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Ambassador Nancy J. PowellI have elected not to add emphasis or boldfacing to encourage the reluctant/impatient reader to recognize, pause, and reflect over major points. There is just too much in this statement not to let it be taken in as a whole. It contains a major historical witness which, in the future, will haunt all those would-be statesmen who do not heed its message today.
Director General of the Foreign Service and
Director of Human Resources
U.S. Department of State
2201 C. Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20520
Dear Ambassador Powell:
It is with great regret and disappointment I submit my resignation from my appointment as a Political Officer in the Foreign Service and my post as the Senior Civilian Representative for the U.S. Government in Zabul Province. I have served six of the previous ten years in service to our country overseas, to include deployment as a U.S. Marine officer and Department of Defense civilian in the Euphrates and Tigris River Valleys of Iraq in 2004-2005 and 2006-2007. I did not enter into this position lightly or with any undue expectations nor did I believe my assignment would be without sacrifice, hardship or difficulty. However, in the course of my five months of service in Afghanistan, in both Regional Commands East and South, 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. To put simply: I fail to see the value or the worth in continued U.S. casualties or expenditures of resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year old civil war.
This fall will mark the eighth year of U.S. combat, governance and development operations within Afghanistan. Next fall, the United States' occupation will equal in length the Soviet Union's own physical involvement in Afghanistan. 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.
If the history of Afghanistan is one great stage play, the United States is no more than a supporting actor, among several previously, in a tragedy that not only pits tribes, valleys, clans, villages and families against one another, but, from at least the end of King Zahir Shah's reign, has violently and savagely pitted the urban, secular, educated and modern of Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate and traditional. It is this latter group that composes and supports the Pashtun insurgency. The Pashtun insurgency, which is composed of multiple, seemingly infinite, local groups, is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies. The U.S. and NATO presence and operations in Pashtun valleys and villages, as well as Afghan army and police unites that are led and composed of non-Pashtun soldiers and police, provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified. In both RC East and South, I have observed that the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul.
The United States military presence in Afghanistan greatly contributes to the legitimacy and strategic message of the Pashtun insurgency. In a like manner our backing of the Afghan government in its current form continues to distance the government from the people. The Afghan government's failings particularly when weighed against the sacrifice of American lives and dollars, appear legion and metastatic:
Our support for this kind of government, coupled with a misunderstanding of the insurgency's true nature, reminds me horribly of our involvement with South Vietnam; an unpopular and corrupt government we backed at the expense of our Nation's own internal peace, against an insurgency whose nationalism we arrogantly and ignorantly mistook as a rival to our own Cold War ideology.
- Glaring corruption and unabashed graft;
- President whose confidants and chief advisers comprise drug lords and war crimes villains, who mock our own rule of law and counternarcotics efforts;
- A system of prvincial and district leaders constituted of local power brokers, opportunists and strongmen allied to the United States solely for, and limited by, the value of our USAID and CERP contracts and whose own political and economic interests stand nothing to gain from any positive or genuine attempts at reconciliation; and
- The recent election process dominated by fraud and discredited by low voter turnout, which has created an enormous victory for our enemy who now claims a popular boycott and will call into question worldwide our government's military, economic and diplomatic support for an invalid and illegitimate Afghan government.
I find specious the reasons we ask for bloodshed and sacrifice from our young men and women in Afghanistan. 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. Our presence in Afghanistan has only increased destabilization and insurgency in Pakistan where we rightly fear a toppled or weakened Pakistani government may lose control of its nuclear weapons. However, again, to follow the logic of our stated goals we should garrison Pakistan, not Afghanistan. More so, the September 11th attacks, as well as 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 geographic or political boundaries. Finally, if our concern is for a failed state crippled by corruption and poverty and under assault from criminal and drug lords, then if we bear our military and financial contributions to Afghanistan, we must reevaluate and increase our commitment to and involvement in Mexico.
Eight years into war, no nation has ever known as more dedicated, well trained, experienced and disciplined military as the U.S. Armed Forces. 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. Similarly, the United State has a dedicated and talented cadre of civilians, both U.S. government employees and contractors, who believe in and sacrifice for their mission, but have been ineffectually trained and led with guidance and intent shaped more by the political climate in Washington, D.C. than in Afghan cities, villages, mountains and valleys.
"We are spending oursleves into oblivion" a very talented and intelligent commander, one of America's best, briefs every visitor, staff delegation and senior officer. We are mortgaging our Nation's economy on a war, which, even with increased commitment, will remain a draw for years to come. Success and victory, whatever they may be, 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.
I realize the emotion and tone of my letter and ask you excuse any ill temper. I trust you understand the nature of this war and the sacrifices made by so many thousands of families who have been separated from loved ones deployed in defense of our Nation and whose homes bear the fractures, upheavals and scars of multiple and compounded deployments. 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. The dead return only in bodily form to be received by families who must be reassured their dead haves 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.
