First Published: 2017-12-01

Refusing to Learn Bloody Lessons
President Trump’s continued Afghan War pursues the same failed path as the prior 16 years, with the US political/media elites learning no lessons, says former Marine officer Matthew Hoh in an interview with the American Herald Tribune.
Middle East Online

Interviewer Mohsen Abdelmoumen:As an expert, how do you see the evolution of the political process in Afghanistan?

Matthew Hoh: Unfortunately, I have not seen any positive evolution or change in the political system or process in Afghanistan since 2009. What we have seen are three national elections that have been ruled to be grossly illegitimate and fraudulent by outside observers, but have been validated and supported by the American government through the presence of tens of thousands of soldiers and the spending of tens of billions of dollars.

Former U.S. Marine officer and diplomat Matthew Hoh

We have seen the creation of extra-constitutional positions in the government, such as the Chief Executive Officer position occupied by Abdullah Abdullah, which was done at the behest of the American government. Additionally, bargains and compromises that were brokered by the American government in an attempt to create more a more inclusive government, reduce corruption and heal fractures among the political bloc that once supported Hamid Karzai and the American presence has failed to achieve those things.Corruption is still the dominant feature of the Afghan government, and the political support for the rule of Kabul has deteriorated and splintered by the corruption and the machinations of the Karzai and now Ghani governments.

Most importantly, the political process, by being so corrupt, by seating successive governments that won by fraud and by disenfranchising various political communities, has alienated many, many Afghans, and not just those Pashtuns who ally themselves with the Taliban, from the government in Kabul. This has allowed for greater support for militia commanders and warlords outside of Kabul, as well as the Taliban, and has allowed the war to progress with no real hopes for reconciliation, negotiations or a cease-fire anywhere in the near future. (By supporting and growing a kleptocracy, a system of have and have nots, that system has by its nature and necessity produced more people out of the system than people in the system every year. This causes resentment, grievances and a desire to share in the spoils and gifts of American occupation that leads to greater violence, more political chaos and a dearth of hope for the future).

Can you explain to us what was the disagreement that led you to resign?

I had been twice to Iraq prior to my time in Afghanistan, and I had been working on issues of the wars since 2002 when I was in the Pentagon as a Marine Corps officer. I could no longer go along with the killing of the war, and the lies that propped up that killing. I saw in the Afghan government the worst excesses that I had seen in the Iraqi government and I knew the Afghan government in Kabul had no real or true interest in coming to a peace with the Taliban and those in the Afghan insurgency.

I also saw that Barack Obama’s administration cared only for the political value of Afghanistan in terms of American politics and had no real interest in the well being of the Afghan people. I also knew the amount of money that American corporations were making off of the war and how that influenced American policy and the escalation of the war. Finally, I also knew that American generals and civilians tasked with overseeing the war were more interested in preserving American empire, as well as their own careers and legacies, than achieving peace or ending the suffering of the Afghan people.

U.S. Army soldier takes a defensive fighting position while training as a member of a quick reaction force on Jalalabad Airfield in Afghanistan, June 7, 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class John D. Brown)

In addition to being a diplomat, you were a soldier and served in Iraq as a commander in the Marine Corps. In your opinion, was the US intervention in Iraq in 2003 justified?

No, the war in Iraq was not justified. There were many reasons for the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, but none of them were morally valid, internationally legal or had to do with the safety and security of the American people, or the well being of the Iraqi people. The reasons were many and included of course President Bush’s desire to win a war to win reelection in the United States in 2004, people in the government and foreign policy community who believed in removing Saddam Hussein to “democratize and Americanize” the Middle East for reasons of American Empire and hegemony, the influence of Israeli policy and thought on American policy, Iraq’s large and vast oil reserves, and the influence of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Nations.

In your opinion, should the Bush administration be accountable in particular to a court for the crimes it committed in Iraq?

Yes. Without elaboration, war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed by the Bush Administrationand those in charge should be held responsible. It is as simple as that.

You are a privileged witness as a diplomat and as a superior officer of the war in Iraq. You describe what happened during the intervention in Iraq as a vast racket. Can you tell us why?

