I'm so glad someone who has been there has finally said it: (I)n a move that has sent ripples all the way to the White House, (former Marine Corps
October 27, 2009

I'm so glad someone who has been there has finally said it:

(I)n a move that has sent ripples all the way to the White House, (former Marine Corps Captain Matthew) Hoh, 36, 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.

"I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States' presence in Afghanistan," he wrote Sept. 10 in a four-page letter to the department's head of personnel. "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.

"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."

While he did not share Hoh's view that the war "wasn't worth the fight," Holbrooke said, "I agreed with much of his analysis." He asked Hoh to join his team in Washington, saying that "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?"

Hoh is quick to say he's not some hippie peace-nik. Sigh. Why does he make that sound like a bad thing? But Hoh does feel that our presence does nothing but escalate violence and turmoil with the Afghans.

(M)any Afghans, he wrote in his resignation letter, 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, he said, the United States is asking its troops to die in Afghanistan for what is essentially a far-off civil war.

As the White House deliberates over whether to deploy more troops, Hoh said he decided to speak out publicly because "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.' "

"I realize what I'm getting into . . . what people are going to say about me," he said. "I never thought I would be doing this."

The New Atlanticist, a foreign policy blog, looks at it from a different POV: While Obama Dithers...

Now, as it happens, I think Hoh's analysis of the situation is spot-on:

Hoh's doubts increased with Afghanistan's Aug. 20 presidential election, marked by low turnout and widespread fraud. He concluded, he said in his resignation letter, that the war "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."

With "multiple, seemingly infinite, local groups," he wrote, 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."

American families, he said at the end of the letter, "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."

But, gee whiz, our senior leadership is so lacking in confidence in their policy that they're afraid some 36-year-old former junior officer with nine months' experience in the foreign service (presumably, much of it spent in training!) will go on the "Colbert Report" and criticize it? So it would seem.

They've brought this on themselves. Granted, President Obama inherited this war and his people may have fought it differently had they been in charge during the first seven years. (An unlikely counterfactual, to be sure, since he was an unknown state senator at the time.) But it's a fight he clamored for during the campaign, stressing it as "a war of necessity." And he doubled down almost immediately, sending more troops and firing a well-respected four star commander to replace him with a counterinsurgency guru. But now he's dithering, signaling in the press that he's lost confidence in the strategy and can't make up his mind as to what to do now.

While I don't appreciate the adoption of Cheney's framing--Obama isn't dithering, he's considering carefully his options--James Joyner has a point. Obama pushed Afghanistan as the "good war" and the reverberations of Hoh's resignation do appear to have leadership scrambling.

Can you help us out?

For 18 years we have been exposing Washington lies and untangling media deceit, but now Facebook is drowning us in an ocean of right wing lies. Please give a one-time or recurring donation, or buy a year's subscription for an ad-free experience. Thank you.


We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Any comments that are sexist or in any other way deemed hateful by our staff will be deleted and constitute grounds for a ban from posting on the site. Please refer to our Terms of Service for information on our posting policy.