Matthew Hoh resigns to stir debate on Afghanistan. Mission accomplished.
It was the resignation heard around the world – or at least the blogosphere.
Security and political analysts are abuzz about Matthew Hoh, the former Marine captain and Foreign Service officer who quit his post in Afghanistan after concluding that US efforts there were actually inflaming the insurgency, not putting it down.
Leveraging his credibility as a respected veteran and diplomat, Mr. Hoh went public with his decision in an effort to fan debate about the question that wouldn’t stop nagging him as he studied the insurgency and tried (without much success) to build up local leaders in a remote part of eastern Zabul Province: What the heck are we doing in Afghanistan?
And fan debate he did. Some bloggers have lauded his decision as wise and bold; others say it doesn’t deserve such outsized attention.
Spencer Ackerman, who writes about national security for the Washington Independent, says Hoh's argument deserves serious consideration.
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. Gates himself backed away from the critique in September, …
[R]esignations on principle are vanishingly rare in U.S. government practice. It's much easier to keep your head down, protect your career prospects, and when it's over say that you had been against [failed policy xx or yy] all along. Apart from the merits of his argument, Hoh deserves respect for taking this step so forthrightly. Each person who does so creates an example for others to reflect upon.
As powerful a move as stepping down can be, though, others say Hoh’s voice shouldn't now crowd out the many others trying to solve a complex problem. Andrew Exum at the Center for a New American Security writes:
Afghanistan and the U.S. presence there is a wicked problem about which many intelligent people can disagree. But suddenly the opinion of a junior State Department employee -- talented and patriotic though he may be -- is the only opinion that matters?
Hoh's opinion certainly matters to many high-level officials. Even as he was still deciding whether to resign, senior figures like US ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and US special representative Richard Holbrooke met with him personally to hear him out. Next he’s scheduled to talk with the foreign policy adviser for Vice President Joe Biden.
“Hoh is perhaps the highest profile official with a military background to question the wisdom of the war in Afghanistan,” Mark Sappenfield wrote in the Monitor Tuesday. “With President Obama nearing a decision on a new Afghan strategy, Hoh’s words come at a crucial time.”
Hoh, however, says he doesn’t want to be the only voice crying out against the war. As he told the Washington Post: “I want people in Iowa, people in Arkansas, people in Arizona, to call their congressman and say, 'Listen, I don't think this is right.' "
Click here to read more about pros and cons of the US counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan.