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Matthew Hoh On Eikenberry: “I’m Not Surprised”

Matthew Hoh, the highest-ranking foreign service officer to resign his post in Afghanistan, says he completely understands US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry’s move to privately speak out against an escalation of forces, given the corrupt central government in place in the country.

Hoh, the former Marine Corps captain who served in a civilian capacity in eastern and southern Afghanistan and made headlines with his resignation, participated in a panel discussion on the eight-year war after a screening of Robert Greenwald’s “Rethink Afghanistan” last night in Los Angeles. He believes that there is a window of opportunity for those who want to stop the escalation in Afghanistan while Barack Obama muses over his decision. “We have a window. Maybe not to end the war tomorrow, but to make it a year instead of four or five years, and save a lot of lives. We may not have this opportunity again.”

Hoh served under Eikenberry while in Afghanistan and did brief him a couple times about the provinces where he was posted. “I briefed, had a couple heart-to-heart talks with him. I’m glad he spoke out internally. And I’m not surprised.”

Hoh described Eikenberry as one of the more credible voices on the situation in the country. “He’s basically lived there since 2003, his wife lives there with him now.” But he was clear that Eikenberry was not alone in his skepticism of the Afghanistan project. “There are a lot of guys, not just in the foreign service but in the military, who are looking at this thing and they don’t understand what we’re doing there. I get emails all the time from junior and midlevel officers, telling me, ‘Keep it up. This makes no sense to us.'”

Hoh was joined in the panel discussion by antiwar activist and local radio host Sonali Kolhatkar, filmmaker Robert Greenwald and famed Vietnam-era activist Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon papers. Ellsberg praised Hoh for speaking out. “People are more aware of the internal dissents now than they ever were during Vietnam, because of people like Matthew,” he said. “We are at the same moment that Lyndon Johnson was in the summer of 1965, and there were a lot of dissenting voices in Washington then – George Ball, Clark Clifford, even Hubert Humphrey, the Vice President, much like today, who told Lyndon, ‘You will lose the nomination of your party if you go through with this.’ But now we have the possibility of acting as citizens to help stop this war. We know more today.”

Ellsberg called for Eikenberry to immediately return to Washington for Congressional hearings, along with Hoh. While Hoh has spoken to members of the Administration and Congress, he has not been invited to formally testify, nor has there been practically any floor debate or hearings on the matter of escalation, as deliberations have taken place entirely inside the White House. “(Eikenberry) should be brought immediately back to Congress,” Ellsberg said. “The range of debate has been between 10,000 or 25,000 or 40,000 more troops, not whether we stay or go. And that should change.”

For his part, Hoh said there’s a lot of receptivity to other points of view on the war in Washington. “That’s because this doesn’t pass the sniff test. It’s irrational and illogical, and they all know it. 60,000 troops doesn’t bring stop Al Qaeda. It doesn’t stabilize Pakistan. Our presence there doesn’t make us safer. The majority of the people fighting don’t want us or the central government in their valleys and villages. They feel like they’re defending their way of life.”

He had a particular scorn for Hamid Karzai, who he charged with operating a kleptocracy. “We’re propping up a government that isn’t worth dying for.”

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David Dayen

David Dayen