October 27th, 2009
06:17 PM ET
10 years ago

Official resigns over 'cavalier, politically expedient' Afghan war

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Widening rifts over America's war in Afghanistan were laid bare Tuesday with the revelation that a State Department official recently resigned in protest over what he termed a "cavalier, politically expedient and Pollyannaish misadventure."

Foreign Service Officer Matthew Hoh, a 36-year-old former Marine Corps captain, submitted his resignation letter on September 10.

Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration's special representative in both Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, made a personal plea for Hoh to change his mind. Hoh refused.

His resignation took effect September 28.

"I do not believe any military force has ever been tasked with such a complex, opaque and Sisyphean mission as the U.S. military has received in Afghanistan," Hoh wrote.

"Our forces, devoted and faithful, have been committed to a conflict in an indefinite and unplanned manner. ... We are mortgaging our nation's economy on a war which, even with increased commitment, will remain a draw for years to come."

News of Hoh's resignation came as the administration continues to deliberate whether to change course in an eight-year conflict once dubbed a "war of necessity" by President Barack Obama.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander, has reportedly submitted a request for as many as 40,000 additional troops.

McChrystal's request is being weighed against the backdrop of suddenly spiraling U.S. military fatalities. Two roadside bombs killed eight soldiers on Tuesday, two military officials told CNN. Their deaths meant a total of 24 Americans - most of them military - had been killed over 48 hours.

There have been 58 American military fatalities so far in October, making it the deadliest month for U.S. armed forces since the Afghanistan war began in October 2001.

"I find specious the reasons we ask for bloodshed and sacrifice from our young men and women in Afghanistan," Hoh wrote. "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."

Hoh, who had been serving as a top political officer in Afghanistan's southern Zabul province, argued that the American presence in the war-torn Islamic republic "has only increased destabilization and insurgency in Pakistan, where we rightly fear a toppled or weakened Pakistani government may lose control of its nuclear weapons."

He also drew parallels between the war in Afghanistan and U.S. involvement in Vietnam four decades ago.

American support for "an invalid and illegitimate Afghan government ... reminds me horribly of our involvement in South Vietnam; an unpopular and corrupt government we backed at the expense of our nation's own internal peace, against an insurgency whose nationalism we arrogantly and ignorantly mistook as a rival to our own Cold War ideology."

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the administration respected Hoh's decision.

"We take his opinions very seriously," Kelly said. "Senior officials on the ground in Afghanistan and here in Washington have talked to him, have heard him out. We respect ... his right to dissent."

Hoh's resignation from a special one-year appointment appears, at least so far, to be an anomaly. No career Foreign Service officers have resigned from the State Department over Afghanistan policy, according to Kelly.

Hoh concluded his resignation letter by stating that he could not promise the families of U.S. soldiers killed in action that the war was worthy of their sacrifice.

"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," he wrote.

"I have lost confidence such assurances can anymore be made. As such, I submit my resignation."

–CNN's Elise Labott, Dugald McConnell, and Brian Todd contributed to this story.

Filed under: Afghanistan • State Department
soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. A.B.

    I wonder why Mr. Hoh did not resign during the Bush Administration. Why now?? What is his real agenda?? When did Hoh start working as a State Department Official and what exactly were his duties?? The U.S. has been in Afghanistan for eight years and we have notthing to show for this effort after blood and treasure have been expended. Prehaps Hoh is planning to write a tell-all book and do the lecture circuit for cash and publicity. After all,Hoh calculated that he can cash out on a one year assignment and achieve money and fame which would be considerably more than any salary he received. I do not buy the idea that he just turned into a true antiwar dove. I suspect that he is an opportunist who is looking for fame and fortune.

    October 27, 2009 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  2. Jables

    Good for him. I wish more would do the same. Unless that is, you want more Americans to die.

    October 27, 2009 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  3. Nevada dude

    well do we want to get the people that caused 9/11 or dont we? if war is the way lets get it done. it its not then get those men and women out of there

    October 27, 2009 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  4. MMG

    This is what Colin Powell should have done in the beginning, and what anyone with conviction should do now to ensure our childrens' futures. Hats off to a man with courage and honesty. I fear for our nation that there are not enough like him to make a difference.


    October 27, 2009 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  5. Ruty

    Hoh knows what he is talking about. I agree with him. This war is stupid and unnecessary. Bring our troops home. Let McCain and his family go over there. They are for it. Send the Cheneys and the Bushes also.

    October 27, 2009 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  6. Scott L

    Obama has no clue.

    October 27, 2009 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  7. Perusing-through


    The reason our nation is still in Afghanistan 7-years after sweeping the Taliban and Al Queda out is because the "Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Rove" administration squandered the initial victory to redirect American resources, treasure, and lives into Iraq for WMDs that were never there. And while patriotic Americans were sacrificing their lives in Iraq, the Taliban was reconstituting them selves in Afghanistan as they learn new methods to fight Americans in an already complex geography of people, culture, religious fanatics, tribal war lords, and mountainous terrain.

    What Hoh should be doing is channeling his energy to assist the Obama-Biden administration clean up the mess Bush-Cheney left behind and "appropriately" draw this war to a win-win solution for America and the innocent people of Afghanistan.

    October 27, 2009 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  8. Keith in Austin

    Hoh is a disgrace!

    October 27, 2009 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  9. Jane wants the truth

    Something is being said when such a person resigns.... let's see what happens after election day.....

