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Friday, February 18, 2011

Matthew Hoh in Louisville

Wednesday, Matthew Hoh was in town speaking to the Louisville Committee on Foreign Relations. A former marine, Hoh attained a measure of fame in September 2009 for becoming the first U.S. official to resign a policy position in response to America's Afghanistan policy. Hoh had been serving as the top civilian official from the State Department in Kabul Province.

LCFR events have long been "off the record," but Hoh didn't really talk about anything that hasn't been reflected in his public remarks and interviews.

Perhaps most importantly, Hoh talked about the publicly available findings of the Afghanistan Study Group, which in August 2010 produced A New Way Forward, Rethinking U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan (pdf). Hoh served as the group's Director.

Prominent signatories (group members, presumably) include thinkers from across the political spectrum -- from noted peace studies scholar David Cortright, progressive economist James K. Galbraith, and historian/blogger Juan Cole to conservative journalist Arnaud de Borchgrave. A number of realist IR theorists are also on board, including Michael Desch, Bob Jervis, Bob Pape, Barry Posen, and Steve Walt.

As Hoh emphasized in Louisville, the report concludes with a 5 point plan:
1) Emphasize Power-Sharing and Political Reconciliation.
2) Scale Back and Eventually Suspend Combat Operations in the South and Reduce the U.S. Military Footprint
3) Keep the Focus on Al Qaeda and Domestic Security.
4) Promote Economic Development.
5) Engage Global and Regional Stakeholders.
Read the report to learn more about the Group's diagnosis of why America's strategy in Afghanistan is flawed -- and for more detail about these recommendations. I found the entire argument quite similar to my long-time and persistent criticism of the Iraq war. US troops make good targets and are viewed as foreign occupiers by much of the population. The insurgency gains by the US presence -- and none of the on-the-ground fighting has anything to do with the effort to prevent terrorist attacks against western targets since those are planned and executed by a loose network of individuals far from the battlegrounds.

I sat at Hoh's table at lunch and we talked briefly about his experiences in the 18 months since he resigned. My hand was still raised when the meeting adjourned, so I didn't get to ask a final question:

Just how seriously is official Washington taking the Afghan Study Group's recommendations?

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