Resignation at the State Department Over Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 10 months ago

By now it’s old news that Marine Captain Matthew Hoh, veteran of Iraq who later joined the State Department, has resigned over the campaign in Afghanistan.  He sees no reason whatsoever for the U.S. to be engaged there.  Jules Crittenden opines of Hoh’s letter:

It highlights some of the very real problems of the situation in Afghanistan, but concludes that remaining in Afghanistan requires, “if honest,” that we have to invade Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Sudan, etc. Maybe we will before this long war is done. Hard to say. It wouldn’t be the first time, whether in a short four-year war or a 45-year-long one, that we’d had to fight multiple fronts to reomve tyranny and secure freedom in the world. Hoh also includes a Vietnam reference that, tellingly, assumes that failure in Afghanistan is as inevitable as many believe failure in Vietnam was.

The long war.  That phrase that so many people are afraid to use, and which has been used so many times here at The Captain’s Journal.  Jules understands.  And I understand that Captain Hoh is an honorable man for sticking to his principles.  He has a right to decide how he wants, just as I have a right to decide against his views.  What I don’t get is why Captain Hoh is getting so much attention.  So another State employee doesn’t want to see us in Afghanistan.  How many more hundreds are there?

Finally, I find it rather embarrassing and gushy that State worked so hard to retain him.  If he is so decidedly against the campaign in Afghanistan that he feels that he cannot work at State, then he should go rather than be begged to stay.  The fact of the matter is that this thinking is systemic to not only State but the entire administration.

Do you disagree?  Read this depressing comment at Neptunus Lex (from It’s All Verbatim).

My office has been an integral part of these “Af/Pak Principal Strategy Sessions”

Let’s just say most of the proposals of the table (excluding the Joint Staff J7 & J3/5, DIA and the more rational sects of the NSC) are totally divorced from reality.

It’s painful, really. NDA’s prevent me from delving into it fully, but some of the proposals would cause the regulars here to go completely ape-shit. I sit along the wall, and let my boss do the talking. It is absolutely incredible how naive this administration (and yes, senior members of the NSC and State) are.

USD(P) isn’t innocent, either. DoD’s policy shop is cooking up some the craziest policies I’ve seen in a long time. There is a concerted effort to create “Stop Loss 2.0″ – basically you would be re-classed from whatever specialty/MOS/AFSC/rate, regardless of branch/age/rank, and thrust into, say, military police, MI, or EOD. Not offered; you’d be required to jump over. Even the 10% we vets know exist that shouldn’t and couldn’t do MI, EOD et al. If you refused, they would whip out the UCMJ. This is actually being considered as a way to surge without actually surging. Joint Staff J1 and J3/5 were under heavy pressure to report we were under strain, and couldn’t handle a 40K/60K/80K push. J1 came back and told the WH/NSC point blank: we have more than enough. They didn’t like that and are now finding excuses to not surge period, not even the 10K trial balloon they tossed up last week.

They’re stalling. I spend my entire morning, 5 days a week in the EEOB and State with these fuckers. You heard it here first.

Then again, maybe I do understand why Captain Hoh is getting so much attention.  It’s just that the other hundreds who feel just like him at State don’t have the integrity to resign.



  • jbrookins

    It is interesting that Mr. Hoh is getting so much attention but that probably because he has stated a position, most likely from frustration that we can’t win in Afghanistan. The question he poses is a very good one however. To what end? This is the questions that should have been answered in the beginning of this war and not years later as things are failing. The question we as soldier/leaders often ask is what the end result we are looking for. I can adjust my tactics, strategies and game plan if I know what the goal is. But leave me with an unclear objective and I’m “lost”.

    We have not defined the goal in Afghanistan clearly and what we have described we haven’t supported. If I say we are going to build a house yet only send two framers to the job site guess what? It won’t get very far even though our framers are busting their butts. If I tell you we are building this house yet I don’t tell you what it will look like or how many rooms, well how in the hell do you build it?

