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2011-05-02

Ex-State Department Official Matthew Hoh: With Killing of Bin Laden, Why Are 50,000 U.S. Troops Still in Afghanistan?

Guests

Matthew Hoh, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and the director of the Afghanistan Study Group, a collection of foreign and public policy experts and professionals advocating for a change in U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. Hoh has served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq and on U.S. embassy teams in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

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After two tours of duty in Iraq and serving in the State Department in Washington, D.C., Matthew Hoh became the United States’ senior civilian representative and political adviser in Afghanistan. He resigned five months into his contract, making him the highest-ranking U.S. government official to publicly quit over the war in Afghanistan. He joins us from Washington, D.C., to discuss whether the death of Osama bin Laden means the end of that war. “Everybody should be asking themselves today in the United States, if Osama Bin Laden was hiding in an upscale villa an hour or two drive north, northeast of Islamabad, then why did we put 50,000 troops in Afghanistan over the last two years?” says Hoh. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Matthew Hoh into this discussion, former Marine Corps captain in Iraq, former State Department official in Afghanistan, the highest-level diplomatic official to quit over the war in Afghanistan. Matthew Hoh, your response to the news last night and what you think this means? You quit over the continued war. Do you think this could mean the end of war?

MATTHEW HOH: Good morning, Amy, and thank you for having me on.

I want to echo Josh just then, because I think his comments were spot on, and I want to refer back to Jeremy’s earlier comments about this is not just good news, but this is also a very good time for somber reflection.

What I think this means for the United States is, this gives closure on 9/11. Ten years after that horrible event, we finally have some degree of closure. We’ve the bogeyman, if you will, who caused all this. So, I think this gives the American public closure on 9/11. And what that — what I hope that translates into is provides some backbone for members of Congress who do not want to engage on the war in Afghanistan. I think everybody should be asking themselves today in the United States, if Osama bin Laden was hiding in an upscale villa an hour or two drive north, northeast of Islamabad, then why did we put 50,000 troops in Afghanistan over the last two years? I think we have to have a real serious conversation on where our war on terror has taken this country, and I think we need to reflect on the real threat. As Josh just stated, Osama bin Laden was more of a figurehead or a spiritual leader than any kind of operational leader. And if we have — so we need to understand al-Qaeda as they exist, as some form of a syndicate that operates through individuals and small cells worldwide that won’t be affected by putting hundreds of thousands of foreign troops in Afghanistan, but is affected by good intelligence work, good police work, and good work by our Special Operations forces in conjunction with foreign governments. So I think this is a very good time for some real somber and rational reflection on the last 10 years.

AMY GOODMAN: CIA Director Panetta says al-Qaeda will almost certainly attempt to avenge bin Laden’s death — CIA Director Panetta, who could soon become the secretary of defense — right? —- replacing Robert Gates. Talk about this -—

JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. I mean, the timing of this is interesting —

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Scahill.

JEREMY SCAHILL: — because, you know, General David Petraeus is also set to take over the Central Intelligence Agency. And what we’ve seen with General Petraeus’s tenure as CENTCOM commander, U.S. Central Command, and then also as ISAF commander, is really an expansion of targeted killings operations. He brought back air strikes in Afghanistan after General Stanley McChrystal had really taken moves to tamp them down. But more importantly, General Petraeus signed this order in September of 2009 authorizing an expanded use of U.S. Special Operations forces in undeclared battlefields around the world. And Yemen was one of the great playgrounds of that war game.

And so, I think that I would echo what both Josh Foust and Matt Hoh said in terms of not losing vigilance, that this whole thing is going to continue to play out. There are going to continue to be people that want to do harm to Americans around the world, some of whom may identify themselves as al-Qaeda. We’ve played a significant role in inspiring a generation of terrorists to rise up, through our actions. But also, we need to be vigilant in checks and balances within the U.S. military. There’s a lot of lawlessness taking place — targeted killing operations in other countries, drone strikes in places. And, you know, when do people step back and look at the calculus of it? Are we creating new enemies by killing a handful of people in these operations where civilians are also killed? I mean, these are the kinds of questions, I think — we need to get past the moment and look at what does this say, going forward, about how we, as a country, the United States, want to conduct ourselves around the world, but also examining how our actions actually can harm us, come back to haunt us with blowback because of the terrorism that we inspire.

