There are lots of people who are tired of war. The young men and women on their third and fourth deployments are tired of war. Some say that the Afghans are tired of war, while others point out that if they were truly tired of war, they would perhaps cease fighting. Matthew Hoh is tired of war.
When you tire of war, the reason for fighting gets lost in the shuffle. The immediate emotion of it all fades and the real work begins. The young often picture war as an adventure. Some picture it as a righteous cause, with the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” wafting through the whole scene.
War is hard work.
War is not glamorous. War is dirty, it is occasionally exceedingly violent; but mostly it is tedious and boring. Especially this type of war. There are some areas of Afghanistan that see activity on a daily basis. Most do not. Helmand, Khost, Kunar and some other places in Afghanistan have relatively constant conflict, with active insurgencies that threaten the peace on a daily basis. Other places are relatively calm, with spates of violent outbursts that shatter the day-to-day routine of Afghan life with smoky, dusty, noisy destruction.
There is no truly national solution for all of Afghanistan. Each area has its own particular situation and broad generalizations simply do not work in this country. Afghanistan is largely rural, and all politics is local. Each place requires specific knowledge of the area, the drivers, the personalities and the issues of particular concern. Foreign knowledge wins nothing here. Experience elsewhere is no guarantee of success here. The lessons of Iraq are often counter-productive here, especially the hard-won TTP’s that assisted in survival in the urban violence. Here, they are often an over-reaction that only alienates those whose trust we are working so hard to gain.
When the zest for war has long-since drained, it takes a special kind of motivation to keep going day-by-day and still putting effort into it. I have seen those who have stacked arms after a few months, thereafter taking the easy way. I have seen those who once had a fire in their belly who have run out of wind, their endurance spent, they are no longer mentally capable of making their way through productively. They become, at times, worse than dead weight. There are those who just flat lose their minds. They lose their grasp of the why, and their disillusionment becomes worse than an anchor dragging their souls against the sandy bottom of the sea of time. It becomes a sail that catches the headwind and drives them backwards.
Perhaps that is what happened to Matt Hoh. I don’t live in his head, so I don’t really know. There has been much discussion in the past day or so about his letter of resignation. One of the young Captains expressed a type of admiration for his having the “courage of his convictions.” I’m not inclined to be so charitable. I think he’s a loser. I think he’s perhaps an example of how some of the young “whiz kids” are not what they seem to be; that a 36 year old may not have what it takes to be the senior civilian officer in charge of our government’s efforts in one of Afghanistan’s provinces. A Marine officer, one of the many Captains to have left the services without rising to Field Grade rank during this war… perhaps out of fatigue… he then joined the civilian ranks and worked in Iraq as a contractor. Visit his LinkedIn page and see that the longest period of time he’s listed as staying in one place is a year and half. Not exactly a stellar resume, in terms of what civilian employers would look for in a hiring decision. Look at the types of contacts he’s open to… new opportunities, consulting jobs, that type of thing.
He’s a job-hopper.
Matthew Hoh is not a shining example of American intellectual might carefully applied to the problem of Afghanistan. He was only in this country since April. Hell, he scarcely had time to learn anything other than, “This shit is really hard.”
It made his head hurt.
Why are we hiring people like Matt Hoh to do important work in troubled provinces in Afghanistan? That’s the question that we should be asking. One of the officers here met him while working in Zabul Province earlier this year. I asked him what he thought of Hoh.
“He was a dick.”
Short, succinct, to the point. This officer was an embedded combat advisor who knows more than the average bear about insurgency and counterinsurgency. He’s been an officer longer than Hoh has held any one position in his life… going by his own LinkedIn page, that is. The officer worked with real Afghans in real situations on the ground in Zabul Province for months. In my opinion, the officer’s opinion holds water.
As for the “courage of his convictions,” Matthew Hoh has now positioned himself, career-wise, better than he ever was as a contracted officer with the State Department with a one-year contract. He is, for today, the hero of the Huffington Post. However, he has thrown himself into the dustbin of history. He’s a quitter, and while some may say that he quit on principle, the most telling line of his own resignation is this one:
“…I have lost understanding of… ”
Yes, young Matthew, you have lost understanding. Judging from the other information, I’m not sure that you ever had any, really. I am not feeling very understanding towards Hoh, either. Hoh admitted that there was a timing issue in his resignation. He has now been doing interviews, playing the instant celebrity, and he’s been getting his share of pats on the back from the “my head hurts” crowd. In one for the Washington Post, he says,
I am happy for the attention to my issues and to the points I am raising, because I believe they have been absent in the public debate of the war.
Ah, so it’s a statement. This is not one man heeding his conscience. It is one man using his position, and his resignation from it, to influence policy through public opinion. That’s what he tells us. He believes… what he wants for us to see. He admits in his interview with the Post that he had doubts, and that he had studied Afghanistan, and then that his experience here confirmed what he thought… so he resigned. Because to him, that’s service.
In other words, he is so damned principled, and so damned intelligent, that he knows better than all the other people who have spent years and years on these issues, as well as the elected officers of our government. He knows so much, and so well, that his resignation… made public by himself and now on an interview tour… is so damned important that this minor ex-functionary with a PRT should influence public opinion?
He spent only a few short months on the ground here and then quits… to much publicity, which he undoubtedly generated by releasing the resignation letter. I sense purpose. Hmmm.
This week, Hoh is scheduled to meet with Vice President Biden’s foreign policy adviser, Antony Blinken, at Blinken’s invitation.
Yep… that makes sense. Joining Team Biden may be in the works then, eh? I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. Pretty consistent… he’ll fit right in.
Now, let’s take a look at the real importance of such a man, the most senior of three State Department officials in Zabul Province. That is a man who has risen in the ranks to oversee the efforts of two other civilian officials in the PRT in Zabul. Wow. Really important guy. Very effective. He admitted to achieving pretty much of nothing while he was there but felt that he had “represented” well.
I don’t think so. It’s easy to be impressive for short periods of time. It’s harder to actually do real things in this country that do make a difference over a long period of time. I find that Mr. Hoh is singularly unimpressive. He claims great expertise with only a few months experience in this country, and now demands that his words have great sway in a very important debate. He will have his fifteen minutes of fame, and then he will fade. In the larger picture, he’s nobody. Instead of doing what he can to make a real difference in a tough situation, he has cashed in his chips and run away from any responsibility. He was offered a seat at the table where he could perhaps fight the good fight and influence policy, but he chose not to. I’m sure somebody, somewhere, will take pleasure in his current behavior and hire him in. Hoh will not starve from lack of work. He may very well wind up working with the rest of the foreign policy rocket scientists on Team Biden. But, as in this case, he will disappoint and wind up with another sub-two-year job on his resume.
In the meantime, I think that the State Department needs to look at its hiring practices and determine why it is attracting such people and missing the indicators (a year and a half max in the past eight years or so) that may indicate an inability to make the long term contribution that is needed. They also need to take a look at the commitment level of those it is considering hiring. Hoh was not deeply committed when he arrived, and he conveys that clearly in his interview. How did the hiring authorities at State miss that? How did his supervisor not recognize the growing problem and do what supervisors are supposed to do? How did the PRT commander not recognize that Hoh needed counseling, that he had, in his own words, “lost his understanding?”
War is tiring. It’s really, really hard on those who have difficulty in keeping the same job for awhile. Perhaps now he sees himself as finally saving the drowning men. When Hoh’s fifteen minutes are up, I will not miss him. While Ambassador Eikenberry was overly civil to him, I am not. Hoh’s reppenhagen in my book. He has joined the ranks of the infamous.