Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The State Dept on Matthew Hoh

Forward Operating Base, ZabulImage by The U.S. Army via Flickr

…and the Art of the Benevolent Push Back

Here is the official word from Foggy Bottom on the resignation of Matthew Hoh, the U.S. official who resigned over Afghanistan. The short short seems to be that State admire, respect, and took him seriously – but he’s not one of theirs for the long haul ‘cuz he was not a career member of the Foreign Service. And by the way we’re on track on Afghanistan. Yes -- and as I write this, the news screen flashes that Taliban militants have gone boldly into Kabul, attacked the UN Guest House, killing six employees.


Resignation of Matthew Hoh /Admire Mr. Hoh and Respect Sacrifices Made for His Country / Take His Opinions Seriously / Senior Officials Have Spoken With Him / Respect His Right to Dissent /Had Limited, Non-Career Appointment / Political Officer in PRT in Zabul/Believe We're on Track to Achieving Goals President Has Set Before Us/No Resignations By Career Foreign Service Officers Over Afghanistan/Allegation of Desecration of Qu'ran Denied by Pentagon

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QUESTION: Can I just – now pick up the question about – the resignation of Matthew Hoh, who was working for the State Department in Afghanistan and has made public a somewhat depressing three-page letter about the reasons for his resignation, and he talks about his loss of understanding and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States presence there.

Is this – how does the State Department view this? Is this an embarrassment of sorts, the fact that it’s become so public? It’s on the front page of the Post today. MR. KELLY: Well, first of all, we admire Mr. Hoh. We respect the sacrifice that he’s made for his country, both in Iraq and signing up to join our effort in Afghanistan. We take his opinions very seriously. Senior officials on the ground in Afghanistan and here in Washington have talked to him, have heard him out. We respect his right to dissent. This is an old and respected tradition in the Foreign Service, that Foreign Service personnel have the right to express their dissent.

Just to give you a little more background on his affiliation with the State Department, he signed on for a limited appointment. It is a non-career appointment. He signed on March 29th of this year and his employment lasted up until September 28. He submitted his letter of resignation a few weeks before that. He was signed on as a political officer in a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan in Zabul. And his role as a PRT political officer was to monitor and report on political and economic developments in his province.

As I say, we take his point of view very seriously. But we continue to believe that we are on track to achieving the goal that the President has set before us, and that’s – you heard Deputy Secretary Lew lay out some of those objectives: improving Afghan governance; providing security, infrastructure, jobs, basically giving the Afghan people an alternative to the very negative vision of the Taliban and al-Qaida. And this is the strategy, and as I say, we believe we're on track reaching the goals. Kirit. QUESTION: Just a couple of things from the article about his meeting with Eikenberry and with Holbrooke. Could you tell us a little more about this, and what happened in those meetings? MR. KELLY: Well, I think he was upfront with his own chain of command, and had the opportunity to discuss with his immediate boss who is the supervisor of the PRTs. And he also talked to the Deputy Chief of Mission out there, Mr. Frank Ricciardone. And it was very much an open and transparent process. As I say, we value his service, we value his background and his skills. This is why we appointed him to this limited non-career appointment to be a political officer, to be our eyes and ears on the ground in Zabul. In the end, he made his own decision, that he decided to resign, and we respect that. QUESTION: Do you wish he hadn’t gone public with it? MR. KELLY: I'm sorry? QUESTION: Do you wish he had not gone public with that? MR. KELLY: It’s really his decision. I mean, we don’t – it was a – obviously, a very personal decision, and I think he even told the post that it was a very painful decision. I’m sure it was, but we respect his right to act on his views. QUESTION: So his tour – his job would have ended on March 29th of 2010? MR. KELLY: It was a one-year appointment, yeah. QUESTION: That would have ended on March 29, 2010? MR. KELLY: It was supposed to end next March, yeah. QUESTION: And then what would have happened? MR. KELLY: At that point, he would have – his employment would have been over with the State Department. These appointments can be extended as well. I – there have been some appointments that have been extended up to 18 months, I know. QUESTION: And the – okay, but then that’s it? MR. KELLY: And that’s it. Yeah, that’s it. QUESTION: So there – MR. KELLY: He signs an agreement that he’ll – that he agrees to stay for a year and then his employment ends. QUESTION: So that you can’t re-up it at that point. MR. KELLY: Oh, I said we can extend him, but he has no – it’s a non-career appointment. So he doesn’t have any re-employment rights, per se. Of course, he can compete for other jobs. QUESTION: Then I’m not – I’m unclear as to how he actually fits into the Foreign Service. MR. KELLY: It’s – there is a provision of the Foreign Service Act that gives the Secretary the right to designate certain positions as limited with a time certain end date in order to fill positions that have not been filled through the normal Foreign Service process. And so this was one of them. We have, I think a total in the world, about 16 of these type appointments. It’s not – it’s fairly rare. QUESTION: Is that the same thing as the 3161 or is that different? MR. KELLY: No, that’s different. QUESTION: It’s different, right? MR. KELLY: I don’t know all the ins and outs of 3161. I think that’s more of a Civil – I think that’s for Civil Service appointments. QUESTION: So this is under Foreign Service, but he is not considered -- MR. KELLY: This is under Foreign Service. QUESTION: -- a Foreign Service officer, he’s not commissioned as a Foreign Service officer? MR. KELLY: He’s not commissioned as a Foreign Service officer, yeah.

Yeah. Related Post: FSO Matthew Hoh Resigns Over Afghan War

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