[Marxism] U.S. official resigns over Afghan war

Louis Proyect 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."
'Uncommon bravery'

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 
reconciled with."

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 
power bases.

"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 
program perspectives."

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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