Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hurrah for Hoh!

“I find specious the reasons we ask for bloodshed and sacrifice from our young men and women in Afghanistan.”

--Matthew Hoh

Foreign Service Officer Matthew Hoh’s resignation letter is a stunning refutation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s proposal to escalate the war in Afghanistan. Hoh, a former Marine officer who fought in Iraq, was a senior civilian official in Zabul Afghanistan.

"I feel that our strategies in Afghanistan are not pursing goals that are worthy of sacrificing our young men and women or spending the billions we're doing there," Hoh wrote. "I believe that the people we are fighting there are fighting us because we are occupying them -- not for any ideological reasons, not because of any links to al Qaeda, not because of any fundamental hatred toward the West. The only reason they're fighting us is because we are occupying them."


That summarizes the delusion of American neoconservative foreign policy since World War II: that we can make the rest of the world follow us by kicking everyone’s teeth in.

One can safely argue that America saved the world three times in the 20th century, by winning the two World Wars and the Cold War. What we’re doing now amounts to nothing more than keeping our military industrial complex afloat.

There is no hope of making the official government in Afghanistan legitimate. The runoff election will be every bit as crooked as the previous one. There is no reason for us to waste more national treasure or blood there.

As Hoh notes, “The September 11 attacks, as well and the Madrid and London bombings, were primarily planned and organized in Western Europe; a point that highlights the threat is not one tied to traditional or geographic boundaries.”

And as I have said repeatedly, the only sanctuary modern terrorists need in order to plan and coordinate operations is a pocket big enough to hold an iPhone.

We have no stake in Afghanistan, other than the fact that President Obama foolishly called it a “war of necessity,” a mistake the neocons have flung in his face at every opportunity.

Richard Holbrooke, the administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told the Washington Post he disagreed that the war "wasn't worth the fight," but did agree with much of Hoh's analysis. This is the same Richard Holbrooke who, when asked what success in Afghanistan would consist of, replied, “We’ll know it when we see it.”

That’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” warfare. Don’t ask us what we’re trying to accomplish because we can’t tell you, because we don’t really know.

The self-satirizing “strategy” for Afghanistan that Obama’s security team jiffy-popped back in March was a disgraceful piece of pedantic carpentry. We’ll disrupt terror networks, we’ll turn Pakistan and Afghanistan into real countries, and we’ll get the rest of the world to help us do it. Squirt!

McChrystal’s proposal would have us put a World War II level of effort into Afghanistan. We’d need two or three soldiers in country to protect every thousand local civilians, and we’d need to send over at least as many of our own civilians to build the country up from the Stone Age to the 21st century, then we would require more combat troops to protect the civilians. We’d need more diplomats to smooth over ill feelings created among the locals because of all the collateral damage all these extra combat troops caused, then we’d need to hire mercenaries to protect the diplomats who would create even more collateral damage.

Once escalation starts, it never stops. Missions creep until they come to a crawl, and then they destroy the empire. Hitler could have had his thousand-year Reich if he hadn’t committed history’s most egregious example of strategic overreach.

There was no reason for Nazi Germany to invade Russia. Russia has always known how to defend itself: give up space for time, wait for winter to come, then counter-attack. The strategy worked on Napoleon as well as it worked on Hitler. But the Russians never made a major invasion of Western Europe until the end of World War II, and it wouldn’t have been able to do so then if we hadn’t been foolish enough to allow them to. Russia was a non-threat that two megalomaniacs impaled themselves on.

Even Alexander the Great never really conquered Afghanistan. Attempts by Britain and Russia to subdue the country proved to be their downfall.

Matthew Hoh’s actions were indeed brave. Almost nobody wants to walk away from this bad war because of the signal it sends the troops: your sacrifice is in vain. You are being used. The officers above you are wrong. Your president is wrong about what you’re in being a “war of necessity.” But that’s the truth of the matter. In Hoh’s words:

I do not believe any military force has ever been tasked with such a complex, opaque and Sisyphean mission as the U.S. Military has received in Afghanistan. The tactical proficiency and performance of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines is unmatched and unquestioned. However, this is not the European or Pacific theaters of World War II, but rather is a war for which our leaders, uniformed civilian and elected, have inadequately prepared and resourced our men and women. Our forces, devoted and faithful, have been committed to conflict in an indefinite and unplanned manner that has become a cavalier, politically expedient and Pollyannaish misadventure.

