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Doubts and Reservations About Afghanistan

Matthew Hoh Speaks Truth to Power

by GARY LEUPP

There are currently about 124,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and 65,000 in Afghanistan. There were 142,000 in Iraq and 31,000 in Afghanistan when Bush left office.

By my count, that’s 16,000 more imperialist troops occupying foreign territory, being where they shouldn’t be, meeting with resistance, getting killed under President Obama than under Bush.

Obama approved an additional 21,000 troops for Afghanistan in March and it was recently announced that he’s approved another 13,000 which will soon bring the total Afghan deployment to 99,000. General Stanley McChrystal, the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, is asking for still more.

Always posturing as the judicious centrist reconciliatory figure (partly as a defense against vicious unprincipled rightwing attacks) Obama shown every indication that he will stay the course in Afghanistan. Whether it’s 13,000 more or 40,000 more, he will keep U.S. soldiers there, fighting an increasingly determined Pashtun-nationalist enemy flourishing not only in Afghanistan but in Pakistan.

It is an enemy that, intelligence analysts agree, becomes stronger in proportion to the international forces sent against it. The latter are like gasoline thrown on fire. Matthew Hoh knows this.

Hoh, a  former Marine Corps captain with combat experience in Iraq,  uniform service at the Pentagon, and State Department employment in both Iraq and Afghanistan, became the senior U.S. civilian in Zabul province last July.

There the 36 year old, according to a letter he wrote to the State Department’s head of personnel, “lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan.”
“I have doubts and reservations,” he wrote, “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 Washington Post paraphrases Hoh as stating in the letter that “many Afghans. . . 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. . . the United States is asking its troops to die in Afghanistan for what is essentially a far-off civil war.”

With his letter, Hoh becomes, as the Post puts it, “the first U.S. official known to resign in protest over the Afghan war, which he had come to believe simply fueled the insurgency.”

According to the Post, “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.”

Holbrooke offered him a job, asking why, “if he really wanted to affect policy and help reduce the cost of the war on lives and treasure,” he shouldn’t 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 Holbrooke’s offer, but gave the matter some thought, then turned it down. Instead of working “inside” he is going to speak out against the war publicly, because, as he puts it: “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’m not some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in love,” he says,  emphasizing, “I was never more happy than when our Iraq team whacked a bunch of guys.” (Curiously, he seems to see that war, or at least his part in it, as the “good” war contrasting with the wrong cause in Afghanistan.) “I realize what I’m getting into . . . what people are going to say about me,” he says. “I never thought I would be doing this.”

But here he is, first U.S. official to resign in protest of the Afghan War, following the submission of an articulate critique with which Holbrooke himself had to state he largely agreed. And now he plans to make that critique public and ask people to raise their voices in protest.

This is as 47% of the people tell pollsters the war in Afghanistan’s not worth fighting, in a month producing the heaviest U.S. death toll in 8 years of war and occupation. That must trouble the advocates of acceleration even as they rest assured that Obama will stay the course in what he calls a “war of necessity.”

I notice Hoh is a Tufts University graduate. I’m sure a lot of us on campus are proud of him.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu