Matthew Hoh, a former Marine captain with combat experience in Iraq, resigned last month from his position with the Foreign Service, where he was the the senior U.S. civilian in the Taliban-dominated Southern Afghanistan province of Zabul, because he became convinced that our war in that country will not only inevitably fail, but is fueling the very insurgency we are trying to defeat. Hoh's resignation is remarkable because it entails the sort of career sacrifice in the name of principle that has been so rare over the last decade, but even more so because of the extraordinary four-page letter (.pdf) he wrote explaining his reasoning.
Hoh's letter should be read in its entirety, but I want to highlight one part. He begins by noting that "next fall, the United States' occupation will equal in length the Soviet Union's own physical involvement in Afghanistan," and contends that our unwanted occupation combined with our support for a deeply corrupt government "reminds [him] horribly of our involvement in South Vietnam." He then explains that most of the people we are fighting are not loyal to the Taliban or driven by any other nefarious aim, but instead are driven principally by resistance to the presence of foreign troops in their provinces and villages (click on image to enlarge):
How long are we going to continue to do this? We invade and occupy a country, and then label as "insurgents" or even "terrorists" the people in that country who fight against our invasion and occupation. With the most circular logic imaginable, we then insist that we must remain in order to defeat the "insurgents" and "terrorists" -- largely composed of people whose only cause for fighting is our presence in their country. All the while, we clearly exacerbate the very problem we are allegedly attempting to address -- Terrorism -- by predictably and inevitably increasing anti-American anger and hatred through our occupation, which, no matter the strategy, inevitably entails our killing innocent civilians. Indeed, does Hoh's description of what drives the insurgency -- anger "against the presence of foreign soldiers" -- permit the conclusion that that's all going to be placated with a shift to a kind and gentle counter-insurgency strategy?
Relatedly, Hol points out the transparent fallacy of the claim that we will reduce -- rather than worsen -- the problem of Terrorism by occupying Muslim countries with a massive military presence:
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Hoh's observations are entirely consistent with David Rohde's account of his seven-month hostage ordeal with the Taliban: namely, the longer we occupy Afghanistan, the more people we kill and imprison without charges, the greater the central fuel of terrorism -- anti-American hatred -- rises, not only in Afghanistan but across the Muslim world. As the Pentagon's own commissioned Report from 2004 concluded:
Negative attitudes and the conditions that create them are the underlying sources of threats to America's national security . . . Direct American intervention in the Muslim world has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for Islamic radicals.
Hoh told The Washington Post's Karen DeYoung that he's "not some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in love" and that he believes "there are plenty of dudes who need to be killed," adding: "I was never more happy than when our Iraq team whacked a bunch of guys." Plainly, there's nothing ideological about his conclusions; they're just the by-product of an honest assessment, based on first-hand experiences, of how our ongoing occupation of that country is worsening the very problem we're allegedly there to solve.