[Marxism] U.S. official resigns over Afghan war
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Oct 27 07:36:08 MDT 2009
U.S. official resigns over Afghan war
Foreign Service officer and former Marine captain says he no
longer knows why his nation is fighting
By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
When Matthew Hoh joined the Foreign Service early this year, he
was exactly the kind of smart civil-military hybrid the
administration was looking for to help expand its development
efforts in Afghanistan.
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, 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 accepted the argument and the job, but changed his mind a week
later. "I recognize the career implications, but it wasn't the
right thing to do," he said in an interview Friday, two days after
his resignation became final.
"I'm not some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to
be in love," Hoh said. Although he said his time in Zabul was the
"second-best job I've ever had," his dominant experience is from
the Marines, where many of his closest friends still serve.
"There are plenty of dudes who need to be killed," he said of
al-Qaeda and the Taliban. "I was never more happy than when our
Iraq team whacked a bunch of guys."
But many 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."
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."
His first ambition in life was to become a firefighter, like his
father. Instead, after graduation from Tufts University and a desk
job at a publishing firm, he joined the Marines in 1998. After
five years in Japan and at the Pentagon -- and at a point early in
the Iraq war when it appeared to many in the military that the
conflict was all but over -- he left the Marines to join the
private sector, only to be recruited as a Defense Department
civilian in Iraq. A trained combat engineer, he was sent to manage
reconstruction efforts in Saddam Hussein's home town of Tikrit.
"At one point," Hoh said, "I employed up to 5,000 Iraqis" handing
out tens of millions of dollars in cash to construct roads and
mosques. His program was one of the few later praised as a success
by the U.S. special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.
In 2005, Hoh took a job with BearingPoint, a major technology and
management contractor at the State Department, and was sent to the
Iraq desk in Foggy Bottom. When the U.S. effort in Iraq began to
turn south in early 2006, he was recalled to active duty from the
reserves. He assumed command of a company in Anbar province, where
Marines were dying by the dozens.
Hoh came home in the spring of 2007 with citations for what one
Marine evaluator called "uncommon bravery," a recommendation for
promotion, and what he later recognized was post-traumatic stress
disorder. Of all the deaths he witnessed, the one that weighed
most heavily on him happened in a helicopter crash in Anbar in
December 2006. He and a friend, Maj. Joseph T. McCloud, were
aboard when the aircraft fell into the rushing waters below
Haditha dam. Hoh swam to shore, dropped his 90 pounds of gear and
dived back in to try to save McCloud and three others he could
hear calling for help.
He was a strong swimmer, he said, but by the time he reached them,
"they were gone."
'You can't sleep'
It wasn't until his third month home, in an apartment in
Arlington, that it hit him like a wave. "All the things you hear
about how it comes over you, it really did. . . . You have dreams,
you can't sleep. You're just, 'Why did I fail? Why didn't I save
that man? Why are his kids growing up without a father?' "
Like many Marines in similar situations, he didn't seek help. "The
only thing I did," Hoh said, "was drink myself blind."
What finally began to bring him back, he said, was a television
show -- "Rescue Me" on the FX cable network -- about a fictional
New York firefighter who descended into "survivor guilt" and
alcoholism after losing his best friend in the World Trade Center
He began talking to friends and researching the subject online. He
visited McCloud's family and "apologized to his wife . . . because
I didn't do enough to save them," even though his rational side
knew he had done everything he could.
Hoh represented the service at the funeral of a Marine from his
company who committed suicide after returning from Iraq. "My God,
I was so afraid they were going to be angry," he said of the man's
family. "But they weren't. All they did was tell me how much he
loved the Marine Corps."
"It's something I'll carry for the rest of my life," he said of
his Iraq experiences. "But it's something I've settled, I've
Late last year, a friend told Hoh that the State Department was
offering year-long renewable hires for Foreign Service officers in
Afghanistan. It was a chance, he thought, to use the development
skills he had learned in Tikrit under a fresh administration that
promised a new strategy.
In photographs he brought home from Afghanistan, Hoh appears as a
tall young man in civilian clothes, with a neatly trimmed beard
and a pristine flak jacket. He stands with Eikenberry, the
ambassador, on visits to northern Kunar province and Zabul, in the
south. He walks with Zabul Gov. Mohammed Ashraf Naseri, confers
with U.S. military officers and sits at food-laden meeting tables
with Afghan tribal leaders. In one picture, taken on a desolate
stretch of desert on the Pakistani border, he poses next to a
hand-painted sign in Pashto marking the frontier.
The border picture was taken in early summer, after he arrived in
Zabul following two months in a civilian staff job at the military
brigade headquarters in Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan. It was
in Jalalabad that his doubts started to form.
Hoh was assigned to research the response to a question asked by
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during an
April visit. Mullen wanted to know 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
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, he
decided, had few ideological ties to the Taliban but took its
money to fight the foreign intruders and maintain their own local
"That's really what kind of shook me," he said. "I thought it was
more nationalistic. But it's localism. I would call it valley-ism."
'Continued . . . assault'
Zabul is "one of the five or six provinces always vying for the
most difficult and neglected," a State Department official said.
Kandahar, the Taliban homeland, is to the southwest and Pakistan
to the south. Highway 1, the main link between Kandahar and Kabul
and the only paved road in Zabul, bisects the province. Over the
past year, the official said, security has become increasingly
By the time Hoh arrived at the U.S. military-run provincial
reconstruction team (PRT) in the Zabul capital of Qalat, he said,
"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." He read all the books he
could get his hands on, from ancient Afghan history, to the Soviet
occupation in the 1980s, through Taliban rule in the 1990s and the
eight years of U.S. military involvement.
Frank Ruggiero, the Kandahar-based regional head of the U.S. PRTs
in the south, considered Hoh "very capable" and appointed him the
senior official among the three U.S. civilians in the province. "I
always thought very highly of Matt," he said in a telephone interview.
In accordance with administration policy of decentralizing power
in Afghanistan, Hoh worked to increase the political capabilities
and clout of Naseri, the provincial governor, and other local
officials. "Materially, I don't think we accomplished much," he
said in retrospect, but "I think I did represent our government well."
Naseri told him that at least 190 local insurgent groups were
fighting in the largely rural province, Hoh said. "It was probably
exaggerated," he said, "but the truth is that the majority" are
residents with "loyalties to their families, villages, valleys and
to their financial supporters."
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."
'Their problem to solve'
Ruggiero said that he was taken aback by Hoh's resignation but
that he made no effort to dissuade him. "It's Matt's decision, and
I honored, I respected" it, he said. "I didn't agree with his
assessment, but it was his decision."
Eikenberry expressed similar respect, but declined through an aide
to discuss "individual personnel matters."
Francis J. Ricciardone Jr., Eikenberry's deputy, said he met with
Hoh in Kabul but spoke to him "in confidence. I respect him as a
thoughtful man who has rendered selfless service to our country,
and I expect most of Matt's colleagues would share this positive
estimation of him, whatever may be our differences of policy or
This week, Hoh is scheduled to meet with Vice President Biden's
foreign policy adviser, Antony Blinken, at Blinken's invitation.
If the United States is to remain in Afghanistan, Hoh said, he
would advise a reduction in combat forces.
He also would suggest providing more support for Pakistan, better
U.S. communication and propaganda skills to match those of
al-Qaeda, and more pressure on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to
clean up government corruption -- all options being discussed in
White House deliberations.
"We want to have some kind of governance there, and we have some
obligation for it not to be a bloodbath," Hoh said. "But you have
to draw the line somewhere, and say this is their problem to solve."
Text of resignation letter:
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