I had the opportunity to appear on Democracy Now this morning and speak about the desertion and misbehavior charges being brought against Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.
This is the second part of my interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now. We cover a lot of issues in the conversation and this is probably the most personal I have ever been on camera in terms of speaking of my own issues. Much thanks to Amy and Democracy Now for giving me so much time to speak.
In 2009, Matthew Hoh became the first State Department official to resign protest from his post in Afghanistan over U.S. policy. Prior to his assignment in Afghanistan, Matthew Hoh was deployed twice to Iraq. In part two of our conversation, we speak with Hoh about what happened after he blew the whistle on the Afghan War and his long fight to recover from post-traumatic stress syndrome. On his website, Hoh writes: “In 2007, after my second deployment to Iraq, PTSD and severe depression took over my life. I began trying to drink myself to death. Thoughts of suicide became common until they were a near daily presence by 2011.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. As President Obama announces more boots on the ground in Iraq, another 1,500, bringing the total, it’s believed, to about 3,000, with hundreds of bombing raids in Iraq and also Syria, we’re joined by Matthew Hoh. He is a former State Department official who resigned in protest from his post in Afghanistan over U.S. policy there in September 2009. Prior to his assignment in Afghanistan, Matthew Hoh served in Iraq. From 2004 to ’05, he worked with a State Department reconstruction and governance team. And from 2006 to ’07, he worked as a Marine Corps company commander in Anbar province. He’s now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. He’s joining us from Raleigh, North Carolina.
Matthew Hoh, welcome back to Democracy Now! for part two of our conversation. I wanted to ask you about the response to you as a whistleblower. At the time, you were the highest State Department official to resign over U.S. policy in Afghanistan. What happened to you after that?
MATTHEW HOH: Well, thanks for having me on again, Amy. You know, there was divisions within the Obama administration on the war in Afghanistan. And so, what I said about the war in Afghanistan—how I said our presence was fueling the insurgency, al-Qaeda had left there a long time ago, we were supporting a corrupt government in Afghanistan, our troops were dying for no good reason—many members of the administration believed, most importantly Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, who was our ambassador in Afghanistan, and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who was the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. And they both, to some degree, I believe, protected me from attack from within the U.S. government; however, from the military side, I did take some pressure. I do know that General Petraeus’s command in Tampa, Central Command, actually hired a strategic communications firm to actively discredit me. So, when I would appear on television, this firm would say—would send emails to producers or to newspapers to try and get me pulled off or not written about, basically saying, “This guy isn’t who he says he is. This guy doesn’t really”—
AMY GOODMAN: What was the firm, Matthew?
MATTHEW HOH: I don’t recall—the name of the—and here’s the great—why I kind of believe, Amy, karma exists. The name of the firm—I don’t believe the firm exists any longer. The name of the fellow who ran the firm was Duncan Boothby. And this was the gentleman who introduced Michael Hastings to General McChrystal in 2010. So I do believe in karma to a certain extent. The guy who was actively seeking to discredit me then turned and introduced Michael Hastings, who wrote the great book The Operators, whose Rolling Stone article shone a light on how General McChrystal and his staff actually operated, and so I do believe there is some karma. And in one of those things that, you know, you can’t—where truth is stranger than fiction, I know all this because Duncan Boothby told me himself. He introduced himself to me at a Christmas party in December of 2009, just walked right up to me and said, “You know, I hope you don’t take any offense to it, but I’m the guy who’s been discrediting you to the media.” And, you know, but that’s the way Washington, D.C., works, and that’s the way our senior military works.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, what did it mean? How did you see that manifest?
MATTHEW HOH: I did notice that I started to appear less and less on news programs. I know I had articles about me pulled from publications like The Star-Ledger in New Jersey. I know when I would appear on CNN, I was told that, you know, “You can be on, but there has to be someone to counter you, because you have a bias.” And they would sometimes put somebody on who was independent, an independent analyst, so to speak, who was actually in the pay of the Pentagon. So, it really was—it was very absurd, very Kafkaesque. I had a long series of interviews with Dan Rather, who was going to do a special on me, and he actually pulled it because he received pressure from the Pentagon not to do that. So it really was. It was really quite absurd, quite Kafkaesque. But it wasn’t surprising, because I had worked in Washington, D.C., I had been around senior levels, and I understood what I had gotten myself into. I understood the politics of it, and I understood the type of people that were involved in it.
And it further fueled my desire to work to end the wars, because it just showed—and this is what’s important to know for Veterans Day—our men and women who are serving overseas, who are killing, who are being killed, who are being maimed, who are coming home with these psychological wounds that—you know, as we spoke in part one, 22 veterans a day are killing themselves—they’re dying in support of people who are making policies, who are so selfish in their own concerns that they disregard the reality of what’s happening in these countries, disregard the reality of our presence, disregard the effects that it has on our troops. And so, that campaign against me, that, you know, putting up a Wikipedia page, a false Wikipedia page about me with all kinds of false information, those kinds of things, that really only fueled me to work harder to try and stop these wars, to try and get our soldiers home, and to try and end the suffering for millions of people in those war zones.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain the Wikipedia page, the fake Wikipedia page.
