Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Duty, Honor, Dissent

Matthew 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.”

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(This article is also posted at Opinion Forum.)

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