We’re about to repeat the nonsense we pulled in the Iraq surge. $1.3 billion of the defense budget will go toward bribing members of the Taliban into switching sides. We’ll hand out guns and money to bad guys, and then wonder why they turn on our puppet government and us when the handouts dry up. How is it that we think we can reform a corrupt, violent society by flushing bribes and guns into it?

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.


  1. Give Mr. Hoh a medal for bravery and courage! Yes he is a former Marine, makes me like him some, being one myself. I think he deserves high praise for speaking the TRUTH.
    We have so few people who are actively involved in either of our current wars of choice who do speak the truth. OK, maybe a few do so in private, but how many do so publicly? How many quit their nice comfy jobs doing so? Far too few.
    At last we get an honest man telling the truth. No doubt his career is toast.
    Bravo Mr. Hoh Semper fi!

  2. Soooo, let's make sure we understand this: President Barry used Afghanistan as a convenient excuse to justify his opposition to our actions in Iraq, and lied to the American people.

    Yep. That's what I thought, too. Of course, there were those of us saying so at the time.

    And while there is some merit in Mr. Hoh's assertions --- it's certainly a debatable point --- his "feelings" about whether our "goals that are worthy of sacrificing our young men and women or spending the billions we're doing there" are not really relevant to a national policy which has been set.

    Nevertheless, he has done the right thing, for which I credit him. Were it that State Department bureaucrats exercised such principle in the past, rather than undermining national policy from within.

  3. Dude was in country for five months.

    In one province.


    That's some real in depth views for his new found strategery.

    He's got a five minute window for his fame, then the news cycle will fly off on a tangent. Nothing to see here.

  4. Did he bring any Pentagon Papers with him on the way out the door? The trouble with acts of conscience is that they tend to only mean something to people who are actually saddled with one. Which leaves out huge swaths of our political and military establishments (maybe all of it by now, so advanced is our state of civilizational decay).

    On the lighter side, the wingnuts seem to be mostly ignoring this development. No screams of "betrayal!" Not yet, anyway. I guess Hoh would be a hard nut for them to crack, probably better to just ignore the guy.

  5. Although I think any exit from Afghanistan would be good, and sooner rather than later would be even better, I'm afraid Mr. Hoh lost me when he said this in the Washington Post:

    "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."

    Too bad. I'm a peacenik, although I don't smoke anything, legal or illegal, and hippies are so, you know, five minutes ago. But something about being jubilant about "...whack[ing] a bunch of guys" makes my blood run cold.

    No doubt the guys in the planes over New York and Washington thought it was a jolly good idea too.

    I'd rather link to this curmudgeonly, politically incorrect ex-Marine.

    (Can you be an ex-Marine, or are you a Marine for life, like being a Catholic?)

    "Think about this for a moment. Suppose that your boss at the lab or law firm or newsroom demanded that, when he entered the room, you leapt spasmodically to your feet, stood rigidly erect with your feet at a forty-five degree angle like a congenitally deformed duck, and stared straight ahead until he gave you permission to relax. You would think, correctly, that he was crazy as a bedbug. If he then required reporters to stand in a square so he could inspect their belt buckles, you would either figure he was a gay blade or call for a struggle buggy and some big orderlies. This weird posturing is not normal, nor are those it appeals to."

    Struggle buggies. I love it.

    The rest of the article is terrific, too.

  6. One more thing. I think it was Robin Cook, minister in the cabinet of Tony Blair (or Tony Bliar, as some call him) who resigned his post over the rather dodgy intelligence (read that as outright lies) leading to the Iraq war, who said this:

    "It's better to send middle-aged men abroad to bore each other than to send young men abroad to kill each other."

    Right on, Mr. Cook. R.I.P.

  7. DS,

    Unlike you, Hoh has a mind that functions.

  8. Really Jeff, is that the best you can do?

    Hoh is a time lapsed sideshow...when was that letter written? And why is it NOW news?


  9. For an opposing view, please visit:

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