MATTHEW HOH: You know, all of a sudden I had a friend of mine text me and said—because, Amy, this was—I was a marine, and I worked for the government. Before 2009, the last time I had been in the news was in 1991 for high school track. So, I hadn’t—you know, this wasn’t anything I was used to, nothing my friends were accustomed to, that I was, you know, on the television or in the newspapers. And all of a sudden, my friend texts me one day, and she says, “You’re on—you’ve got a Wikipedia page,” and was shocked. And there was a Wikipedia page about me, and it just had a bunch of half-truths and mistruths. You know, just it had some general biographical information, but then the information went on to say how I wasn’t really working for the State Department, I made up my position, I didn’t have the experience I was attesting to—basically casting doubt on my credibility, basically casting doubt on who I said I was. It prominently featured—al-Qaeda had put a propaganda out one time where they took a clip of mine and edited it and put it into their propaganda video. It prominently featured that, and, you know, so basically hinting at, was I—what I was doing, was that helping al-Qaeda? You know, so, it was that type of thing. And it went back and forth, because there are some very nice people out there who edited it on my behalf without my asking. And it finally got to the point where I actually contacted Wikipedia and said, you know, “I’m the subject of this piece, and it has a lot of inaccuracies, and I’m tired of it, and can you just get rid of it?” And they did. They deleted it. And that hasn’t been a problem for a couple years. But that was one part of that, you know, campaign.
And I’ve seen it with other people, too. You certainly see it with other whistleblowers. Lieutenant Colonel Danny Davis, who went to Congress with a report in February 2012 saying that, look, the war in Afghanistan is going very badly, the Afghan security forces are not ready to take control—all things that had been proven, in fact, since then—he was actively discredited by senior members of the Pentagon. They went after him behind the scenes to, you know, media executives. And then you’re seeing it to extreme lengths, of course, with whistleblowers like Peter van Buren, who wrote the book—who was a State Department official who wrote a book about his time in Iraq that the State Department did not like, and so they went after him, threatening him with legal action, threatening to take away his pension. Thomas Drake, of course, the NSA whistleblower, they trumped up charges, charged him with the Espionage Act. They actually—in Tom Drake’s case, the FBI raided his house, turned his house upside down, and they actually—he had documents there, work documents there, and in Tom Drake’s case, they actually retroactively classified the documents. So when Tom took those documents home, they weren’t classified, but after the FBI raided his house and they needed a reason to shut him up, to shut him down, to make an example of him, they retroactively classified the documents to say that he was spying. You know, and on and on. Of course, you have Chelsea Manning, you have Edward Snowden, you have a host of other whistleblowers out there, too, who have been actively campaigned against by the federal government, by the State Department, by the Pentagon. And it really is quite a shame. I mean, this president, President Obama, has persecuted whistleblowers to a greater extent than any previous president.
AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Hoh, I wanted to go to the issue, on Veterans Day, of your PTSD. In the first part of our discussion, we talked about, you know, what it means overall in the country. But I wanted to go back to that quote on your website, at MatthewHoh.com, where you wrote, quote, “In 2007, after my second deployment to Iraq, PTSD and severe depression took over my life. I began trying to drink myself to death. Thoughts of suicide became common until they were a near daily presence by 2011.” That’s what you wrote on your website. And I wanted to talk specifically about how you recovered. If you could talk about what you did dealing with PTSD, even when you realized you had it?
MATTHEW HOH: Well, you know, it first really hit me after my second deployment to Iraq, about four months after I was home. And it was like you read about or like you hear: There was this black wave that came over me. And at the darkest of times, I—I was always a big drinker anyway, but not in this sense. And it soon became where the only way I could survive, where the only way I could numb myself, the only medication that would make me be OK, where I could sleep, where I could kind of—where the pressure, the stress in my head was bearable, was by drinking. And soon that became my way of killing myself. It became a slow way to kill myself, you know. And, of course, one of the things with post-traumatic stress disorder and with alcohol abuse is that they fit one another. They reinforce one another. I like to describe post-traumatic stress disorder as, say, as if you have a bruise on your brain; when you water it with alcohol, it grows, and it takes over more of your brain. And that was absolutely the case.
And, I mean, here was something where there is a double standard, which I think most men and women in the military can identify with, where I used to stand in front of my marines and talk about these issues, but when it happened to me, I couldn’t get help. I wouldn’t get help. I tried to treat it myself. And this persisted until—through 2011. And by that point, as you say in that quote of mine, I was thinking of killing myself. And there was a plan, you know. And I think that is what’s frightening to a lot of us who go through this, is that—and when you relapse, when this is something you still struggle with. So as I still struggle with these issues, the frightening thing, Amy, is that when it comes or when you’re back in that spot, you pick up the plan from the same location. You know, you pick up from where you left it off. How are you going to handle letting your family know? Where are you going to do it at? What are you going to use? All those things are mapped out.
