Thursday, October 29, 2009

An analysis of Resignation Letter by Matthew Hoh

The resignation letter of Matthew Hoh, the U.S.’s Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan, represented the highest civilian official resignation over the war and has been received with some fanfare by the left, as well as trepidation by the Obama administration, who has reached out to him and tried to coax him to reconsider or, alternatively, to rejoin them by taking a domestic post where he can influence U.S. policy there.

But what has been glaringly absent is a real analysis of the absurd statements made by this young man. While we should be respectful of his service, the fact that he served honorably in both a military and civilian position for the nation should not excuse his resignation letter from scrutiny. And once the veneer of his letter is peeled back, a number of blatantly idiotic opinions become revealed.

For starters, Hoh states that “…the September 11th attacks, as well as the Madrid and London bombings, were primarily planned and organized in Western Europe; a point that highlights the threat is not one tied to traditional geographic or political boundaries.”

This single phrase is the heart of Hoh’s ridiculous opinion. It is true that al-Qaeda agents, working in European and American cities, planned and executed the attacks, and it’s also true that these were primarily Saudi citizens. But his statement grossly overlooks the fact that it was Afghanistan where the al-Qaeda terrorists received most of their training, and served as the enclave from which their highest officers organized, funded, and ordered attacks. The Taliban were not only complicit, but were directly responsible because they provided material and moral support for the al-Qaeda terror organization. After the attack, they brazenly protected the perpetrators and responded to the world—not just the United States—with arrogant threats and challenges, instead of helping the world to get its hands on these bloodied murderers.

Hoh then continues: “The U.S. and NATO presence and operations in Pashtun valleys and villages, as Afghan army and police units that are led and composed of non-Pashtun soldiers and police, provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified.”

Revealing a perverse form of the Stockholm syndrome, Hoh displays more sympathy for the Pashtun tribesmen who resent U.S. presence than he does the U.S. cause. If it was primarily the Pashtun who form the Taliban, and if it was the Taliban who supported al-Qaeda—which by its nature was primarily composed of foreign mercenary terrorists including Saudi, Georgian, Pakistanis and other nationalities—then it is fair to say that the Pashtun were not overly concerned about the presence of foreign fighters when they were initially in their midst, and it was their complicity with their actions that brought the full wrath of the United States to their lands. To say that their insurgency is “justified” is an attempt to obviate the fact that the invasion of Afghanistan was also justified, a rhetorical action that appears to undermine U.S. interests and a just response to a horrendous act of war.

Hoh says that “…this is not the European or Pacific theaters of World War II, but rather is a war for which our leaders, uniformed, civilian and elected, have inadequately prepared and resourced our men and women.”

No, indeed it is not. But like the attack on Pearl Harbor, it was al-Qaeda and its close allies in the Taliban who launched the preemptive strike on the United States. The U.S. response to the Japanese was focused, furious, and justified. Hoh’s illogical argument would have rendered the American bellicose response on Japan inutile and would have justified any Japanese response as “justified”.
What’s more, for an individual who claims to know U.S. military history, he is either staggeringly ignorant of the facts surrounding World War II, or purposely overlooks the harsh realities of that war. It is false to pretend that U.S. troops in WWII were somehow better equipped than today’s soldiers. Their equipment was far more primitive and sparse than what our troops enjoy today. Leadership vacuums existed then, as now, and many horrific mistakes were made that cost our troops thousands of lives. In a single example, known as Exercise Tiger, which was a practice drill in preparation for the Normandy invasion, lack of preparation, leadership mistakes, and a surprise U-Boat attack killed nearly as many men in one day as what the U.S. has lost in Afghanistan over the course of eight years. What’s more, that exercise alone killed nearly three times as many men as what died on Utah Beach during the actual invasion. Many mistakes were made throughout the war included troops ordered to attack non-existant artillery emplacements, paratroopers accidentally dropped far from intended targets, troops killed by friendly fire and bombed by allied planes.

War is hell, they say. It always has been and always will be. Our troops have found themselves ill-equipped since the Revolutionary War, and have suffered horrendous losses to friendly fire and other mistakes, including the incident that killed Confederate General Longstreet in the Civil War. By comparison, our troops today are far better equipped, trained, and supported than at any other time in history.

Hoh’s most egregious comments are when he begins to question the entire strategy for the war. For example, he points out that the corruption and incompetence of the new Afghan government “reminds me of our involvement in South Vietnam.” He never bothers to consider that this new, incompetent government is a vast improvement over the brutality, inhumanity, cruelty and stone-age incompetence of the Taliban government, if we dare to even call it a “government”. The problems he highlights regarding fraud and corruption can be overcome with time, and are not unique to the Afghan government. What’s more, Vietnam did not attack the United States, but the previous Afghan government was complicit in the attacks on the United States which—by the way—killed more US citizens than the number who died at Pearl Harbor.

Hoh then says: “I find specious the reasons we ask for bloodshed and sacrifice from our young men and women in Afghanistan. If honest, our stated strategy of securing Afghanistan to prevent al-Qaeda resurgence or regrouping would require us to additionally invade and occupy western Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, etc….to follow the logic of our stated goals we should garrison Pakistan…”

To suggest that we should “occupy western Pakistan” reveals yet another foolish opinion. Pakistan is not an enemy state; they have allied themselves with the United States to combat the Taliban terrorists and have lost more soldiers and civilians in this effort than we have (some estimates claim there have been thousands of deaths in Pakistan due to their assistance, including the assassinated Benazir Bhutto). While they have been neither as effective nor as cooperative as we would like, the Pakistanis have made great sacrifices and have risked their own internal peace in the effort to stamp out Taliban radicalism. And I must again remind Hoh that, while Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen were not involved in the 9/11 attacks, Afghanistan was. Yet despite that fact, the United States is in fact struggling to contain the terrorist threats that emanate from those nations. Hoh’s illogical conclusion appears to suggest that because the war in Afghanistan is difficult and costly, and because there are other threats also, if we don’t invade all the nations that threaten us, we should not invade any.

To refer back to WWII, it would be as if Hoh suggested that we should not have attacked Germany, Italy and Japan because we did not attack Spain, which had been a Nazi ally (even if Franco did remain neutral in the war). The Soviet Union, like Pakistan, was both a threat and an ally, but we did not invade Russia. So Hoh’s analysis reveals an infantile misunderstanding of strategy: if you can’t attack everywhere at once, then you should refrain from attacking anywhere at all.

Even a chess novice could see that this “strategy” is no strategy at all, but is instead an excuse for cowardice.

Hoh further reveals his ignorance when he says that “if our concern is for a failed state crippled by corruption and poverty and under assault from criminal and drug lords, then if we bear our military and financial contributions to Afghanistan, we must reevaluate and increase our commitment to and involvement in Mexico.”
Is Hoh unaware of our nation’s deep involvement in Mexico (not to mention Colombia)? Has he never heard of our efforts to strengthen their democracy, of our investment of time, resources and manpower in the counter-narcotic struggle?

Hoh summarizes his discontent by stating that our effort in Afghanistan “has become a cavalier, politically expedient and Pollyannaish misadventure.” To my knowledge, none of our civilian and military leaders have provided naïve positive statements about the war that could be described accurately as “Pollyannaish”.

Every assessment I have heard has been frank, forthright, worrisome, but has not promoted a hopeless and cynical call for retreat and surrender, which is what Hoh appears to promote.

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