As US President Barack Obama ponders his options in what has become widely known as “Obama’s War” in Afghanistan, the resignation of a mid-level civilian official in Kabul has complicated the president’s choices, while a recent poll of Afghans lends a glimmer of optimism.
Matthew Hoh, a 36-year-old former Marine who headed a small provincial reconstruction team, has resigned because “I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan.”
In his letter of resignation to Nancy Powell, the Director-General of the Foreign Service, Hoh wrote that “I fail to see the value or the worth in continued US casualties or expenditures of resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year old civil war.”
He noted that next fall, the “United States’ occupation” will equal that of the Soviet Union’s failed effort that began in 1979.
“Like the Soviets,” Hoh said, “we continue to secure and bolster a failing state, while encouraging an ideology and system of government unknown and unwanted by its people.”
Ordinarily, the resignation of a middle ranking official doesn’t cause much of a stir. In this case, however, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, head of the US mission in Kabul, and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special envoy on Pakistan and Afghanistan, both sought to dissuade Hoh from leaving. He was to see US Vice President Joseph Biden’s foreign policy adviser, Antony Blinken, this weekend.
Moreover, Hoh’s letter was leaked to the press, by whom and for what purpose is not clear. Hoh dated his letter Sept. 11, the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington in 2001, but it didn’t show up in public until the Washington Post printed a front page story last Tuesday. That was quickly followed by articles in other papers, reports on TV news, an interview on the PBS News Hour, and numerous Internet blogs. Hoh’s questioning of the US military presence in Afghanistan came as US deaths there mounted to a monthly record of 55 as the end of last month approached. The US has deployed 68,000 men and women of all services in Afghanistan.
The former Marine, who fought in Iraq, ticked off a litany of ills he alleged in Afghanistan, including “glaring corruption and unabashed graft,” a president affiliated with drug lords and criminals, provincial leaders who are power brokers and opportunists, and the recent elections “dominated by fraud and discredited by low voter turnout.”
Hoh said: “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.”
In some contrast to Hoh’s gloomy outlook, the results of a recent poll of Afghans released this week by the Asia Foundation, the non-governmental organization promoting development in Asia, produced a flicker of light. The survey found that 42 percent feel the country is moving in the right direction, up from 38 percent last year, but well below the 64 percent five years ago.
The reason for optimism was improved security, noted by 44 percent compared with 31 percent in 2006. Respondents also mentioned rebuilding and opening of schools for girls. The lack of security, however, generated pessimism even though that was cited by 42 percent, down from 50 percent last year.
Of the respondents, 51 percent said “they fear for their personal safety.” Of them, 17 percent said “they or someone in their family have been victims of violence or crime in the past year.” Nearly one in 10 victims said this was because of militias, insurgents or foreign forces.
Which was not unlike Hoh’s point.
Richard Halloran is a freelance writer in Hawaii.
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