And so, basically, what happened in—beginning of 2012, I was in a relationship. We were living together, and it was just a nightmare for my ex-girlfriend. And she got us to go to counseling. And the second counseling session, the counselor said, “You know what? I think this is not about you guys. I think this is about you.” And fortunately, the counselor was a former sailor who had PTSD issues of his own, and I bonded with him. And I trusted him because he was a service—he was a veteran. He had gone through these issues. He knew what I was talking about. And he saved my life. His name’s Lenny Brisendine. He’s in Georgetown. And he saved my life. He got me to stop drinking. He got me to go to the VA, got me on medication, because at that point I had hit rock bottom, and it was really just one way or the other. And if it wasn’t for Lenny, if it wasn’t for my ex-girlfriend getting me into therapy, if it wasn’t for some great doctors down here at the VA in Raleigh, if it wasn’t for my family—I have tremendous support from my family—I wouldn’t be here talking to you. I mean, I am completely certain of that, that I wouldn’t have lasted another year. I would have killed myself—
AMY GOODMAN: For—
MATTHEW HOH: —because of—
AMY GOODMAN: For vets who are going through what you went through and what you continue to deal with, when you say that the therapist saved your life, what exactly did he do to get you to stop drinking, to go to the VA, to begin to take medication? When did it click for you?
MATTHEW HOH: I think it was—well, the clicking for me was when the one question he asked me was, “Tell me about your future,” and I said I had no future. And it was at that point I became self-aware, I believe, of what was really going on, even though I had been going through it for four years. I knew it was going on. I mean, my life was programmed around alcohol, the panic attacks, the breakdowns or the pressure. I mean, I knew what I was going through, but I didn’t care. I didn’t think there was any other choice for me. It was the only way I could deal with it. And so, sitting across from this man who had gone through the same thing himself, who opened himself up to me and who got me to admit a couple things about myself, all of a sudden it was something I could no longer ignore. And so, the importance about testimony in a case of what Lenny did, what others did, and then what I started to do then was I started to watch videos of other veterans who were going through the same issues, read about them, because what you find is you see yourself in them. You say, “Oh, my gosh, that’s exactly what I’m going through, and he’s saying he’s doing better now. Well, OK, let’s keep watching, or let’s turn the page and see what we need to do.”
I mean, there are a lot of things that go with PTSD, and also another component of this is what is called “moral injury,” which a lot of us suffer from, it is what I suffer from, which is different than PTSD but afflicts a lot of veterans. But there are a lot of components. We get ourselves into financial difficulties. We have intimacy issues. I mean, one of the hardest things for relationships is that veterans with PTSD, with moral injury, with these kinds of problems, will stop being intimate with their partners, and it destroys the relationship. And it’s certainly what was happening with me in my relationship. It’s a very difficult thing to talk about, very difficult thing to acknowledge, but it kills relationships. And then, once the relationship is gone, what keeps you from killing yourself is that you’re holding onto things that you have. So, for me, to be completely honest, one of the things that kept me alive was the fact that I was doing media, talking about the war. And so, I was afraid that if I killed myself, right, then those who were opposed to me would say, “Oh, you can’t listen to that guy. He ended up killing himself.” So you find these things to latch onto. And so, for a lot of veterans, it’s their relationship. And when that relationship goes, then there’s nothing left to hold onto. The distress is overwhelming. The pain is overwhelming. And so, the choice then is made that this is the only thing I can do to end my distress, to end my suffering. And unfortunately, as we noted before, 22—at least 22 veterans a day are making that choice.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Matthew Hoh, who’s a former Marine company commander in Iraq, talking about dealing with PTSD, as we move into Veterans Day. You know, the VA scandal continues to unfold. In the latest news out of the VA, Matt, they are saying that they’re considering disciplinary action against a thousand employees, as it struggles to correct systemic problems that led to long wait times for veterans, that led to falsification of records of the cover-up delays. That issue of long wait times is not just a matter of, oh, it’s inconvenient, you know, so someone has to wait a couple weeks—
MATTHEW HOH: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —or couple months—actually, it might be a couple years. As you describe dealing with PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, that could be a matter of life and death, as real as any disease someone is suffering from.
MATTHEW HOH: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. And in fact, one of the issues with the wait times, the frustrations that you find in the VA—and let me be clear: In my, the VA I go to, I have had excellent care from the doctors and staff. They are truly wonderful, gifted people. But they work in a system that is just completely broken. When I moved down here to Raleigh a couple years ago, even though I was suicidal, even though I was being treated, it took me almost four months to see somebody in the VA down here, not because they didn’t care, not because they didn’t want to help, but because they are overwhelmed, they’re overburdened. The system is just broken. And so, what can happen is that if the veteran who is suffering from this has lost everything and he’s hitting that rock bottom and he’s finally going to the VA to help, and then he gets turned away or he gets frustrated, well, that’s going to make his situation worse. That’s going to make him or her more despondent. That’s going to make him feel as if there is going to be no end to this suffering. So, the option to kill himself is the best option for him. And it really is frightening how that does occur, how the system itself can contribute to these losses.
