One of the most respected foreign policy voices in Democratic circles expressed "serious reservations" with components of a U.S. troop escalation in Afghanistan during an interview on Tuesday.
Former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was an early skeptic about increasing troops in Afghanistan, said he was not necessarily opposed to Obama's decision to send an additional 30,000 troops there. But he stressed that the mission had to be defined properly.
For starters, he argued that if America's military efforts lack a sufficient multilateral component, "it will in fact help to feed the insurgency." Brzezinski also cautioned that it would be hypocritical and counterproductive for America to stress that Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government be purged of corruption.
"Who are we to seriously be preaching [such] a crusade?" he asked. "We have a financial sector that is voraciously greedy and exploitative, to put it mildly. We have a Congress which is not immune to special interests. And we have an electoral system that is based largely on private donations which precipitate expectations of rewards. The notion of us going to the Afghans and preaching purity is comical... I think we should just quit that stuff."
Brzezinski also expressed reservations about a counter-insurgency strategy that is too reliant on bolstering national institutions, noting that there is "a very complex" mix of different ethnic and tribal groups that have historically opposed foreign or even central authorities.
"I think building up local forces, relying on the loyalties that prevail on the local level... makes much more sense given the fact that Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic society, which most Americans don't realize," he said. "To talk of an Afghan national army is to talk of something that is ultimately not possible."
Brzezinksi is not alone in his concern about viewing solutions to Afghanistan's problems through a strictly "top-down" lens.
"You want to have a legitimate government," said Larry Korb, a senior fellow and military expert at the progressive Center for American Progress. "But I'm not sure about the utility of building government institutions or anything like that... I do think you need some national army. But you do need a bottoms-up approach to compliment that."
The White House seems cognizant of these concerns, though its approach remains unclear.
"As [the president] said in the speech, we'll deal with key ministries at the national level," a senior Obama adviser told the Huffington Post. "In addition, we will work at the sub-national level, too, and in both instances work with only those institutions that are transparent."