AMY GOODMAN: We do not have Robert Fisk on the line with us live from Beirut, but we do have a discussion with him back a few years ago. Robert Fisk interviewed Osama bin Laden three times. And I just wanted to go to a clip of that interview.

I was just — here we go. We’re just trying to bring it up. We’re seeing if it’s possible for us to play it. But Allan Nairn, your response to Jeremy Scahill?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, I think it’s — you know, it’s very likely that people will try to respond, some jihadists will try to strike back, kill Americans. And it’s also likely that American assassination operations will get new support. In Congress, within the bureaucracy, in American popular culture, you know, it will be another boost for the idea of the American commando, so there will be all sorts of forces pushing for more blood in both directions.

At the same time, if Obama and the other powers wanted to, they could use this as the pretext to get out of Afghanistan, to get out of Iraq. But even if they did that, even if the U.S. went back to the pre-9/11 state, that would still mean supporting dozens of regimes that kill civilians all over the world. What Obama should do is become an American Gorbachev or an American de Klerk, a leader who helps to dismantle a killer system that he is charged with running. But that can only happen if he’s under pressure to do it. And that effective pressure can only come from the American public.

AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Hoh, could you see yourself rejoining the diplomatic corps of the United States?

MATTHEW HOH: Well, I’m not sure if the offer is out there right now, but I appreciate your confidence in me, though, Amy.

I have to go into what Allan said. I have to agree with those sentiments, that we have to redo our foreign policy. Even if we were to end the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in Libya, we would still have 800 bases around the world — that we know of. And we’d still spend near of a trillion dollars a year on defense, security, intelligence, nuclear weapons, etc. So I think we have to have a fundamental rethinking of our foreign policy, because, you know, you look back over these last few months, and you look at what happened in the Middle East, these historic changes, and the United States was left out of it. The United States did not take any part in it, with the exception of Libya. We just saw the Pakistani prime minister visit Afghanistan, meet with President Karzai, and say, "You should ditch the Americans because they are a waning power. They are a power who you cannot depend upon." You just saw what happened in Palestine with Hamas and Fatah, basically saying, "We’re not going to wait for the Americans. We can’t trust the American process. We have to do this on our own." You’ve seen statements from Brazil and Turkey, other nations around the world, where America is losing any semblance of leadership and any semblance of credibility. If you look at our last 10 years, our foreign policy has been schizophrenic, to say the least. So, we have to have a fundamental rethink of our foreign policy and how we conduct our operations around the world, not just militarily, but also diplomatically and economically.

AMY GOODMAN: Pakistani-born —

JOSHUA FOUST: If I can cut in here for a second about this?

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, go ahead. This is Joshua Foust.

JOSHUA FOUST: Yeah, I mean, we’re — this discussion is kind of setting up the President into a Catch-22, whereby, before Libya, before he got involved in Libya, there were cries that he wasn’t doing enough and wasn’t sending in troops and wasn’t intervening to stop massacres. But at the same time, we’re complaining that he’s also sending thousands of troops into Afghanistan, and potentially sending assassins into Pakistan and God knows where else. So, I mean, it’s important when we think about the strategic posture that this country is going to take, especially as it contemplates its role — and it is an inescapable role —- as the global leader in providing security. It’s tasked to do that. It’s the primary military contributor to NATO. It’s the largest contributor to the U.N. So, we need to keep this in mind when we complain about all these other things that are happening that they don’t happen in a vacuum, and they don’t simply happen because of bloodlust, which I heard alleged earlier. This is the response both to international and domestic outcry over either a lack of action, which was the case before Libya, when -—

AMY GOODMAN: Three seconds.

JOSHUA FOUST: — President Obama had taken the stance that he wasn’t going to intervene, because that was what Bush did. And there are pressures in play here.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, and we’ll go online after this. Thank you all for joining us.

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