Duty, Honor, Dissent

October 28th, 2009

MatthewHohMatthew Hoh took a Foreign Service job in Afghanistan determined to make a difference in a key part of America’s war on terrorism. After trying to carry out the U.S. mission plan for Afghanistan, he resigned in a letter that may be far more meaningful than any other action one can take on behalf of his country. When he felt that his actions and those around him were counterproductive and making things worse, he spoke out.

“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,” The Washington Post reported this week. “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. …

“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.'”

Hoh’s reasons for resigning were spelled out in a four-page letter to the State Department, which The Washington Post displayed on its web site.

“I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan,” he wrote Sept. 10. “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.”

Hoh’s letter makes several telling points, including that the insurgents are mainly local tribes fighting against what they see as a corrupt government backed by a foreign army. “Next fall, the United States’ occupation will equal in length the Soviet Union’s own physical involvement in Afghanistan,” he noted. “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.”

Perhaps his most telling point is to reveal a candid view of the war that apparently is not being reported up through the official chain of command, and certainly not being conveyed to the American people.

“‘We are spending ourselves into oblivion,’ a very talented and intelligent commander, one of America’s best, briefs every visitor, staff delegation and senior officer,” Hoh wrote. “We are mortgaging our Nation’s economy on a war, which, even with increased commitment, will remain a draw for years. Success and victory, whatever they may mean, 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.”

For the former Marine officer, the bottom line of his reasons for speaking out is that our troops are fighting and dying or getting grievously wounded for an impossible mission.

“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,” he wrote. “The dead return only in bodily form to be received by families who 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 anymore be made. As such, I submit my resignation.”

For more information:

U.S. official resigns over war in Afghanistan, The Washington Post, via MSNBC
Resignation Letter, Matthew Hoh, via The Washington Post

(This article was also posted at EarthAirWater.)


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Categories: Military, News, Politics | Comments (5) | Home

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5 Responses to “Duty, Honor, Dissent”



  1. Tom |

    We would do well to listen to what this young man is telling us. Many other knowledgeable observers are saying the same kinds of things. For example, in a recent column Thomas Friedman wrote,

    It is crunch time on Afghanistan, so here’s my vote: We need to be thinking about how to reduce our footprint and our goals there in a responsible way, not dig in deeper. We simply do not have the Afghan partners, the NATO allies, the domestic support, the financial resources or the national interests to justify an enlarged and prolonged nation-building effort in Afghanistan.

    Anthony Cordesman said,

    What I found being in Afghanistan was all too familiar of problems not only in Iraq, but in Vietnam years ago. We are fighting a war a half a century later that we lost for similar reasons a half a century earlier.

    The list of thoughtful, informed people who are issuing these sorts of warnings is long. We’re at a critical point right now, and I fear we’re going to end up on the bus to Abilene — all of us going somewhere no one really wanted to go. If Obama makes the wrong decision and goes all-in for the integrated counterinsurgency strategy that’s now being discussed (or goes half-in, which would be worse), we’re going to be struggling with a debacle in five or ten years and wondering how we could have been so stupid.


  2. Harvey |

    I agree! And beyond Afghanistan, it’s long past time we got out of the nation-building business. We went into that part of the world to get Osama and failed after we lost our focus — lets admit it and move on (or move out).


  3. Brian |

    Harvey, agreed. Nation-building hasn’t worked for us, and it never really worked very well for anybody aside from England, and then only a bit. It is a position born of arrogance.

    While I certainly would argue that our way is the best way, other people need to come to that conclusion on their own, then model themselves after us if that is the national will. We cannot force our philosophy and political system on anyone because it does nothing but breed resentment and even outright hatred.


  4. Kevin |

    I would just point out that “Iraq” is a product of British nation building.

    As for the post… I sent a link to my Army friend. I wish he was free to post his own thoughts on this because he has a very valuable perspective as a veteran of our 3 most recent “wars” in the middle east. All the moreso because of his job for these last many years (not a combat soldier) gives him broad exposure to both officers and grunts of our forces as well as of the indigenous forces. Suffice to say that I think he’d largely agree with Jan and Tom but come at it from a slightly different perspective. More than that I cannot say without his explicit permission.


  5. Brian Bagent |

    Kevin, so are the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Hong Kong.


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