And again, as we mentioned in part one, there’s just been a serious, serious just managerial incompetence in the VA. Up until just a couple years ago, as we mentioned before, the VA wasn’t even collecting data on veteran suicides on a national level, and we’re still not collecting data on a completely national level. We still have 20-some-odd states that aren’t contributing to the database on veteran suicides. There is no way to make sure we’re capturing all veteran suicides, because only about 40 percent of veterans are registered with the VA. And if you ask why are only 40 percent of the veterans registered with the VA, I’ll tell you because the VA system has been a very frustrating, difficult and painful experience. I just finally—after about two-and-a-half years, I finally got my disability claim from the VA, and it’s completely wrong. I mean, I’ve been seeing a counselor for alcohol abuse for a couple years on a weekly basis, and the disability process in the VA said I didn’t have an alcohol abuse problem. So, it’s those kinds of things that I think turn people away, that chase people away, that don’t let veterans get help, because they get frustrated, they get sick over it, they throw their hands up. And then so they turn to what is working for them in the interim—alcohol, drugs—and unfortunately, that path more than likely ends up in suicide.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Matt Hoh, the definition of PTSD and what so many soldiers and veterans had to deal with for so long of even being categorized in that way, instead of being sent home with aspirin?
MATTHEW HOH: Yeah. So, with post-traumatic stress disorder, what it basically—and there’s a wide variety. This exists in the civilian world, too. Many people—survivors of sexual assault, survivors of accidents, survivors of abuse—they will all suffer post-traumatic stress disorder in a similar vein from veterans. I think post-traumatic stress disorder from warfare is a bit different, and I think there’s also a piece of this that is becoming more understood, better understood, this moral injury component, wherein that is, in your mind, the person you are did not do the things that you expected them to do. So, in my case, the moral injury is that I have guilt over things I did or guilt I failed to do. I didn’t live up to the expectations of myself in war. And when I come home, I now have to live with that. I now have to live that with this notion that I did things or I didn’t do things that I’m not morally OK with, that that’s not who I thought I was. So you have that destruction of your self-image. You have that destruction of the soul, basically.
And then, with post-traumatic stress disorder, you have basically, in some ways described as your fight-or-flight system is stuck open, that valve is stuck open, so you’re constantly in overdrive. So you’re constantly over-aware. You’re constantly reacting as if you’re still there. And this can take form in flashbacks, in dreams, in just a constant pressure, a constant stress that exists with you every day. And that then extends and breaks down your daily life. It breaks down your relationships. It breaks down your job performance. It breaks down your finances. And so, it has an effect that then radiates out. And because you’re not getting help, because maybe you’re turning to alcohol or you’re turning to drugs, it then cycles on itself, and it just continues to build, until the point comes that you hit rock bottom. And then it’s either one way or the other. And unfortunately, way too many of us are choosing suicide as opposed to getting help.
AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Hoh, would you do things differently, as you reflect back on your life now, from being a Marine Corps commander, a company commander in Iraq, to serving in Afghanistan as a State Department official, quitting and what you’ve done since then?
MATTHEW HOH: I don’t think so, Amy. You know, I’d like to say maybe, but I don’t think so. I think I’m at the place now because of the decisions I made, whether they were the right decisions or the wrong decisions. You know, I’ve—I actually saw a great—I’m 41, you know, so I’m going through what all of us who are turning in their forties are going through of “How did this happen to me?” you know? But I saw this little bumper sticker, and it said, “Life begins at 40. Everything before then is research.” And I think that’s absolutely true. I think that’s actually the case. I mean, that’s life and the journey we’re on. And it’s a constant journey. I’ve got another 40-some-odd years to make up for things maybe I did wrong, for mistakes I made, to improve upon things or to do things well again. And so, I think that’s the way I like to view it as, rather than looking back and saying, “I would have done this differently or that differently,” because I can’t honestly say I would have.
AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Hoh, Fallujah, Friday, it was the 10th anniversary of the second battle of Fallujah, where I think it was the bloodiest battle for U.S. troops. Something like a hundred died.
MATTHEW HOH: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Not clear how many Iraqis died. Now the Islamic State, ISIS, has control of Fallujah.
MATTHEW HOH: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you comment on this?
MATTHEW HOH: Well, and they’ve been—since January, there’s been a lot of fighting in Fallujah. And Fallujah itself has never been entirely secure, particularly these last few years, the Iraqi government. But what you’re seeing is sectarian fighting. You’re seeing Sunni versus Shia. So, in January of this year, the people of Fallujah had basically had enough with the Shia government. They felt they were being preyed upon. They felt like they were being oppressed. And with the Islamic State, they have been fighting the Iraqi government, the Shia government, for control since then.
