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First U.S. diplomat resigns over Afghanistan, sending ripples through Obama White House

A U.S. Marine points his rifle at Afghan men ordered to raise their arms to show they're not carrying explosives in Farah Province, southern Afghanistan
He is a former Marine captain with combat experience in Iraq, a former uniformed officer at the Pentagon, a civilian in Iraq who joined the Foreign Service to make a difference.

Now, Matthew Hoh has resigned, the first official protest resignation over the Afghanistan War. In a letter to the State Department's personnel office last month, the 36-year-old diplomat wrote:

I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States' presence in Afghanistan...To put simply: I fail to see the value or the worth in continued U.S. casualties or expenditures of resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year old civil war.

The Atlantic has an embedded copy of the resignation here.

According to the Washington Post, which broke the story this morning, senior officials reacted quickly to the defection. The U.S. ambassdor to Afghanistan offered Hoh a job. He declined. Then Richard Holbrooke, the administration's go-to guy on the region, sat Hoh down for a chat, and offered him a job on his staff in D.C.

"We took his letter very seriously, because he was a good officer," Holbrooke told the Post. "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."

First Hoh accepted the job, then changed his mind. "I recognize the career implications, but it wasn't the right thing to do," he told the Post in an interview Friday, two days after his resignation became final. "I'm not some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in love," he added, calling Afghanistan essentially a far-away civil war.

President Obama meanwhile continues to weigh Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal's request for more troops. Addressing 3,500 military personnel and their families in a naval air hangar in Florida yesterday, Obama seemed to answer critics of his deliberative process, saying:

I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm's way. I won't risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary. And if it is necessary, we will back you up to the hilt.

-- Johanna Neuman

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Photo: A Marine points orders Afghan men to show they're not carrying explosives. Credit: David Furst / AFP / Getty Images.

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when Marine Captains sit down and tell you NO! You just may want to listen. It seems to me the Bush adminstration are the very ones who dithered on making the tiemly decisions and left a mess for the next administration, one by the way that is taking deliberations very seriously over these past weeks as has been reported in the news, much to Dick's consternation?
The very same Dick who during his 30 yr reign as the puppet master did not seem to have a plan for Afghanistan at all?
But that was then and this is now, and the questions do remain, is this Obama's Vietnam, will it be Obam's Black Hawk down scenario, because to date the land route for supplies and materiel's is not secured by all accounts?
Ya dont have to have read Sun Tzu's art of War to know what Pat Buchana does when he said: 'Afghanistan is the place empires go to die'.
The Russians could not pacify the region and it is in their own continent,the chinese seem disinterested in the mission, Indai and Pakistan have no commitment to being there except as may be a border issues for the time being?
Why heck for 1300 years no one has pacified the warlords of the next valley's and mountain pass?

This resignation of a dedicated and thoughtful Foreign Service officer highlights the president's ongoing review of all the options in Afghanistan. It is also indicative of the deep frustration being felt by those on the military and political frontlines there with the Afghan government and its inability to provide national leadership. President Obama has correctly refused to rush his decision on the strategic options available, and has instead chosen to arrive at a deliberate decision based on the intensive analyses now under way. In the national interest, it would be best for nthe Republican party to stop playing a political end game of harrassment, and respectfully await the decision of the president/Commander-in-chief in a matter that is principally his responsibility. For a party that failed for eight long years to resolve the Afghan issue, the Republicans have no 'locus standi' in this matter.

So please tell me why in the video with all the sailors lined up behind him for a command performance, photo line-up the officer and three sailors directly behing him are all black.

It was the military that first broke the color barrier decades ago. How too bad the never-served, C-in-C is reversing the march of time.

Out of step. Out of dress. Late for chow!

Matthew Hoh may be a person who was driven by his conscience, but he is NOT a Foreign Service Officer. A former contractor, he signed on for a limited, non-career, one-year appointment, which was to last until September 28. He submitted his letter of resignation a few weeks before that. He was a political officer in a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan in Zabul. His role as a PRT political officer was to monitor and report on political and economic developments in his province. He may have been the ‘Senior Civilian Official” but he was likely the only U.S. civilian official there.

Whatever Hoh’s views on Afghanistan, his ‘resignation’ was simply a hastening of the end of his one-year contract. He was not vested into a career at the Department of State, nor had he served in a variety of diplomatic posts. The Washington Post mentions his own admissions of his struggles with PTSD and drinking, both are issues that would cause State’s Diplomatic Security Service to suspend a career FSO’s security clearance and definitely preclude service in a high-threat location such as Afghanistan or one of the dozens of embassies and consulates located in dangerous places.

An analogy would be a journalist from the L.A. times being commissioned as an U.S. Army Major and put in charge of Psychological Operations for the province - the military does not do that anymore, and perhaps State needs to take more care in mentoring and screening ‘mustangs’ before they threaten to resign via the newspapers and embarrass the thousands of career FSOs who have served without public complaint, and continue to serve, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and dozens of other dangerous parts of the world.

State has an internal ‘dissent channel’ where employees who are committed to continued service in government can air their personal objections to U.S. policy to the highest levels. Resignation is an option, but is not the only option. It is more than a little disgusting that Dick Holbrooke, reviled by career FSOs for his 'kiss-up, kick down' management style, would actually try to mentor someone with less 'skin' in the game than the lowliest Junior Officer.

a slodier NEVER cries and starts complaining!!
he should have stayed and finished the job!!
nothing is oerfect!!


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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