The logical core of Matthew Hoh's resignation letter (updated)

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This passage from his letter is to me the heart of the argument for curtailing rather than expanding America's stake and commitment in Afghanistan:

"I find specious the reasons we ask for bloodshed and and sacrifice from our young men and women in Afghanistan. If honest, our stated strategy of securing Afghanistan to prevent al-Qaeda resurgence or regrouping would require us to additionally invade and occupy western Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, etc. [My emphasis.] Our presence in Afghanistan has only increased destabilization and insurgency in Pakistan where we rightly fear a toppled or weakened Pakistani government may lose control of its nuclear weapons. However, again, to follow the logic of our stated goals we should garrison Pakistan, not Afghanistan. More so, the September 11th attacks, as well as the Madrid and London bombings, were primarily planned and organized in Western Europe; a point that highlights that the threat is not one tied to traditional geographic or political boundaries."

The United States entered Afghanistan -- properly and with every moral and practical justification -- to disrupt, punish, and kill groups that had planned the 9/11 attacks. It is now in a mess in Afghanistan largely because of the crucial misjudgment nearly eight years ago to shift effort and attention to Saddam Hussein and Iraq. Not everything in foreign affairs can be explained by logic. But as Hoh argues, if we're serious in thinking we can now eliminate terrorist threats with our troops in Afghanistan, then logically we must also send them to Pakistan and beyond. And if we're not serious, then how can we keep them there?

For-the-record point: resignations on principle are vanishingly rare in U.S. government practice. It's much easier to keep your head down, protect your career prospects, and when it's over say that you had been against [failed policy xx or yy] all along. Apart from the merits of his argument, Hoh deserves respect for taking this step so forthrightly. Each person who does so creates an example for others to reflect upon.

UPDATE: A reader in Europe writes,

"There's an interesting book (dated,may well be 30 yrs old) comparing resignations in the UK with those in the USA, showing that the British tradition allows to resign and later be appointed again because you did the "honourable thing" whereas in the US excuses like"return to the family"or "other pursuits" were mostly used to cover up."

The book he is referring to is Resignation in Protest by Edward Weisband and Thomas Franck, which I have heard of but have not read. Thanks to reader P.A.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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