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State Dept. Official Who Quit in 2009 over U.S. War in Afghanistan Speaks Out on Trump’s Troop Surge

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President Trump has announced plans to escalate the U.S. war in Afghanistan—already the longest war in U.S. history. While Trump offered few specifics during his prime-time address Monday night, he has reportedly already signed off on a plan to send about 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan. For more, we speak with Matthew Hoh, who resigned from the State Department in 2009 over the Obama administration’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan. Prior to his assignment in Afghanistan, he served in Iraq and Afghanistan, including time as a Marine Corps company commander in Anbar province.

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: There is no end in sight to the longest war in U.S. history. In a prime-time address Monday, President Trump vowed to step up the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, which began nearly 16 years ago. While Trump offered few specifics, he has reportedly signed off on a plan to send about 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan. This comes as the U.S. is already intensifying its air war. During the month of June, the United States carried out 389 airstrikes in Afghanistan, the highest monthly total in five years. Trump warned against what he called a hasty withdrawal.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable. 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in our history, was planned and directed from Afghanistan, because that country was ruled by a government that gave comfort and shelter to terrorists. A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al-Qaeda, would instantly fill, just as happened before September 11th. And as we know, in 2011, America hastily and mistakenly withdrew from Iraq.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: President Trump also acknowledged his decision to expand the war went against his own instincts.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: My original instinct was to pull out. And historically, I like following my instincts. But all my life I’ve heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office—in other words, when you’re president of the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Trump’s speech at Fort Myer, Virginia, follows an intense debate within the White House. Trump’s top generals had been pressing Trump to deploy thousands more U.S. troops, while former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and other members of the administration had been pushing to privatize the U.S. war and send in thousands of military contractors.

We’re joined now by two guests. Here in New York, Azmat Khan is with us, award-winning investigative journalist who has reported extensively from Afghanistan. She is a Future of War fellow at New America. And joining us from Washington, D.C., is Matthew Hoh, former State Department official who resigned his post in Afghanistan in 2009 in protest against the Obama administration’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan. He’s now a fellow with the Center for International Policy.

Matthew Hoh, let’s begin with you. Your response to President Trump’s address?

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

Well, it was, you know, vile and disgusting fear-based demagoguery. I am pleased that he did reference Charlottesville, not for what I believe was his intention, which I think was everybody should get in line and obey and realize the good things we have in this country and so be unified, but rather because what happens in this country is inextricably linked to what we do overseas, that the wars we have overseas define the wars we have here at home, and that it is impossible for us to have peace here at home until we have peace abroad. You know what I mean? There’s no coincidence—right?—that we’re the largest arms exporter in the world, and we are also the nation that has 350 million guns, right? That we have this—you know, the most prisoners in the world, and we have killed over a million Iraqis since 2003. So, I was glad he made that linkage, whether or not—even though that was not his intention, by any means.

However, I am greatly saddened, of course, because there was nothing in that speech besides the prospect of more killing and what I saw as this continual American evolution in its foreign policy, of its military policy, to one of just—of evolving to punishment, of we are no longer going to try and even attempt to have political control. We are going to go to a policy like we’re seeing in Yemen. I think like, and I’m sure Azmat—I know Azmat can speak much better than I can to this. What we saw, though, in terms of what happened in Fallujah and Tikrit and Mosul, to just simple punishment, sheer destruction, to deal with the forces out—to deal with the areas outside of our empire. And I think that’s what we’ll see in Afghanistan, because whatever troops we send to Afghanistan will be meant to increase the Afghans’ ability to do commando raids, so to send more troops into people’s homes in the middle of the night to punish them, to kill and capture people in the middle of the night, as well as to launch artillery strikes or airstrikes.


MATTHEW HOH: And I think this is definitely part of Jim Mattis’s and John Kelly’s influence on President Trump.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Matthew, I wanted to ask you, the—President Trump tried to make clear that he inherited a mess from his predecessors. But at the same time, he really did not enunciate any kind of a new—a change in American policy, no emphasis on the political negotiation that will be necessary to end the war in Afghanistan. Your sense of what kind of a departure the Trump administration represents now from President Obama, or does it really not matter in terms of presidents? The same effort of the United States to dominate other countries and to impose its military will seems to be maintained, no matter who’s in the White House.

