A poster boy for the Obama administration’s plans for the increasingly-controversial war in Afghanistan resigned in protest last month and the departure has sent shock waves through the White House, which faces increasing criticism over its handling of the conflict.
“I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan,” Matthew Hoh wrote in his four-page resignation letter from the Foreign Service. “I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based no upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end.”
Hoh is a former Marine captain and Iraq war veteran. He also served at the Pentagon and later as a civilian State Department worker in Iraq and Washington. The Foreign Service sent him to Zabul province in Afghanistan to serve as a senior civilian adviser.
Then he quit and the Obama administration went into immediate damage control mode.
The reaction to Hoh’s letter was immediate. Senior U.S. officials, concerned that they would lose an outstanding officer and perhaps gain a prominent critic, appealed to him to stay.
U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry brought him to Kabul and offered him a job on his senior embassy staff. Hoh declined. From there, he was flown home for a face-to-face meeting with Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“We took his letter very seriously, because he was a good officer,” Holbrooke said in an interview. “We all thought that given how serious his letter was, how much commitment there was, and his prior track record, we should pay close attention to him.”
While he did not share Hoh’s view that the war “wasn’t worth the fight,” Holbrooke said, “I agreed with much of his analysis.” He asked Hoh to join his team in Washington, saying that “if he really wanted to affect policy and help reduce the cost of the war on lives and treasure,” why not be “inside the building, rather than outside, where you can get a lot of attention but you won’t have the same political impact?”
Hoh accepted the argument and the job, but changed his mind a week later. “I recognize the career implications, but it wasn’t the right thing to do,” he said in an interview Friday, two days after his resignation became final.