President Obama should tear up former Marine Matthew Hoh's resignation letter. Hoh is an American hero. Hoh is the first US official to resign in disgust over the Administration's wrong-headed course in fighting the Afghan war. He told Obama exactly what he needs to hear about Afghanistan: that the Afghan war is a failed, flawed, no-win war. That it's a sinkhole for billions of tax dollars and a death trap for hundreds, maybe thousands, of US troops. This is all to prop up a hopelessly corrupt, dope profiteering, unpopular regime. It's a war that outside of a handful of hard headed generals, unreconstructed Bush neo-cons, and GOP ideologues few Americans think is worth fighting.
Obama is somewhere in the middle of the mess. At one time he was gung ho to fight in Afghanistan no matter the costs. He's now not so sure. He's had a plan on his desk for weeks to dump more money and troops into the country, and every day the generals pester him to do it. His uncertainty about it has turned into a stall of the generals who yap at his heels to escalate the war. But his stall hasn't turned into a toughened stomach lining that would allow him to say no to escalation, and then get the wheels turning to get the US out of the no-win war. Obama's tin ear to Hoh's warning about flawed administration policy could be disastrous politically and personally for him.
A majority of Obama's most fervent backers have gently chided him for his blindness on the war. These are the supporters he will need in order to beat back the GOP counterinsurgency against him, to make gains or at least cut potential Democratic losses in the midterm elections in 2010, and to back his shaky health care reform package. Afghanistan looms large as Obama and the Democratic Party's Vietnam, if Hoh's warning is not heeded.
Public shell shock over unpopular wars always works to the advantage of the challenger over the incumbent president whose name is linked to the war. The unpopular Korean and Vietnam wars helped do in Truman and the Democrats in 1952, and President Johnson and the Democrats in 1968. They also had a tsunami effect on Democratic elected officials. In both election years, the Democrats had a decisive edge over the Republicans in Congress, a wide body of public support, and political prestige. Eisenhower, and later Nixon, painted Korea and Vietnam as a hopeless muddle that Truman and Humphrey (in tandem with Johnson) made a mess of. The two Democratic presidents paid dearly for it, and Bush and the Republicans paid just as dearly for the Iraq quagmire.
Despite Obama's talk about Afghanistan being the right war, in the right place, at the right time, White House insiders say that he's worried about getting stuck with this unpopular war. He knows that failed and flawed wars and the public's distaste for those wars helped topple two sitting Democratic presidents, and hopelessly discredited a Republican president. He doesn't want to make the mistake of repeating their fatal history.
Matthew Hoh has served notice on Obama of this danger. He should reject his resignation letter.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press) will be released in January 2010.