Matthew Hoh, who recently resigned from his State Dept. job to protest U.S. policy in Afghanistan, gave his views on the Lehrer Newshour last night. I was impressed with his cogency, and also his quiet insistence that the current more-troops-or-not discussion get to the core question: Should the U.S. military be in Afghanistan at all. Politely but stubbornly, Hoh argues that the reasons usually given, in passing and without scrutiny, for a continued U.S. occupation, just don’t hold up. Al Qaida is not in Afghanistan. A resurgent Taliban does not threaten U.S. national security. The U.S. mission in Afghanistan is not stabilizing the situation in Pakistan. We are in the middle of someone else’s civil war.
The full transcript of the interview is here. Below are a couple of key excerpts, followed by video of the interview. Hoh, a former Marine captain, spent five months in Afghanistan before resigning in September. His resignation letter, explaining his reasons, went public this week. The Newshour interviewer was Judy Woodruff. Here are a couple of key moments:
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, is it your view that the U.S. should just get out?
MATTHEW HOH: Of course it’s impossible to wave a magic wand and be gone from there. However, I do believe we are involved in a 35-year-old civil war.
I believe we are not the lead character in that war, that it’s an internal conflict. I believe that 60,000 troops in Afghanistan do not serve to defeat al-Qaida and do not serve to stabilize the Pakistan government.…
HOH: I found, we were fighting people who were fighting us only because we’re occupying them or because we are supporting a central government that they view as occupying them.
HOH: Since 2001, al-Qaida has evolved. They have turned into, as I like to say, an ideological cloud that exists on the Internet and recruits worldwide. They — if you look at the attacks al-Qaida has been successful with over the last seven, eight years, including attacks on 9/11, they weren’t conducted by Afghans or Pakistanis.
And a lot of the preparation and training, it took place in Western Europe or even here in the United States. So, I don’t think al-Qaida has any interest in ever tying itself again to a geographical or political boundary. I think they’re content to exist as they have evolved. And they are a threat, and they should be our priority. We need to defeat them.
But, again, 60,000 troops in Afghanistan does not defeat al-Qaida.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What about the Taliban?
MATTHEW HOH: The Taliban, we chased them out of power in 2001, like we rightfully should have.
However, what you have in Quetta now, I believe, is just the remnants of that. And while the Quetta Shura Taliban, as we refer to them, is a threat, and is a threat to the Karzai government, I don’t believe they are a threat to the United States.
And, furthermore, I don’t believe that they would be able to retake Kabul, particularly if we ensure that there was no Pakistani support for them if we left Afghanistan.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you think would happen, though, if President Obama did give General McChrystal the troops he wants or a significant increase in the number of troops?
MATTHEW HOH: I believe it’s only going to fuel the insurgency. It’s only going to reinforce claims by our enemies that we are an occupying power, because we are an occupying power.
And that will only fuel the insurgency. And that will only cause more people to fight us or those fighting us already to continue to fight us.
HOH: I think we have to realize that, sometimes, people don’t like us and don’t want to be like us. And we have to accept that. And then we have to engage them politically and work with them that way.
(Woodruff introduced this question by saying that Hoh is only 36 and spent only five months in Afghanistan.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Who are you to say what the United States should be doing, when there are others who have been there longer, studied it for years, and so forth?
MATTHEW HOH: Sure. And I wish people would refute what I’m saying. I have seen that criticism, but I have not seen anyone tell me why it’s not a civil war.
I have not seen anyone tell me how stabilizing the Afghan government will defeat al-Qaida. I have not heard anyone tell me how keeping 60,000 troops, or 80,000, or 100,000 troops in Afghanistan will stabilize Pakistan. So, I haven’t heard the answers to those questions.
As for the criticisms about my age or that I was only there for five months, I was there for five months. I was in two parts of the country. I worked with as many local people as I could. And I listened as much as possible.
At that point, what I wrote — first off, what I wrote in my resignation letter, there’s not a novel or unique thought in that. Those are thoughts shared by military officers and State Department officers as well. My concern is not how are we fighting this war, but why are we fighting this war.