    October 27, 2009 09:28 pm at 9:28 pm |
  10. garrett

    Lets get the Afghanistan surge going, win this war and then get out of there.

    October 27, 2009 09:31 pm at 9:31 pm |
  11. ggb

    Afghanistan is reminiscent of the democratic run Vietnam war. Once again, our brave men and women do not have the suppor to fight a war costing only more american lives. WHY would anyone vote for a president who has no respect for the military commanders. He lost my vote when stating this much in the SC debate!

    October 27, 2009 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  12. Vic of New York

    Should of told that to Dick Cheney! It's a little "water under the bridge" now.

    October 27, 2009 09:36 pm at 9:36 pm |
  13. Anonymous

    I think Obama will pull out troops, but increase Special forces ops, Buy the loyalty of the Warlords (the real leaders of that country) and Drone strikes.

    If he pays the warlords enough, he may even convince them to let us build schools there.

    October 27, 2009 09:45 pm at 9:45 pm |
  14. Stu

    Didn't we learn from Korea and Vietnam? Either you go in with a total warfare mentality and unwavering resolve to win, without the political-correctness or playing nice baloney, or you shouldn't bother at all.

    October 27, 2009 09:48 pm at 9:48 pm |
  15. Vietnam Revisited

    I was a tweeny as the Vietnam war was coming to a close but I remember it well. My older brother was in college at the time. I agree with Mr. Hoh, finally someone who will publicly tell the truth. I believe it looks like another Vietnam.

    "We are mortgaging our nation's economy on a war which, even with increased commitment, will remain a draw for years to come."

    October 27, 2009 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  16. Rayshine

    What exactly is it that you want?

    I don't entirely understand either what the connection to those other countries is? Is there something underlying that you are trying to say?

    October 27, 2009 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  17. Party Purity will never bring Political Power!

    "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," he wrote.

    "I have lost confidence such assurances can anymore be made. As such, I submit my resignation."

    No depiction of the loss, and as he points out, the waste of human life and potential, has ever been stated more eloquently.

    Wars should end when commanders in the field cannot justify the sacrifice of American lives.

    No other reason need be given for bringing the troops home, now!

    October 27, 2009 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  18. Jack M Pollock

    It's time someone spoke out honestly about our dubious war in Afghanistan. As an occupying power, we are hated by the Afghans. This is an incentive to greater terrorism and a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda. If it is Al Qaeda we are seeking, Mr. Hoh is right: They are in Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Sudan, Pakistan, and God forbid, even here in the US. We are wasting enormous blood and treasure in what I think is a futile war. My country, I am sad to say, is stretched too thin. Read Andrew Bacevich's book, THE LIMITS OF POWER. When I served in the Army Air Force in World War II, I knew why I was fighting. Can our brave soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere say the same today?

    October 27, 2009 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  19. Hammerer

    Obama's on the campaign trail making speeches and raising money for campaign while troops are giving their lives at the highest rate of the war. He can not make a decision but he can make a speech.
    What is his problem? Is he waiting for his teleprompter to tell him what to say?

    October 27, 2009 10:48 pm at 10:48 pm |
  20. giterdone

    Get in there, give them the support they need to get the job done and get out. Our soldiers do not need a bunch of weak freaks at their backs.

    October 27, 2009 10:52 pm at 10:52 pm |
  21. Greg, MN

    When you go to war, you wage he!! on the opposition. Remember Afghanistan is where the Taliban have always been. Remember 9/11 the idiots who flew planes into buildings. Osama Bin Ladin. Give them he!! with everything we have then get out.

    Turn tale now, without destroying more of the Taliban, they will rebuild quickly and be back in the US for revenge.

    Where's Obama's strategic plan he campaigned on?

    October 27, 2009 10:56 pm at 10:56 pm |
  22. Orangelo Moulde

    "Official resigns over 'cavalier, politically expedient' Afghan war" OR according to the popular conservative interpretation he wants to "Cut And Run" (just shorten to CAN). Or is the new Dick Cheney characterization, "Dithering And Afraid" (DAF) to be used now?

    October 27, 2009 11:04 pm at 11:04 pm |
  23. A wised up Democrat who is now an Independant

    This man only shows you that he is nothing but a whinning ex-junior officer who knows nothing about combat sand tactics. This I would bet is why he was ropered out of service when his time as Captain was up. People do not take someone of this nature as being seriously involved in knowing what the issues are. A Captain is only a leader of of a Company of men consisting of approximately 150 strong. He knows nothing of preparing war tactics. He only follows orders of his superiors or else he is kicked out of service as soon as his enlistment is up. No Major for him for being unworthy.

    October 27, 2009 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm |
  24. VS, Florida

    I agree that Mr. Hoh has a point in describing the apparently insurmountable difficulty facing the US to defeat a foe that is dispersed within the general populace. However, it is curious that he did not have such qualms when "killing some bad guys" in Iraq, in a war that had nothing to do with 9/11. He had the "best experience" there as a marine. Somehow those bad guys weren't "just fighting because we were there". I"m sorry but this "awakening" has the stench of political expediency.

    October 28, 2009 06:24 am at 6:24 am |
  25. NitoCT

    I agree with Officer Hoh. Its a sad day for America. BRING OUR TROOPS HOME NOW!!!!

    October 28, 2009 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
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