One of the things that’s important, I think, for folks listening and watching to be aware of is that this violence in Iraq is not new. It didn’t just happen again in the summer. Last year, almost 10,000 people were killed in bombings and shootings and in violence in Iraq, and this year, of course, it’ll be probably more than double that. So, it is. I mean, you look at it in the sense of 10 years ago, when we launched that operation in Fallujah, it was the bloodiest campaign of the war. Thousands were killed. Thousands were wounded. Horrible, horrible fighting. The city was destroyed, to a certain degree. And I think it’s an important lesson. I think it shows the mistake of trying to achieve policy goals with violence. By somehow achieving victory in the short term, you make sure you don’t achieve any stability or any peace in the mid or the long term.
And I think, too, the repercussions of the fighting in Fallujah from 10 years ago, of course, are still being seen now, because they’re still fighting. But also, too, as well, we have very severe concerns for the public health of the people in Iraq because of the depleted uranium that we used. Depleted uranium is very dense, and so we use it in our munitions, in our tank gun rounds and in our—in other munitions that we have, because it basically works so well when you’re trying to kill. But the problem is, is after you use it, it sits in the ground, and that uranium sinks into the ground and into the water supply. And now, these years afterwards, we now see very horrible incidence of cancer, of birth defects, of women bearing still-born babies. And so, not just do we have this legacy that’s still alive—the fighting is still going on, people are still being killed every day, the Islamic State is beheading people, the Iraqi government is shelling buildings, including schools and hospitals—but you have this, even if there was stability, even if there was peace, the people of Iraq would be suffering because their groundwater, their land is contaminated, and their children are dying because of it.
AMY GOODMAN: And the chemical exposure Iraqis face, and also U.S. soldiers, your response to the Pentagon admitting that 600 American servicemembers since 2003 have reported to military medical staff members they believe they were exposed to chemical warfare agents in Iraq, the Pentagon failing to realize the scope of the reported cases or [offer] adequate tracking and treatment to those who may have been injured, the Pentagon says. This was a big exposé in The New York Times.
MATTHEW HOH: Mm-hmm. Yes, I mean, certainly when I was there, we found them. I remember reading a report that a unit would find old chemical weapons shells, you know, and so the explosive ordnance disposal guys would have to go there and take care—and that’s one of the reasons why normal troops were not supposed to blow up any old Iraqi shells that they found, because they might be chemical rounds. I mean, this was widely known within the troops fighting over there that there were these old chemical munitions laying around. It was reported. And so, this idea that somehow the Pentagon is just realizing it now or that it wasn’t adequately reported is a lie.
And I think it falls into play with other aspects of how the Pentagon and our government has conducted itself over time. I mean, certainly the easiest and the clearest example is Agent Orange. I mean, Agent Orange was a defoliant we used in Vietnam to strip the leaves off of the jungle. It was assured to everybody—our troops and the people of Southeast Asia—that it was not going to be a problem. And, of course, you know, go over to the VA hospital, and it’s full of veterans suffering from the effects of that in terms of cancer, as well as, if you visit Vietnam or Laos or Cambodia, they are suffering the same.
So this notion that somehow the Pentagon didn’t know about it, that they didn’t understand it, it wasn’t being reported properly, is a complete lie. I’m just grateful that they are actually addressing it now, and hopefully those 600—and it may be more—servicemembers who were exposed to it, hopefully they had been receiving adequate treatment throughout this time and it’s not just that they’re going to their first doctor’s appointment for this this week.
AMY GOODMAN: And in Afghanistan, that’s the country you were where you quit the State Department. The latest news from The Washington Post, bombers targeted Afghanistan’s police, killing at least 10 officers and a civilian in two separate attacks in the latest sign of growing violence in the country. The attacks came one day after a suicide bomber infiltrated the heavily fortified police headquarters in the capital, Kabul, and blew himself up, killing a senior police official and wounding several others. We’ve talked a lot about Iraq. What about Afghanistan?
MATTHEW HOH: Well, Afghanistan, you know, unfortunately for the Afghan people, they’ve seen violence increase every year. Violence is worse now than it was in 2009 when President Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan. You’ve had a series of fraudulent elections in Afghanistan. This last one, the presidential election of this year, was so fraudulent, they couldn’t even release the numbers from it, and basically they had to create an extra constitutional position for—so that both candidates would accept victory, and you wouldn’t have a broadening of the civil war in Afghanistan. Basically, Secretary Kerry had to say, “You’re going to do this, in order for us to keep giving you the money.” And I think that’s what people should take away from it, is how much influence our money has in these conflicts, how they prop up corrupt governments, these kleptocracies.
The only thing that has prospered in Afghanistan since 2009 has been the drug trade. Every year, the poppy crops, the marijuana crops are larger than they were the previous year. And I should counter that with saying also, too, the Taliban have prospered, as well, because the Taliban are actually larger, stronger, more capable than they were in previous years. Every year, they grow in size, and you could see as reflected in the numbers of attacks they launch, IEDs they put in the ground, the number of police or soldiers they killed.
