Afghanistan indecision reveals Obama uncertainty
US President Barack Obama is planning two further meetings on his Afghanistan strategy this week.
In the meantime, while the basic direction of the war is debated in Washington, the man sent to take command of the war, General Stanley McChrystal, will have to "pound sand" as they say in the military.
Appearing at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies last week, the general parried questions aimed at probing any discomfort he might be feeling at his position.
For having appointed Gen McChrystal to sort out the US and Nato approach to the war, the president is now apparently reluctant to endorse his recommendations.
Better the right decision than a quick one, said the general at the IISS.
While the battle to define the new approach continues, it would be a foolish military commander indeed who showed any disrespect to his commander in chief.
So long as the strategic direction coming from the White House is clear, coherent, and well informed then everything will pan out.
The problem is that many people involved in trying to fight the war do not believe there is leadership of that kind.
Reminiscent of Bush administration
There has been a flurry of leaks and newspaper stories about divisions in the administration.
To an extent this is part of the normal rough and tumble. But there is something reminiscent of the dysfunctional early Bush administration decision making about Iraq in all this chewing over of the Afghan issue.
Washington's power politics soon rushes to fill the vacuum created by presidential indecision.
As if in a negative image of the first Bush term, where there was a vice-president (Cheney) who pushed hard for the military option, now there is one (Biden) who seeks to reduce the US' exposure.
Vice-President Joe Biden's judgement is suspect to many in the US military because in June 2007 he publicly declared the Iraq troop surge to have failed just as it was starting to deliver important results.
Afghan strategy was meant to have been cast more than six months ago when the president issued his Af-Pak plan.
But it showed obvious signs of the tension between those who believe in applying the military's preferred approach - a counter insurgency campaign to secure the people - and those like Mr Biden who think the US can protect its security interests by mounting strikes against al-Qaeda bases.
When he took up his command in June, Gen McChrystal was told he needed to deliver a tangible improvement in security within 12-18 months.
Many colleagues thought this was already an impossibly difficult target in a country like Afghanistan, but how much more so when the strategy apparently set in March has been in a state of flux?
Some in Washington and Whitehall believe Gen McChrystal has been placed in an impossible position.
Could he resign if the president brushes aside his recommendations? There are those certainly who think that would put him in an impossible position.
There are a couple of pointers about how serious the military's concerns about the direction of the war have become.
In the first place, the leaking of Gen McChrystal's report a couple of weeks ago to the Washington Post showed how discontented people at the Pentagon might make life even more difficult for the administration.
'Lack of presidential interest'
Another indicator of the military's disquiet came in an interview last month with Gen McChrystal on CBS.
He revealed that during his first two-and-a-half months in the job as commander of the Afghanistan war (and prior to their consultations last week), he had only spoken to Mr Obama once.
Even allowing for the fearsome challenges of the economy or his healthcare reforms, and even allowing for the fact that his Defence Secretary Robert Gates likes to manage things himself, it seems remarkable that the president should show so little interest.
If Mr Obama is unsure that the US has chosen the right strategy, surely you'd expect more contact with the field commander rather than less?
Millions of Americans turned to Mr Obama because they blamed the Bush administration for rushing to war.
Careful deliberation is surely a good thing in these life and death matters.
But while the argument about the means that should be applied to achieve the president's goals in Afghanistan and Pakistan is a dynamic and continuing thing, it seems remarkable that in all the time from his election through transition to the enunciation of his Af-Pak strategy in March and the current series of war cabinet meetings, that Mr Obama still seems unsure as to what the aim should be - building up the Afghan state or simply neutralising al-Qaeda?