Why Matthew Hoh Resigned From Afghanistan

The Foreign Service officer and former Marine captain says we have no chance to win

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Matthew Hoh, a mid-level Foreign Service officer in Afghanistan with combat experience in Iraq as a Marine captain, has resigned in protest of the Afghan war. In his resignation letter, he argues that the U.S. is perpetuating a "35-year old civil war" that it has little chance of winning. Hoh's reasoning -- that there is no feasible way to pacify Afghanistan and that the American presence only worsens the situation -- echoes the arguments that anti-war pundits have made for years. But Hoh, no armchair general, gives those fears unprecedented credence. His resignation stands as a warning to the White House and Pentagon that public and official support for the Afghan war could disintegrate without tangible victories.

  • Why I Resigned Matthew Hoh writes in his resignation letter, "I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States' presence in Afghanistan. [...] 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." He adds, "The United States military presence in Afghanistan greatly contributes to the legitimacy and strategic message of the Pashtun [Taliban] insurgency. [...] 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." Hoh assesses the American war as just another chapter in a long decline:
    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 [in 1973], has violently and savagely pitted the urban, secular, educated and modern of Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate and traditional.
  • U.S. Leaders Paying Close Attention Spencer Ackerman notes that Hoh's criticisms are being heard in high-level conversations about the war. "The concern about the U.S. presence fueling the insurgency -- not for what the U.S. does, but merely for the fact of its existence -- was raised by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in January, but it has not yet seemed to penetrate most discourse about the war. [...] And indeed, [General Stanley] McChrystal has tacitly paid respect to the critique, saying in his much-derided London address that jobs programs could do much to deprive the Taliban of foot soldiers who fight because their lack of economic alternatives accelerate their antipathy to the U.S. presence," writes Ackerman, a prominent liberal foreign affairs blogger. "But if Hoh is right, then it's simply too late for that strategy, as the mere presence of the U.S. military will have reached the 'tipping point' that Gates warned about in January."
  • When Did We Elect President Hoh? James Joyner, a former military officer, wonders how much credence we should give Hoh's opinion. "Hoh's story is interesting. One gathers that he was an outstanding Marine officer and was a rising star as an FSO. Then again, he'd been on the job less than a year. Now, granted, that's enough time to win a Nobel Peace Prize. But, c'mon, is it really worth this high level of attention that he disagrees with national policy? His experience is, after all, entirely tactical -- and at the lower end of tactical at that."
  • Hoh's Fox News Fan  Joyner jokes that Hoh would be invited on the Colbert Report to discuss his resignation, but none other than Fox News star Glenn Beck has taken note of Hoh's story. Beck tweeted a link to an article about Hoh, writing, "WHEN WILL THE PRESS REPORT THIS?" Could Hoh join Beck in the Fox News studio?
  • What About Our Duty to Afghans? Liberal blogger Taylor Marsh dissents, writing of Hoh's criticisms, "I absolutely agree. But as it now stands, the Afghan women are worse off today than they were when the Taliban reigned. We cannot leave it at that or Afghanistan will be more than a corrupt mess; it will revert to a failed state, because no country can stabilize with the women of that country being gang raped, reduced as property and held under lock and key," she writes. "We uncorked these forces. On all that's moral we cannot turn our backs. The hardest part is that it's not about more U.S. troops, even as we cannot think about withdrawing. Karma is a bitch and she's looking for retribution closure mercy."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.