The amounts of money that were made on the Iraq war by American corporations and individuals were enormous. In terms of direct spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (the two are inseparable in many ways including in how the financing and the money making occurred), the direct costs of the wars are nearly $1.8 trillion dollars. Now these are just direct costs. Adding indirect costs of the war, such as healthcare for veterans and interest payments on debt, we see that the long term costs of the war may reach $6 trillion dollars. Again, this is just for the wars directly. At the same time the budget for the Pentagon this coming year will be $700 billion, which is 10 times more than Russia and 3 times more than China spend on their militaries, and this $700 billion does not include the money we spend on our intelligence agencies, healthcare for veterans, homeland security or interest payments for past defense and war debt (next year the United States will spend about $115 billion just on interest and debt payments for past wars and military spending).??This money primarily goes to American corporations that then put money into funding politicians in Congress, as well as to funding think tanks and universities that help to promote the policies that foster and sustain America’s wars in the Muslim world and America’s massive military budget. This funding process is cyclical and the instability and violence that American militarism, intervention and occupation fosters and sustains is utilized as continued justification by American politicians and generals for more military spending.??On a another level, what I witnessed by my presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, is that the mass amounts of money that are injected into these war zones fuel the corruption and that the massive amounts of money being received by those who are loyal or collaborating with the American forces provides no incentive for the Afghans or Iraqis working with the Americans to seek peace, reconciliation or a cease fire with their adversaries. So long as the Americans are keeping them in power and making them rich, there is no sense in pursuing an end to the conflict, an end to the American occupation/presence/influence or to seek reconciliation.

You are … an Advisory Board Member for Expose Facts (and other groups). Can you explain to our readership what the missions of these organizations are?

I am … an advisory board member for Veterans For Peace, Expose Facts, World Beyond War and the North Carolina Committee to Investigate Torture. I am also an associate member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. All of these organizations seek to encourage peace and an end to America’s wars overseas as well as an end to the wars that we have in the United States, especially the oppression of people of color in the US.??Veterans For Peace is an international organization dedicated to informing people about the true costs and realities of war.

U.S. Army forces operating in southern Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Apr. 2, 2003 (U.S. Navy photo)

Expose Facts is an organization comprised of many former government officials who encourage whistleblowing and members of government, the military and corporations who are witness to wrongdoing to come forward and report this wrongdoing to the public.??World Beyond War is an international organization devoted to restructure how our world is shaped and to get people to believe and understand that a peaceful world is possible.??North Carolina Committee to Investigate Torture is the only organization of its kind in the US. It is the only organization that is devoted wholly to researching, documenting and publicizing the role of the state of North Carolina in the American torture practices under President Bush. The desire is to hold people accountable for the torture that was conducted.

Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) is an organization of former government and military members who were either intelligence officers or utilized intelligence in their careers (associate members). The purpose of VIPS is to provide alternative recommendations and views to the President of the United States, and to the media, that he is not getting from the American intelligence services.

While whistleblowers inform public opinion on various issues by taking major risks, don’t you think it is more than necessary to launch initiatives or even create a global specific program to protect whistleblowers?

Yes, one of the things I would like to see created is a fund to help whistleblowers pay for the very high costs that they incur by becoming whistleblowers. Whistleblowers lose their jobs, have expensive legal fees and may go for years without having the money necessary to support their families and pay their bills. This is a tactic used by the government and corporations to frighten people into not becoming whistleblowers. I would like to see a fund started that would help whistleblowers pay for these expenses and not be forced into bankruptcy and insolvency because they followed their consciences and reported wrongdoing.

You are also a man committed to the cause of the Palestinian people; you participated in a trip to Palestine with Veteran for Peace to see the conditions in which the Palestinians live. Can you tell us about this action?

This was a very important trip for me as spending 18 days with the people of Palestine and the popular resistance to the Israeli occupation was extremely moving and powerful. You can read essays and books or watch documentaries and films about the suffering of the Palestinian people, but until you are with them, you don’t really understand the horror and the tragedy of the Israeli occupation. As an American it was very important for me to go and stand in solidarity with my Palestinian brothers and sisters particularly as my country is often the sole supporter of Israel and gives the Israeli military nearly $11 million dollars a day in assistance.

The United States is an unconditional supporter of Israel. How do you explain that?

The main reason for this is because of the perverted and corrupted political system in the United States that allows money to influence politics so greatly. The United States would not be such an unconditional supporter of Israel if not for the influence of money provided to American politicians, primarily through the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) but also through other sources. Without this overwhelming purchasing of politicians I don’t believe Israel would receive the support it does from the United States and I don’t think that Israel would be able to continue its occupation of the Palestinian people and the crimes against them.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations in 2012, drawing his own “red line” on how far he will let Iran go in refining nuclear fuel.

In your opinion, what is the contribution of veterans like you, especially through Veteran for Peace, to support the resistance to US imperialism around the world?

The most important things American veterans can do is to speak openly and plainly about what they saw during their time in the military, what they took part in the wars, and what they truly believe the purposes of the wars and the American military is. It is hard in America for people to speak against the military and the wars, because we have a culture that celebrates war, violence and the military, but veterans must find the courage to do so because through their witness and testimony people can understand the realities and the truths of America’s wars, empire and imperialism.

