Protest resignation over Afghan plans puts Obama team on edge
On Monday, the State Department sent out its no. 2 official to tout how it was managing to get U.S. civilians out into the field in Afghanistan, with nearly 1,000 expected to be in place by year-end.
A day later, it was in damage control mode after the resignation of one of its star employees was plastered on the front page of The Washington Post and on the Internet.
In an emotionally-charged four-page letter dated September 10, Matthew Hoh said he was quitting because he had lost confidence in the war effort and whether it was worth the blood spilled there.
Hoh’s letter is notable because he was seen as just the kind of person the State Department wants in Afghanistan. A former Marine and then Department of Defense civilian, he served in Iraq from 2004 to 2007. On a one-year contract with the State Department, he was serving as the senior civilian representative in Afghanistan’s Zabul province.
Just as President Barack Obama is reviewing his approach in Afghanistan, Hoh said he had “doubts and reservations” not only about the current but also future strategy in the eight-year war.
“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,” said Hoh in his resignation letter to the State Department’s human resources director.
In language that must make the State Department cringe, Hoh said the United States was no more than a “supporting actor” in a tragedy and that the U.S. presence had only served to further destabilize the country as well as its neighbor Pakistan.
“I find specious the reasons we ask for bloodshed and sacrifice from our young men and women in Afghanistan,” he said.
Excusing the “tone” of his letter, he argued that the United States was mortgaging its economy on a war which would drag on for years.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Hoh had been a “valued member” of the team in Afghanistan and that the department respected his opinion.
“We take his opinion seriously but we continue to believe that we are on track to achieve the goals that have been laid out for us. Those are to improve Afghan governance and provide security for the people of Afghanistan and help to rebuild their country and have a future which presents an alternative to the negative vision of the Taliban,” said Kelly.
The White House was noncommittal in its response to the letter. “I think the president has seen the story. I don’t believe the president has seen the letter,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
State Department officials said there had been a lot of arm-twisting to try and get Hoh to stay and that the special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, had also appealed to him not to quit.
Asked whether there could now be a rush of other resignations — as happened during the Iraq war when disaffected State Department officials quit in protest of U.S. strategy — U.S. officials said they did not think that would happen.
“There is a tendency to conflate this with the resignations during the Iraq invasion, but this is really not the case. Not to diminish this guy’s views, but…I don’t sense a groundswell of resignations. The response to serve in Afghanistan is so much bigger than it was in Iraq,” said one official.
This was certainly the message from Deputy Secretary of State Jacob Lew on Monday who said there were more applications than jobs for posts in Afghanistan.
Well now there is an opening in Zabul province to fill….
UPDATE: A State Department official called to make clear that Hoh was not a career foreign service officer, but was on a limited contract for the department when he resigned.
Photo credit: Reuters/Goran Tomasevic (Afghan policeman patrols village in Zabul province in 2008), Reuters/Jim Young (State Department building in Washington)