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Peter Spiegel and Julian Barnes for the LA Times report: President Bush has mobilized his administration, including his top general in Iraq, in a major push to win more time and money for his war strategy. But one crucial voice has been missing from the chorus: Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates'.In fact, Gates' recent comments seem to run counter to the message from the White House. During a recent trip to the Middle East, Gates told the Iraqi government that time was running out and praised Democratic efforts in the U.S. Congress to set a timetable for withdrawal, saying it would help prod the Iraqis. He reiterated that point during a meeting with reporters last week.
Any determination by Gates that time is running out on the current plan could severely complicate the administration's strategy this summer, a prospect that has begun to worry some backers of the troop "surge.""I believe Gates is on a completely different page than President Bush and Gen. Petraeus," said a former senior Defense official who has supported the buildup. "He wants to see some results by summer, and if he doesn't see those results, he seems willing to throw the towel in."
Gates' views worry military officials who support the troop increase. One senior military officer argued that rather than talking about time running out, Gates and the Pentagon ought to be trying to buy more time for the strategy."If we cannot practice a little strategic patience right now," said the officer, "we might as well pull out."Added a military analyst who has consulted for the Pentagon: Gates "seems to be off message, and I do not know why. I don't know if Gates thinks the war can be won. He has said it can, but I am not 100% sold that he believes it, and that is a real problem."
Gates has agitated buildup supporters by praising the debate in Washington over timetables in Iraq, reiterating last week that it has had a "useful" role in convincing Iraqis that U.S. patience is wearing thin. Supporters of the surge believe that any discussion of timetables, explicitly by Democrats or implicitly by Gates, is harmful."You shortchange the president's plan if you rush to judge its effects prematurely," the former Defense official said. "De facto, you are undermining the strategy."Some current defense officials have privately questioned the pressure Gates has exerted on Iraqis. "The Iraqis know this is not an open-ended deal, but to shove it in their face is not helping," said a military officer. "They can only move so fast."Gates' comments have led some surge supporters to conclude that he is trying to devise a compromise between the Iraq Study Group recommendation, favored by Democrats, and Bush's new strategy. And critics of such compromises predict failure."It almost looks like there is an effort by Gates to amalgamate the Iraq Study Group with the current strategy," said the military analyst. "I am concerned about that."