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The First Afghanistan Resignation

A powerful story from The Washington Post: a leading State Department official in Afghanistan’s Zabul province has resigned in protest of the war, writing that he has “lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan.” Matthew Hoh’s departure was considered so damaging — probably more politically damaging than substantively damaging — that both U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and even Special Representative Richard Holbrooke offered him jobs to keep him on board, offering him the chance to incorporate his critiques into policymaking. Instead, Hoh, who commanded a Marine company in Iraq, said he couldn’t do it, and offered this critique, as described by The Post:

But many Afghans, he wrote in his resignation letter, are fighting the United States largely because its troops are there — a growing military presence in villages and valleys where outsiders, including other Afghans, are not welcome and where the corrupt, U.S.-backed national government is rejected. While the Taliban is a malign presence, and Pakistan-based al-Qaeda needs to be confronted, he said, the United States is asking its troops to die in Afghanistan for what is essentially a far-off civil war.

The concern about the U.S. presence fueling the insurgency — not for what the U.S. does, but merely for the fact of its existence — was raised by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in January, but it has not yet seemed to penetrate most discourse about the war. Gates himself backed away from the critique in September, saying that Gen. Stanley McChrystal convinced him that the U.S. military could mitigate the danger by actively providing for the Afghan people’s well-being. And indeed, McChrystal has tacitly paid respect to the critique, saying in his much-derided London address that jobs programs could do much to deprive the Taliban of foot soldiers who fight because their lack of economic alternatives accelerate their antipathy to the U.S. presence. That approach won the support yesterday of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in his uneasy embrace of a modified version of McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy. But if Hoh is right, then it’s simply too late for that strategy, as the mere presence of the U.S. military will have reached the “tipping point” that Gates warned about in January.

Holbrooke tolT the Post that he shares some of Hoh’s analysis, if not his conclusions. According to the paper, Hoh will meet with Tony Blinken, Vice President Biden’s national security adviser, later this week. And don’t be surprised if Kerry calls him to testify at some point, either.

This post has been updated for clarity.

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