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Resigning in Protest

A fascinating WashPost story on a Foreign Service officer who has resigned to protest what he feels is a pointless war in Afghanistan. A combat veteran who reportedly read deeply about the war, Matthew Hoh will be difficult for Afghanistan hawks to dismiss. Here's a key passage:

Korengal and other areas, he said, taught him "how localized the insurgency was. I didn't realize that a group in this valley here has no connection with an insurgent group two kilometers away." Hundreds, maybe thousands, of groups across Afghanistan, he decided, had few ideological ties to the Taliban but took its money to fight the foreign intruders and maintain their own local power bases.

"That's really what kind of shook me," he said. "I thought it was more nationalistic. But it's localism. I would call it valley-ism."

I don't think many people dispute that the Taliban is a diffuse, often localized and frequently mercenary movement. In a way, I would call that reason for optimism. It means we can focus on breaking the back of the hard-core bad guys who are in league with al Qaeda, and worry less about insurgents in places like the Korengal.

And the story fails to note the relevant fact that Stanley McChrystal has already begun withdrawing U.S. troops from places like the Korengal to focus on populated areas and hard-core Taliban strongholds like the Helmand valley. (I'm not certain whether we've yet begun leaving the Korengal itself, but he was certainly thinking about it as of several weeks ago.)

Still, Hoh's brave act of conscience should give us all pause. I'm sure it will resonate on Capitol Hill this week.