000 troops. They operated without the constraints of American rules of engagement. They slaughtered around a million Afghans. And they lost, for the simple reason that the people of Afghanistan did not want them, or their Afghan proxies.

    ..... one of the unique aspects of the Afghan conflict is the degree to which it has expanded into Pakistan, making any military solution in one theater contingent on military victory in the other. But the reality is that the more one employs military force in either Afghanistan or Pakistan, the more one strengthens the cause and resources of the Islamic insurgents in both places.

    Pashtunistan, once a fanciful notion built around the concept of a united Pashtun people (the population in eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan are primarily drawn from Pashtun tribes), has become a de facto reality. The decision by the British in 1897 to separate the Pashtun through the artificial device of the so-called Durand Line (which today constitutes the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan) has been exposed today as a futile effort to undermine tribal links. No amount of military force can reverse this.

    Thus the solution itself becomes the problem, thereby creating a never-ending circular conflict which has the United States expending more and more resources to resolve a situation that has nothing to do with the reality on the ground in Afghanistan, and everything to do with crafting a politically viable salve for what is in essence a massive self-inflicted wound. It is the proverbial dog chasing after its own tail, a frustrating experience made even more so by the fact that any massive commitment of troops brings with it the fatal attachment of national pride, individual hubris and, worst of all, the scourge of domestic American politics, so that by the time this dog bites its tail, it will be so blinded by artificialities that rather than recognize its mistake, it will instead proceed to consume itself. In the case of Afghanistan, our consumption will be measured in the lives of American servicemen and women, national treasure, national honor, and, of course the lives of countless Afghan dead and wounded.

  14. Continuing:

    ..... Obama may have won the Nobel Peace Prize, but if he allows himself to be bullied into supporting McChrystal’s foray into Afghanistan, he will reveal himself as the worst kind of warmonger. True, he didn’t invent the Afghan quagmire. That honor resides with George W. Bush, who also is to blame for the American fiasco in Iraq. But history will be surprisingly gentle toward America’s 43rd president. Bush will share the blame for his calamitous military decisions with the mistaken policies of previous administrations, a compliant Congress, headstrong advisers, servile intelligence agencies and, of course, the shock of the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Bush will be seen more as a useful idiot than a ruthless ideologue. Obama, with his obvious intelligence, soaring rhetorical skills and Nobel credentials, does not readily fit such a characterization. If he decides to reinforce failure in Afghanistan by dispatching tens of thousands more American troops to that disaster, America’s 44th president will cement himself as a grand fraud, a hawk hiding in dove feathers.

    The president does possess the vision to see a world in which America stands side by side with other nations as an equal, operating with a shared notion of due process and respect for the rule of law, but that doesn’t square with any decision to deploy more troops to Afghanistan. Expanding the war in Afghanistan will lend credence to the central worry about Obama: that, at the end of the day, this man of vision might in fact be little more than an Illinois politician who is willing to barter away American life, treasure and good will for political gain on the domestic front. And, in doing so, it will undermine his noble vision of an America “resetting” its relationship with the world following eight years of unilateralist militarism.

    A true leader, one with substance and gravitas, would be able to stand up to the combined pressure of the military, the right-wing of Congress and the American media. He would draw the correct conclusions from the lessons of history, which prove again and again that Afghanistan is not a problem that can be solved by foreign military intervention. The fact that Obama might be compelled to alleviate the political pressure he is receiving from these sources by condemning America to another decade of death and destruction in Afghanistan and, most probably, Pakistan, reinforces any perception of his weakness as a national leader.

    .....if Barack Obama ultimately agrees to dispatch more American troops to Afghanistan, he will ensure not only that America will add its name to the list of those who have failed in their effort to conquer the unconquerable, but also that his name will join the ranks of those leaders throughout history who succumbed to the temptations of hubris when given the choice between war and peace.

    The Nobel committee will have failed in its gambit to motivate America’s 44th president to embrace the mantle of peacemaker, and the American people will be left to sort through the detritus of war brought on by yet another failed president.

    Afghanistan will still be bleeding us long after Mad Mike and Obama are gone from the scene. And the words of warning from Matthew Hoh and Scott Ritter will be cited with remorse: why didn't we listen at the time?

  15. IP; They are listening. But they are looking the other way. The state of DENIAL did not stop when the SHRUBSTER/VADER regime left. The New World of Chaos continues. The same shadows are still behind the curtains. Obama was the chosen one by [TPTB] the powers that be. NATO is also a culprit in this. The west is on a crusade of energy resources and energy routes. ZBIG and Albright were his foreign policy advisers out of the gate. They despise Russia, and their encroachment of Russia, and China will continue. Afghanistan is the center of the globe for this staging area.


  17. I.P., welcome back into the fold. Shorter comments are encouraged, although your content was very much on topic. I think the link ot Ritter should be, McChrystal Doesn’t Get It—Does Obama?.

  18. Footnote: Daniel Ellsberg & Matt Hoh meet for a conversation.