So, Afghanistan is in a very, very difficult position. The civil war is ongoing. The Taliban are in a position of power, where they can negotiate when they want to. The government is incredibly corrupt. There is no economy to speak of. And I think the Afghans will unfortunately have to suffer for quite a long time until stability comes there. They’ve been fighting for as long as I’ve been alive, or at least almost as long; they’ve been fighting since the mid-’70s. And so, I think, unfortunately, the Afghans are going to have to suffer and continue to suffer. And I think it should be a lesson on the limits of American power, what we can achieve and what we should try to achieve.
AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Hoh, on Sunday, former President George W. Bush appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation to talk about a book he had written about his father. The host, Bob Schieffer, asked him about a statement he makes in his book regarding his decision to invade Iraq in 2003.
BOB SCHIEFFER: You write in the book, when you decided to send troops into Iraq, it was not to finish what your dad had started.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah. There are very few defensive moments of the book, and that happens to be one. I guess I was just responding to kind of the gossip that tends to work around the political circles, that clearly he had only one thing in mind, and that was to finish the job his father did, because my dad decided not to go into Baghdad after routing Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. And the reason why is that wasn’t the mission he stated. And so, I went in there as a result of a very changed environment because of September the 11th. And the danger we were concerned about was that the weapons would be put into the hands of terrorist groups that would come and make the attacks of 9/11 pale in comparison.
AMY GOODMAN: That was George W. Bush. Matthew Hoh, your response?
MATTHEW HOH: It’s amazing, Amy. I mean, the president continues to lie about the Iraq War. In that clip there, he references 9/11. The Iraqis had nothing to do with 9/11. That’s been proven beyond a doubt. He references the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein was going to give to the terrorists to attack us, which didn’t exist. And it’s just—you know, I’m at a loss for words, because I had not heard that until now, and so I’m at a loss for words what to say about that, how insane it is that that is the man who was the president of the United States, that’s the man who was on Face the Nation, that’s the man who is seen, to some degree, as a kingmaker, in terms of pushing his brother to run for president, as well, and that a large percent of this country, while they will put the yellow ribbon on their cars, while they’ll give a standing ovation to the vet without legs at a baseball game, while they’ll all gladly take Veterans Day off to go shopping, won’t hold a man responsible for his actions that has killed thousands, wounded hundreds of thousands—and one of the things we don’t talk about a lot is the number of traumatic brain injuries in this country from the wars. We have about 250,000 soldiers who have suffered traumatic brain injuries from the war. And so, this dissonance, the absurdity that exists in this country that President Bush is able to say such things, and then for the Face the Nation host, Bob Schieffer, who’s been doing that job for 20-some-odd years, to not kick him off the show for outright lying and for being so disrespectful to those who died over there for that mistake, it’s just—again, I’m at a loss for words.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Matthew Hoh, as the veterans’ tributes begin for Veterans Day, what do you think would be the greatest tribute to veterans, as a veteran yourself?
MATTHEW HOH: I think the greatest tribute would be, to tie into what I was just saying, is some form of accountability, some form of holding responsible those who have made mistakes. You know, I only served 10 years in the Marines, but I’ve had friends of mine who have served 20 or 30 years, and they’ve spent half that time in the Middle East, and we’ve all had friends die. We’ve all seen people in Iraq and Afghanistan and other locations suffer, and that carries with us. And I think that’s one of the issues that we face, is that there has been no accountability, there has been no justice. These wars have been failures. They’ve been done for just reasons of malfeasance, of just reasons that seem to be unknown or you don’t want to understand what the actual reasons were. And so, I think the best thing that could happen for veterans is some form of accountability for these wars, people being held responsible, from both parties. You know, the Democrats are just as complicit in these wars as the Republicans are.
AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Hoh, thanks so much for being with us, former State Department official who resigned in protest of the war in Afghanistan, resigned from his post there over U.S. policy in September 2009. Before that, he served in Iraq; from 2004 to ’05, worked with a State Department team; from 2006 to ’07, worked as a Marine Corps company commander in Anbar province; now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, speaking to us from his home state of North Carolina in Raleigh. Thanks so much.
MATTHEW HOH: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
I did a lengthy interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now on a number of issues, some of it very personal, for Veterans Day. This first part deals primarily with our current intervention in the Iraqi Civil War:
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: As the nation prepares to commemorate Veterans Day, President Obama has authorized the deployment of an additional 1,500 troops to Iraq. The plan will more than double the current U.S. force in Iraq and will reportedly cost $5.6 billion. At a news conference Friday, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby announced the decision.
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: The commander-in-chief has authorized Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to deploy to Iraq up to 1,500 additional U.S. personnel over the coming months, in a noncombat role, to expand our advise and assist mission and initiate a comprehensive training effort for Iraqi forces. Secretary Hagel made this recommendation to the president based on the request of the government of Iraq, U.S. Central Command’s assessment of Iraqi units, the progress Iraqi security forces have made in the field, and in concert with the development of a coalition campaign plan to defend key areas and go on the offensive against ISIL.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby. In a significant expansion of the U.S. military campaign against ISIS, military advisers will reportedly establish training sites across Iraq. The request for $5.6 billion will reportedly be presented to Congress during the lame-duck session that begins this week. In an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation broadcast Sunday, President Obama said the increased troop deployment to Iraq marks a “new phase” against Islamic State militants—an offensive strategy, rather than a defensive one.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We’re now in a position to start going on some offense. The airstrikes have been very effective in degrading ISIL’s capabilities and slowing the advance that they were making. Now what we need is ground troops, Iraqi ground troops, that can start pushing them back.
