Sensible caution or more dithering?
President Obama is turning the screws on Afghanistan's President, Hamid Karzai, demanding that he gets serious about corruption, before the US comes up with any more troops. The US ambassador to Afghanistan has been even more forthright, sending a supposedly secret cable urging against further troop deployments.
The eighth meeting in the White House situation room was discussing four options on troop numbers, but it seems as if the discussion went back to basics, and focused a great deal on whether the Afghan government was a fit partner.
We're told the president was concerned about timelines: when would Nato forces be able to hand over to the Afghan army, and when would they be able to leave. It's clear he wants any announcement of increased troop numbers to go hand in hand with a clear exit strategy.
There were, we are told, mounting questions about the credibility of the Afghan government. No wonder. The president was being told by the US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, who used to be the top commander in the field there, not to send more troops.
The BBC has spoken to an official who confirmed that the ambassador sent at least one cable saying that sending more troops was "not a good idea". The source said that the intervention was seen as "dramatic" and that the man who is now in charge of the military operation, General Stanley McChrystal, was left "fuming" at this outright opposition to his call for 40,000 more troops. If these two hard men in the field are at loggerheads it doesn't bode well for any new strategy.
The Washington Post says Eikenberry's main concern is that the Afghan Government shows no sign of addressing the concerns that have been repeatedly raised with them, and that sending more troops would increase their dependence on the United States, rather than building up their own forces.
The offical White House statement after the meeting was pretty blunt:
"The president believes that we need to make clear to the Afghan government that our commitment is not open ended. After years of substantial investments by the American people, governance in Afghanistan must improve in a reasonable period of time to ensure a successful transition to our Afghan partner."
My translation into even less diplomatic language would be: "We can't send more troops unless Karzai improves, otherwise we'll be there for ever."
The Associated Press version goes a little bit further, saying that Mr Obama has rejected all four options currently on the table:
"President Barack Obama does not plan to accept any of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national security team, pushing instead for revisions to clarify how and when US troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government".
But again the core of the objection is about refusing to send more troops unless there is a clear exit strategy, and a responsible Afghan partner.
So a warning to Hamid Karzai to shape up. But is the administration just sending a message, or is it really still in agonies about which direction to take?
Is it a bluff or could the president really send far fewer troops than expected? Sensible caution or more dithering? What do you think?