It is important too for American veterans to stand in solidarity with those resistance movements both outside the United States and internal to the United States that are fighting against American militarism, occupation and intervention. This includes standing against client governments of the United States like Israel, South Korea and Japan. It is also necessary for veterans to stand with the oppressed communities of the United States; with Native Americans, Latino Americans and Black Americans. All of the oppressed people within the United States are victims of America’s militarism and continue to be oppressed by a system that provides overwhelming economic, civic and societal benefits to the wealthy white classes while continuing to punish people of color through mass incarceration, police violence, deportation, economic disadvantage, inadequate health care, poorer education, etc. Such treatment of people of color would not have been possible in the past without the American military and the effects of militarism on the white people of the United States, and now with militarized police remains essential in continuing the oppression. Much of this oppression finds its praxis and its implementation through the culture of violence in the United States that is a direct consequence of the militarism that so many American embrace. I believe militarism to be one of the true religions of the United States. This militarism leads to this culture of violence which accepts violence based solutions as not the only option, but the necessary option. It is through such policies of violence based solutions that America has the largest prison population in the world, epidemics of police violence, mass deportations of non-white people, etc.

How do you evaluate the alternative media experience? Don’t you think that in order to counter imperialist manipulation and propaganda, we need to rely on highly engaged and highly effective alternative media to win the information battle that is strategic?

Yes, I could not agree with you more. When I first started speaking about the war I was allowed onto and into mainstream media. I appeared on the main cable news networks and was published in major newspapers, but over the last decade voices of dissent, particularly those who are against war and imperialism have been dramatically marginalized from the mainstream, or corporate owned press.

Coffins of dead U.S. soldiers arriving at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware in 2006. (U.S. government photo)

In 2014, when I was arguing against a renewed American presence in Iraq, I was only able to appear on one cable news network and none of the major newspapers sought my opinion. The same occurred for many of my colleagues. Where we were successful in appearing on cable television news, CNN in my case, or being printed in major news papers and media outlets, we were outnumbered 5, 10 or 15 to one in terms of the voices and opinions that were pro-war.

For example, when I appeared on CNN during that time, I was introduced as “the lone dove in a field of wolves” by the anchor (Brooke Baldwin). This situation, this echo chamber, of pro-war, pro-imperialism and pro-violence voices has only solidified and I know only a couple of people who have been able to get onto the major networks to argue against war and then they are outnumbered considerably and often drowned out by pro-war and pro-empire voices.

Without the alternative media voices like mine would have no outlet. I think however that the success of the alternative media has caused the mainstream media to tighten and limit its allowance of dissent as fear of dissent against the wars having an effect on the population and policy has caused the intersection of the military/government, the media and corporations to more rigidly control the messages being allowed. I think this really accelerated in 2013 when public opinion and public action towards Congress kept the Obama Administration from launching a war against the government of Syria. The nexus of the top echelons of the military/government, the media and the corporations is quite real and reinforcing, and the consequences of this have been the limitation and, in some cases, elimination of dissent from the corporate owned media.

What do you think of the fact that the Trump administration is going back on the Iranian nuclear deal and what is your opinion on the escalation between the United States and North Korea? Does US imperialism still need an enemy to exist, namely the USSR, Vietnam, Cuba, Iraq, China, Iran, Russia, North Korea, etc.?

I think that Trump going back on the nuclear deal with Iran was bound to happen. Trump is following the lead of the foreign policy establishment in the United States which is first and foremost committed to American hegemony and dominance. The preservation of the American Empire is the mission of most foreign policy experts in the United States, whether they are liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican.

Cooperation between nations, demilitarization and world wide respect for human rights is hardly ever a concern for the American foreign policy establishment. This is why we see the same bellicosity to North Korea, and let’s not forget both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have threatened to destroy North Korea themselves.

I think not just for imperialism, but for our culture of militarism, violence and our nationalist concept of American Exceptionalism we must have an enemy. We view ourselves as Good, so there must be a Bad or an Evil. American Exceptionalism and the violence that comes with it, believed to be redemptive and justice-based, is a Manichean, binary framework, so Americans must have an adversary or an enemy. So sad and so tragic that so many have suffered, died and been made homeless all around the world, over the decades for such an absurd, ignorant, simplistic and false belief.

You received the Ridenhour Prize for Truth Telling in 2010. What can you tell us about this award?

It was a very great honor. The prizes are awarded in the name of Ron Ridenhour, the soldier who helped alert people to the massacre at My Lai during the Vietnam War. It is and has been very humbling to be included in such a prestigious group of men and women who have followed their consciences, looked past the risk and did what was right.

Matthew Hohis a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy (www.ciponline.org). Matthew formerly directed the Afghanistan Study Group, a collection of foreign and public policy experts and professionals advocating for a change in U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. Matthew has served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq and on U.S. Embassy teams in both Afghanistan and Iraq. [This slightly edited interview is published with Hoh’s permission.]

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