The rock is Obama's own claims from when he was campaigning and the hard place is following up on those words.
In his campaign, Obama opposed the invasion of Iraq but safeguarded his national-security credentials by supporting the war in Afghanistan. A war, he said, America had to win—but to which, he charged, the Bush administration had failed to devote the necessary resources. In office, Obama ordered up a new Afghanistan strategy, and announced this on March 27 as the product of what he called "a careful policy review." Shorn of rhetoric, the new strategy actually accepted all the Bush administration's goals in Afghanistan—defeating the insurgents; preventing Al Qaeda from reestablishing a sanctuary there; working to set up a democratic and effective government; training Afghan forces to take over from U.S. troops; coaxing the international community to give more help. The review even added a new goal: saving Pakistan—or, as the review put it, "assisting efforts to enhance civilian control and stable constitutional government in Pakistan and a vibrant economy that provides opportunities for the people of Pakistan. And to accomplish this breath-taking set of objectives? Obama had already agreed to send another 17,000 troops to Afghanistan to safeguard polling in the Afghan presidential election in August. Now, as part of his new strategy, he agreed to send an additional 4,000 troops to train Afghanistan's own forces.
What remains a mystery is whether Obama thought those 21,000 would be enough, or whether he was ducking a tough decision to send the numbers really needed. If he did believe 21,000 would suffice, who was advising him? The strategy Obama adopted—one that he inherited from a rethink all but completed in the last months of the Bush presidency—was what the military calls COIN: counter-insurgency. That means protecting the Afghan population from the Taliban and their allies so they can then be wooed into supporting the government and then, hopefully, turning in the insurgents. Whether counter-insurgency is a plausible strategy in Afghanistan is much debated within the military. But that's the strategy Obama adopted in March. What was always clear was that COIN would need thousands more troops. The mystery is whether Obama realized this.
Now that a report generated by McChrystal has leaked, Barack Obama is taking his sweet time making the call.
In the meantime, reports say that McChrystal's public appearances are angering Barack Obama, who until recently has been too busy to even bother meeting with his chosen general more than once about Afghanstan.
In London, Gen McChrystal, who heads the 68,000 US troops in Afghanistan as well as the 100,000 Nato forces, flatly rejected proposals to switch to a strategy more reliant on drone missile strikes and special forces operations against al-Qaeda.
He told the Institute of International and Strategic Studies that the formula, which is favoured by Vice-President Joe Biden, would lead to "Chaos-istan".
When asked whether he would support it, he said: "The short answer is: No."
He went on to say: "Waiting does not prolong a favorable outcome. This effort will not remain winnable indefinitely, and nor will public support."
The remarks have been seen by some in the Obama administration as a barbed reference to the slow pace of debate within the White House.
Relations between the general and the White House began to sour when his report, which painted a grim picture of the allied mission in Afghanistan, was leaked. White House aides have since briefed against the general's recommendations.
The general has responded with a series of candid interviews as well as the speech. He told Newsweek he was firmly against half measures in Afghanistan: "You can't hope to contain the fire by letting just half the building burn."
As a divide opened up between the military and the White House, senior military figures began criticising the White House for failing to tackle the issue more quickly.
They made no secret of their view that without the vast ground force recommended by Gen McChrystal, the Afghan mission could end in failure and a return to power of the Taliban.
"They want to make sure people know what they asked for if things go wrong," said Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defence.
Critics also pointed out that before their Copenhagen encounter Mr Obama had only met Gen McChrystal once since his appointment in June.
This all sound familiar about now?
Add to that the fact that liberal politicians are trying to circumvent the generals requests as well as, once again, stick their noses into war strategies with the news that House Liberals are trying to pass legislation that would bar funds for additional troops to be sent to Afghanistan.
Nearly two dozen House liberals have signed onto a bill introduced this past week that would prohibit an increase of troops in Afghanistan.
A bill introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) on Thursday would bar funding to increase the troop level in Afghanistan beyond its current level.
Lee and 21 lawmakers -- largely from the liberal Congressional Progressive Caucus -- introduced the bill, H.R. 3699 on Thursday.
Here is the kicker though, one that should remind you of where you have seen and heard all this before and not too long ago.
“History tells us that there will not be a military-first solution to the situation in Afghanistan," Lee told the Redding News Review. “Open-ended military intervention in Afghanistan is not in our national security interest and will only continue to give resonance to insurgent recruiters painting pictures of foreign occupation to a new generation."
Where and when did we hear that?
Oh, that is right... IRAQ, before the surge, before the success, before the COIN strategy worked, Democrats tried their hardest to prevent that, to interfere with decisions about troop levels and to bar funding for additional troops in Iraq.
Birds chirp now about Iraq because despite House and Senate liberals best attempts to get in the way of success in Iraq, the surge and the new strategies, worked.
That is recent history and Barack Obama would do well to remember it, and remember it fast.
The most unbelievable part of this whole thing is what National Security Advisor James L. Jones had to say to CNN when he claimed Obama's decision will not be "swayed by politics".
"I don't play politics, and I certainly don't play it with national security, neither does anyone else I know," Jones said on CNN. "I can assure you that the president of the United States is not playing to any political base."