AMY GOODMAN: The timing of the announcement has raised questions about whether the Obama administration waited until after the midterm elections in order to shield Democratic candidates from war-weary voters. The antiwar group CodePink has criticized Obama for sending more troops to Iraq, saying in a statement, quote, “For months we’ve been hearing ‘no boots on the ground’ over and over from the administration … When will we learn from our mistakes and stop repeating history?” they wrote.
Well, for more, we go to Raleigh, North Carolina, where we’re joined by Matthew Hoh, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, former State Department official who resigned in protest from his post in Afghanistan over the U.S. policy there in September 2009. Prior to his assignment in Afghanistan, Matthew Hoh served in Iraq. From 2004 to ’05, he worked with a State Department reconstruction and governance team in Salah ad-Din province. And from 2006 to ’07, he worked as a Marine Corps company commander in Anbar province.
Matthew Hoh, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you share your response to the increased boots on the ground?
MATTHEW HOH: Hi, good morning, and thank you for having me on. My response is, as many people, I think, in the United States, scratching their head and wondering: What are we doing? What does the United States government really think it’s going to accomplish by putting more American troops into the middle of the Iraqi civil war and into the middle of the Syrian civil war, particularly coming off of 13 years of war in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya, in Somalia, in Yemen, etc.? So, my response, Amy, is more or less the same as most people’s, of a—very concerned and, you know, lack of a better phrase, this is crazy.
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking to CBS’s Face the Nation, President Obama insisted U.S. troops will focus on training Iraqis to fight ISIS and coordinating airstrikes, rather than engaging in active combat.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What hasn’t changed is, our troops are not engaged in combat. Essentially what we’re doing is we’re taking four training centers, with coalition members, that allow us to bring in Iraqi recruits, some of the Sunni tribes that are still resisting ISIL, giving them proper training, proper equipment, helping them with strategy, helping them with logistics. We will provide them close air support once they are prepared to start going on the offense against ISIL. But what we will not be doing is having our troops do the fighting.
AMY GOODMAN: President Obama refused to rule out further increases in U.S. troops in Iraq.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As commander-in-chief, I’m never going to say never, but what, you know, the commanders who presented the plan to me say is that we may actually see fewer troops over time, because now we’re seeing coalition members starting to partner with us on the training and assist effort.
AMY GOODMAN: That is President Obama on CBS’s Face the Nation. Matthew Hoh, do you believe what he’s saying?
MATTHEW HOH: No, I don’t. And I think it’s very easy for us to revisit this in a few months’ time, just as now we’re revisiting this from several months ago, and see the increase, the graduation of entry of American forces back into the conflict. But I think it’s a slippery slope—excuse me—and that very quickly this will spin out of control for the United States. What happens when American troops are killed? What happens when we lose several young men to a suicide bomber? How is the president going to react to that? How is the United States going to react when our troops are in combat and we only have 3,000? And the president, who can’t seem to face down the same critics in Congress who are always demanding for war, the John McCains and Lindsey Graham, how is he going to face them down then, if he can’t face them down now? So, I don’t believe his words, and I think that this is going to be the beginning of an unfortunate and tragic re-entry of America back into this civil war.
AMY GOODMAN: Your response to the fate of the ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi? Iraqi officials claim he was wounded in an airstrike on ISIS leaders in Iraq’s Anbar province, Anbar province where you were, Matthew Hoh.
MATTHEW HOH: It may be true. I mean, certainly it could possibly happen, but I don’t put much stock in that having a great effect on the Islamic State. They’ll just get another leader. Look, Osama bin Laden has been dead for three-and-a-half years, and the administration is citing how dangerous al-Qaeda still is, in order to justify spying on Americans or justify bombing in Syria. The precursor to the Islamic State, al-Qaeda in Iraq, which didn’t exist, of course, until we invaded Iraq, but al-Qaeda in Iraq, which morphed into the Islamic State, their leader, al-Zarqawi, was killed in 2006, and here we are now in 2014 facing an even stronger, more dangerous, more barbaric force in the Islamic State. So, I don’t—if he’s dead, you know, I don’t think it’s going to affect things in the mid or long term in terms of what’s occurring in Iraq, what’s occurring in Syria, because the issues here go well beyond one man or one group. It goes into issues relating to sectarian violence, that has been fostered and pushed by policies from the United States, from the West, from the Gulf nations, that have created this Frankenstein, ISIS, and that have enabled the environment for civil war to flourish.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk more about that, how ISIS was created, its support, and what you feel is the alternative?
