Matthew Hoh is not yet a household name. He should be.
Hoh is an American patriot. He is a former Marine captain who, NPR reports, was cited for uncommon bravery during a tour in Iraq. He led reconstruction efforts in Saddam Hussein’s home town of Tikrit as a civilian Defense Department employee. And, as a foreign service officer in Afghanistan, he worked on development efforts in Zabul province, considered a Taliban hotbed.
But this week Hoh made headlines for a different reason when it surfaced that he had become the first U.S. official to publicly resign his post over the war in Afghanistan. He then declined a job on the senior embassy staff, The Washington Post reports, and another job, working in Washington, D.C., for Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Hoh’s action has led him, among other things, to a lengthy interview on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and a forum on the pages of WashingtonPost.com. His decision also has prompted considerable chatter on the blogosphere.
So why did Matthew Hoh resign? It is not, he emphasizes in his NPR interview with Melissa Block, over how United States should wage its war in Afghanistan. He does not believe we should be there. Period.
“Why are we losing soldiers and Marines in combat to people who are fighting us really only because we are occupying them?” he asks Block, adding later, “Is it worth losing more lives? Is it worth spending billions of dollars that frankly this country does not have?”
Hoh, as he told The Washington Post, is not some “peacenik.” He simply believes al-Qaeda has long ago abandoned a strategy of keeping a safe haven in a single country, yet the United States keeps fighting the Afghan War under outdated premises. He further believes, that the Afghans, who throughout history have fiercely rebuffed invader after invader, simply want to be left alone and that our presence exacerbates problems of the region.
In his four-page resignation letter, submitted Sept. 10, 2009, he put it this way: “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.”
As the White House leaked presumably well-orchestrated news in The New York Times this weekend that the Obama Administration is finalizing plans to stay the course in Afghanistan by trying to stabilize major population centers, Hoh’s words are particularly sobering. He notes that American troops have been in Afghanistan for eight years now, just one short of a Soviet occupation that ended in failure. “Like the Soviets,” he notes, “we continue to serve and bolster a failing state, while encouraging an ideology and system of government unknown and unwanted by its people.”And he draws another parallel: America’s involvement in Vietnam.
So will anybody listen? It seems unlikely, given that the reported views of Vice-President Joe Biden and the advice of influential moderate columnist Thomas Friedman and influential conservative columnist George Will have yet to stop the march toward more troops and more involvement. This, as the body count rises and our national debt grows.
Sitting in my office, reading reports filtering from Afghanistan, reading Hoh’s letter, I feel something like a helpless passenger in a car hurtling toward a wreck in slow motion. If Barack Obama tethers himself further to the Bush Administration’s failed policies in Afghanistan, I believe his own presidency can only end in failure, too. That may please Republicans. But no Americans will benefit.
Writes Hoh: “We are mortgaging our Nation’s economy on a war, which, even with increased commitment, will remain a draw for years to come.”