MATTHEW HOH: You know, Juan, I was thinking about this last night. And there is this book that all Marine Corps officers—and I was in the Marines, I was an officer in the Marines—was required to read. And I think the influence of Mattis and Kelly can’t be underestimated here. And there is a book that would have influenced them, by T.R. Fehrenbach called This Kind of War, about the Korean War and about how the United States was not prepared for Korea and how—basically, summarizes how there are tigers in this world and how we almost lost Korea because we underestimated the tigers in this world. But Fehrenbach connects the Marine Corps and its legacy to the legionnaires of the Roman Empire. And if you look at how Kelly and Mattis describe themselves and carry themselves, they see themselves as modern-day legionnaires. And it’s particularly Kelly, if you see how he talks, you can see Kelly’s description of this war as a war for our way of life and how we must do anything, and also to Kelly’s speeches when he was in charge of Southern Command about how we don’t need to understand the enemy, we only need to kill him. And this goes very much in line with President Trump’s rhetoric, how we don’t need to understand the enemy, we only need to kill them. So, of course, there will be no diplomacy. And then of course, General Mattis, who is first to praise himself, always speaking about his 8,000-book library, how he is the preeminent warrior scholar of his time—these are men who see themselves, again, as modern-day legionnaires.

And so, I think there is no reason for anyone else to have any influence in these matters besides the two of them, except for maybe H.R. McMaster, who is the national security adviser, who 20 years ago wrote a book called Dereliction of Duty, how the generals in the Vietnam War failed their soldiers and the American public by betraying their principles and not acknowledging that the Vietnam War was unwinnable and immoral, that it was built on lies, just as the Afghan War is unwinnable, immoral and built on lies. And so, General McMaster is also this Greek tragedy of a persona, because 20 years after he publishes this book, he finds he, himself, is this character.

So, these are the three men, these generals, who are advising President Trump. And I think you can see all three aspects of these men in the president’s speech last night. And so, of course, Juan, you don’t see any mention of diplomacy. You don’t see any change in policy other than a hardening of policy and these tropes about “We must kill the terrorists. They are coming for us. Everyone must be afraid. We all must unify. No one has any other input. We all must unify.” And also, too, I think that’s why we saw no mention of a troop increase over the past six months we have heard—we have seen the Department of Defense change its policy. We have seen the Department of Defense put troops into Kuwait and say, “We’re just going to put troops into Iraq basically whenever we want.” They have said, “We are not going to say how many troops we’re putting into Iraq. We are only going to give you unit names and rough numbers or estimates of numbers.” Basically, I think General Kelly and General Mattis view anything such as the media asking for troop numbers as an annoyance, as something that they don’t have to respect or, you know, something that isn’t deserved to be recognized, because they are in the process of defending the empire. Again, they are modern-day legionnaires.

AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Hoh, you’re raising—

MATTHEW HOH: So this diplomacy is not anything they need.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re raising a critical point about who is the closest inner circle to Trump right now outside of his family. Now it is down to—you have General Mattis, who is the secretary of defense—and folks may remember, he had to get a waiver, because he is not a civilian, the traditional secretary of defense. He is a general. So, you have General Mattis. Then you have the national security adviser, usually civilian, but he is General McMaster. And then you have the chief of staff, usually a civilian, but he is also a general, General Kelly. The significance of these three men? And you, you quit Afghanistan, you quit your position in the State Department under President Obama, protesting the war. You also served in Iraq, and you were a Marine Corps company commander in Iraq. But your thoughts about this now military leadership of this country that surrounds President Trump?

MATTHEW HOH: Well, I go to one of my favorite Eisenhower quotes, President Eisenhower quotes. And, you know, what I said earlier, Amy, both President Eisenhower and also President Kennedy recognized, as well as Dr. Martin Luther King, recognized this intersection that the wars abroad are intersected with the wars at home, that we can’t have peace at home while having war abroad, that, you know, as long as we have $700 billion defense budgets, we will never have universal healthcare, as long as both political parties vote for killing in war and prisons, we will never prioritize taking care of our own people. But what President Eisenhower said was, looking at a chair in his Oval Office, he said, “I pity this country if a man ever sits in this chair who has never served in the military.” And what he meant by that was that—not that the military gives you some level of expertise or some level of knowledge or some level of experience, but that a civilian would be run roughshod over, that he wouldn’t be able to raise the BS flag, that he would not know that the generals are just going to lie to him over and over and over again, and because that is ultimately what war is, just one continual lie. And that’s what we’ve seen in Afghanistan. That’s what we’ve seen in Iraq. That’s what we’ve seen in Vietnam, etc., etc. And I think that’s what’s happening here. And, of course, President Trump is probably—may be our most malleable and easily influenced president of all time.

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