MATTHEW HOH: Sure. Well, the Islamic State, as I just mentioned, came from the al-Qaeda in Iraq, which was an organization that sprang to life after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. Al-Qaeda in Iraq, one of the things that—when I was there in Iraq, as well as in the State Department and the Pentagon in D.C., one of the things we always noticed about it and one of the things that we saw was that it was—while it had a number of foreign fighters in it, a number of young men who were coming from other Arab nations to fight against the Americans in Iraq, very often, though, the—or I should say, the majority of the constituency of al-Qaeda in Iraq were Iraqis in 2006, 2007, because so many people were supporting al-Qaeda in Iraq based on sectarian reasons. So, basically, what was occurring in Iraq was you had this civil war, so the Sunnis in Iraq were supporting al-Qaeda because they had no other choice.
In 2006, 2007, we made a deal with the Sunnis. We gave them money. We brought them back into the power structure. We pulled Shia forces out of the Sunni areas. And so, the Sunnis then turned on al-Qaeda. What happened after that was, when the United States left in 2011, the Shia government in Baghdad, which is incredibly corrupt, relentlessly went after the Sunnis. They persecuted them to an extent that I don’t think people realize the violence behind that. This wasn’t just excluding the Sunnis from government, this was actively killing them, actively chasing them from their homes, actively mass arrests—actively arresting them in mass numbers, to the point that the Sunnis have revolted and have thrown their weight behind this group, the Islamic State, which is the successor to al-Qaeda in Iraq. So what you see here is this horrible group, Islamic State, that’s very barbaric. They have this extreme religious fanaticism and ideology behind them. But they are receiving the support of many Sunni Arabs in the area, in Iraq and Syria, because of the alternatives to the Islamic State are government forces that the Sunnis see as much worse to them than the Islamic State.
My alternative to the U.S. bombing campaign, to the U.S. military intervention is this. This is the consequence of decades of United States policy in the Middle East that has played one sect against the other. The Islamic State is a Frankenstein of our creation. And as horrible as it is, the purposes behind the United States policy in the Middle East must change to be one of preventing conflict rather than fostering conflict. For decades now, we have supported various regimes in the Middle East that have been despotic, that have been dictatorships, that have oppressed their people, or, in the alternative, we have supported these groups that have then morphed into these organizations like al-Qaeda, like the Islamic State. And it’s now out of control. And so, for me, the alternative in Iraq is to stop supporting a Shia government that is horribly corrupt, that is persecuting its own people, stop buying their oil, stop selling their weapons. Look, Amy, when we—as the United States, when we sell the world 70 percent of its weapons, we have to take responsibility for the havoc that’s going to result from that. So, a lot of this, to me, is not so much what do we do now. What do we do over the next decades to disengage ourself from this policy where we have created these Frankensteins, we have created conditions for civil war, where we have set one group, whether it be by religion, by sect, by ethnicity, against the other? And how do we walk away from that? How do we back out of that and become a much more responsible partner in the world? And how do we seek to actually bring about justice, bring about stability, rather than fostering either war or oppression?
AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Hoh, can you describe your own transformation, how you came to the position you have? You fought in Iraq. You served in Afghanistan. You quit as a State Department official in protest of the war in Afghanistan. Explain the trajectory you took over the years.
MATTHEW HOH: Well, I think, for me, it begins in 2002 when I’m stationed in the Pentagon. I was put in a very senior position. Just happened—just happened I worked directly for the secretary of the Navy as a Marine Corps captain. And so, in the run-up to the war, the Iraq War, and during the initial phases of the Iraq War, I was very close to the decision making, the policy making. I could see how things were done, how decisions were made, how assessments were conducted. And I could see very quickly, particularly once the war began in Iraq and once we started receiving our communications from our forces in Iraq, our classified communications detailing what was occurring on the ground, the dissonance, the disconnect between what policy was being promulgated in Washington, D.C., what assessments were being made, what statements were being made, and what the reality was on the ground.
Of course, when I got there in 2004, 2005, I saw that firsthand. I saw how our presence was fueling the occupation, how we were setting one group against the other, how we were aiding corrupt and thuggish militias in power in Iraq. The same thing, too—I came back to D.C., worked in the State Department again on the Iraq desk and again, in an inter-agency process, saw that disconnect between what’s occurring in Iraq and what we’re actually saying, and the refusal by people in the administration, by people in the military, in the government, to acknowledge that our policies weren’t just harmful, but they were malignant, that they were causing further violence, they were causing groups like al-Qaeda to gain support.
And so, this continued until finally I was in Afghanistan in 2009 and seeing all the same things again, seeing the narrative that we have the white hats on, that American troops are dying to protect us, to keep us free, seeing that really what we were doing in Afghanistan was taking part in a civil war, our presence was fueling the insurgency, we were propping up a corrupt kleptocracy, and that al-Qaeda had left Afghanistan years before. I decided at that point in 2009 I no longer could take part in it. And, you know, here we are five years later.