MATTHEW P. HOH
Senior Civilian Representative
Zabul Province, Afghanistan
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.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.
We took his letter very seriously, because he was a good officer. We all thought that given how serious his letter was, how much commitment there was, and his prior track record, we should pay close attention to him .... I agreed with much of his analysis. ... [I asked Hoh] ... if he really wanted to affect policy and help reduce the cost of the war on lives and treasure. [ why not be] inside the building, rather than outside, where you can get a lot of attention but you won't have the same political impact?At first Hoh accepted the argument and the job, but changed his mind a week later. Last Friday, in an interview Friday, two days after his resignation became final, Hoh explained,
The text of his four-page resignation is not yet available to me. According to accounts, he wrote 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.
I felt physically nauseous at times... I realize what I'm getting into . . . what people are going to say about me. I never thought I would be doing this. [but] 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 .... 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.At one point in his duties, Hoh had been assigned to research a response to a question asked by Adm. Mike Mullen, (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) during an April visit: why the U.S. military had been operating for years in the Korengal Valley, an isolated spot near Afghanistan's eastern border with Pakistan where a number of Americans had been killed?
... how localized the insurgency was. I didn't realize that a group in this valley here has no connection with an insurgent group two kilometers away. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of groups across Afghanistan, had few ideological ties to the Taliban but took its money to fight the foreign intruders and maintain their own local power bases.Hoh had hopes that the Obama administration might bring some new thinking.
That's really what kind of shook me. I thought it was more nationalistic. But it's localism. I would call it 'valley-ism'.
I already had a lot of frustration. But I knew at that point, the new administration was . . . going to do things differently. So I thought I'd give it another chance.Nevertheless, Hoh's doubts increased with Afghanistan's Aug. 20 presidential election, marked by low turnout and widespread fraud. He concluded, that the conflict
...has violently and savagely pitted the urban, secular, educated and modern of Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate and traditional. It is this latter group that composes and supports the Pashtun insurgency ... the truth is that the majority are residents with loyalties to their families, villages, valleys and to their financial supporters... multiple, seemingly infinite, local groups. [The insurgency] is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies. The U.S. and Nato presence in Pashtun valleys and villages, as well as Afghan army and police units that are led and composed of non-Pashtun soldiers and police, provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified.This week, Hoh is scheduled to meet with Vice President Biden's foreign policy adviser, Antony Blinken, at Blinken's invitation. Hoh is certain to recommend force reduction:
We want to have some kind of governance there, and we have some obligation for it not to be a bloodbath. But you have to draw the line somewhere, and say this is their problem to solve.Because, Readers, it isn't even nationalism in Afghanistan. It's Valleyism! Primitive. Medieval. Pathetic.
At mid-term, Catherine Ballou is only a Half-Monty swimmer. But she has already proven herself to be a willing and demanding student.
We are a country which was built by pioneers who had a rifle in one hand and an ax in the other. We can do both. And as long as I am president we will do both.That was LBJ's hubris.
One may speculate over what might have been if the country had remained at peace. Economic policy was working superbly in 1965 and it is likely that prosperity would have continued into 1968. In Chicago the Democrats would have renominated the Johnson-Humphrey ticket and it would have won easily. This might have launched a long period of Democratic control of the White House and the Congress. The Great Society would have survived and might have been expanded.Flashing forward to the 21st Century, ex-presidential candidate McCain offers little wisdom from America's 20th century quagmire. His advice to President Obama is,
The base of his party, the left base of his party, is opposed. The American people are weary of this conflict. I do have sympathy for the president making this decision. It's the toughest decision the president has to make, to send people into harm's way. But I remind you that throughout [U.S.] history, whether it be Harry Truman or Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Abraham Lincoln, leaders have had to make tough choices, and history has judged them very kindly.Senator McCain has forgotten the words he wrote in his forward to David Halberstam’s book, “The Best and the Brightest:
War is far too horrible a thing to drag out unnecessarily, It was a shameful thing to ask men to suffer and die, to persevere through god-awful afflictions and heartache, to endure the dehumanizing experiences that are unavoidable in combat, for a cause that the country wouldn’t support over time and that our leaders so wrongly believed could be achieved at a smaller cost than our enemy was prepared to make us pay.When our current president first declared Afghanistan to be a 'good war', as compared to Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq which was a 'stupid' and 'unnecessary' war, it was during Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. That was before our economic collapse. Given that we are now still teetering between recession and depression in our homeland, it is time we reassess whether we can afford George Bush's foreign legions.
No other national endeavor requires as much unshakable resolve as war. If the nation and the government lack that resolve, it is criminal to expect men in the field to carry it alone.
You have to learn lessons from history. On the other hand, each historical moment is different. You never step into the same river twice. And so Afghanistan is not Vietnam.Maybe not. But the rivers we are talking about in Afghanistan have never been mastered by Western powers. The English have tried twice and the Russians once. It's a river Americans don't have to cross. It's the river that will lead us to where empires have died.