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Is 'The Clock' Really Ticking?

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Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Baghdad yesterday and issued a direct challenge to the Maliki government to step up and do more -- quickly. Unfortunately, he also appears to have gotten the administration's policy backwards.

"Frankly, I would like to see faster progress," Gates said. The Pentagon chief went on to emphasize that the Iraqis should know that "this isn't an open-ended commitment" on the part of the United States military. "Our president has said that our patience is not unlimited."

Gates added, "The clock is ticking."

All of that sounds very nice, but it's also entirely inconsistent with the Bush administration's policy in Iraq. If the White House's rhetoric is to be believed, the clock can't be ticking -- because if it were, the "evildoers" would simply have wait for the clock to stop ticking.

It's why our commitment to Iraq, the Bush gang says, has to remain open-ended. If there's a point at which the "suiciders" and "dead-enders" think we'll leave, they'll "wait us out." It's why timelines are akin to surrender and benchmarks have to remain toothless.

Likewise, counter to what Gates said yesterday, our patience has to be "unlimited." If not, we'll abandon Iraq and terrorists will fill a power vacuum that will endanger the world. That is the administration's worldview, isn't it?

Dems have been saying for a year that we should at least start the clock so that Iraqis know that it's ticking. And Republicans have been saying for a year that this isn't even a remote possibility.

In other words, Gates went a long way to tell Iraqis and the world the exact opposite of the administration's policy. It's hardly reassuring.