It's one thing to hear a liberal politician or commentator make the case for a reduced American military footprint in Afghanistan; one would expect such a messenger to proffer that message. It's another thing entirely to hear the same arguments from a former Marine Corps captain, somebody who survived combat in Iraq to become a respected Foreign Service officer and a senior U.S. advisor in Afghanistan.
Actually, Mattthew Hoh is no longer on the job. He quit on Sept. 10, telling the State Department in his four-page resignation letter (which surfaced publicly this week) that the U.S. occupation in Afghanistan is a counterproductive mistake, that our continued - and potentially enhanced - military presence is merely fueling the insurgency that we are seeking to extinguish, wasting more American lives and money in the process.
In his written words, "I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States' presence in Afghanistan...(Grieving American families) 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."
He says the insurgency is actually comprised of hundreds of localized groups that care little about the Taliban or al Qaeda; rather, they care mostly about fighting the American occupier - which, in turn, is perceived as propping up the corrupt Karzai regime. As Hoh writes, "the Afghan government's failings, particularly when weighed against the sacrifice of American lives and dollars, appear legion and metastic..."
Hoh is starting to attract some public attention, deservedly so. It is exceedingly rare that anybody in government resigns a key post on a point of principle; dissidents typically swallow their qualms, stay on the job, and try to work within the system to mitigate the damage they have witnessed...generally, to no avail. (Case in point: Colin Powell during the Bush years.) Obama's foreign policy people reportedly pleaded with Hoh to stay "inside the building," but he opted to go outside.
Hoh's stated aim is to reportedly put grassoots pressure on Congress - from "people in Iowa, people in Arkansas, people in Arizona" - to resist any escalation of the American military presence, and in turn provide President Obama with the necessary first-hand evidence to resist the current entreaties of the war hawks.
"I find specious the reasons we ask for bloodshed and sacrifice from our young men and women in Afghanistan," he writes in his resignation letter. "If honest, our stated strategy of securing Afghanistan to prevent al Qaeda resurgence or regrouping would require us to additionally invade and occupy western Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, etc." His advice today is that Obama reduce combat forces in Afghanistan, pour more resources into Pakistan, and squeeze Karzai to clean up his corruption ("you have to draw the line somewhere, and say 'this is their problem to solve'").
Nowithstanding the qualifications of people like Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Sen. John McCain to make the case for a wider war, one cannot so easily dismiss a guy who (a) served as America's senior military advisor in a Taliban stronghold province, (b) earned a citation for "uncommon bravery" as a Marine captain in Iraq, (c) served in uniform at the Pentagon, (d) is praised these days by the American embassy in Kabul as "a thoughtful man who has rendered selfless service to our country," and (e) describes himself, in The Washington Post, as the precise opposite of "some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in love." Indeed, Hoh tells The Post, "There are plenty of dudes who need to be killed. I was never more happy than when our Iraq team whacked a bunch of guys."
Maybe the Hoh story will flame out by week's end, since ultimately he's just a junior player who opted to leave the field. But given this messenger's creds, and the weight of his message, and his fears that America is teetering on the edge of another foreign quagmire, is it any wonder that Obama continues to deliberate?