    I remember years ago in SF we would joke about command guidance that went basically, “Go out and do good things”, it kinda lacked an objective.

    I know the frustrations of soldiers and can imagine there are many other agencies that are very frustrated right now. I certainly wouldn’t volunteer to work with State in Afghanistan right now.

  • TSAlfabet

    Disagree somewhat, J-brook.

    You state, “We have not defined the goal in Afghanistan clearly and what we have described we haven’t supported.”

    The overall goal in A-stan, from the beginning in 2001, was to drive Al Qaeda out of its havens there and wipe them out to the full extent possible. And the U.S. has been successful in doing that so far as that goes.

    Perhaps what you are getting at, however, is the goal NOW, which has inevitably morphed due to the changing conditions in 2009. If that is what you are talking about, then, yes, you are absolutely correct: this Admin has left considerable doubt about the goals in A-stan by saying one thing (Obama: “this is a war of necessity” etc…) and saying/doing another ( “Don’t ask for more reinforcements”…”Can’t decide about more troops until we know that we have a perfect national government in A-stan”… “Open to the Taliban being part of the government…” “Don’t like the word victory…” ). And now we have the comment by It’s All Verbatim that decisions seem to have been reached in advance and the facts are going to be skewed to fit the decision, damn the consequences for our troops and national security.

    Yes, elections have consequences. For all that Bush did wrong, at least he was willing to take a hit politically in order to ensure that Iraq got the surge in forces needed to finish the job. USMC University Professor, Mark Moyar, has written (via Powerline):

    “In Afghanistan, turning back the insurgents will require major changes in leadership just as it did in Iraq. Like the Iraqi government, Hamid Karzai’s government lacks the mid-level and junior leaders required for success, so American leaders will have to fill the leadership gap. That means assigning more American forces to the mission of population security and enabling more American officers to provide guidance to Afghan forces, either as advisers or as commanders of American partner units.

    For that reason, more than any other, the United States needs to deploy tens of thousands of additional Americans to Afghanistan as General McChrystal has recommended. Because Afghanistan has a much larger rural population than Iraq and has fewer seasoned army and police leaders, counterinsurgency is more difficult in Afghanistan today than it was in Iraq in 2007. But, as General Petraeus said concerning Iraq, difficult does not mean impossible.”

    As I predicted months ago, this Admin will not commit the resources to win this fight, so getting out, as horrible as that would be, is less evil than sacrificing troops to a half-hearted approach that is under-resourced and, therefore, doomed to failure.

  • rrk3

    I have several very liberal friends that are using this resignation to beat me about the head and neck about how Afghanistan is lost and we should pull out and bring our folks home. Even to the point of complete abandonment of Afghanistan completely.

    I think a great deal of the problem is that we are trying to apply a Western solution to an Eastern problem. This not only frustrates our military but our State department folks as well. It is my humble opinion that we still do not understand the tribal culture enough to fully exploit its strengths and weakness

    I am frustrated as well because I would like to know what the plan is as well as it seems out national leadership does not have one and will not decide upon one until mid November. I can only imagine what having boots on the ground would be like on the frustration level when as jbrookins states they do not know what type of house to build.

    There is a really good paper going around I thought I would share.
    http://blog.stevenpressfield.com/wp-content/themes/stevenpressfield/one_tribe_at_a_time.pdf

    Again our problem is we think everything needs an American solution this is not the case at all we recognized this in Iraq, I think we are yet to recoginize it in Afghanistan.

  • jbrookins

    TSAlfabet, that is what I meant. When I was there, well the war was basically over (2002-2003). The mission was achieved. Then the mission started to change. We gave the war to NATO and then ignored it. While even then we held some control and somewhat of a plan. I believe those on the ground right now have no idea what they are to accomplish. So depending on the day and who died if you ask the “boots on the ground” if it’s worth it the answer will vary but all will say make the call and give us direction.

  • Pingback: A Resignation in Afghanistan Reverberates - At War Blog - NYTimes.com

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This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Department of Defense,Obama Administration,State Department and was published October 27th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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