Asked about reported comments that Iran might be able to join the nuclear club in months, Gates said: "I don't believe it."
"I think that most estimates that I've seen, haven't changed since the last time we talked about it, which is probably at least a year, and maybe more," Gates told reporters.
A year is not a long time. What are we doing in response?
Here, for example, is William J. Burns, Hillary Clinton’s under secretary for political affairs:
Neither our formal penalties nor the increasing ostracism Iran faces from the world will alter its agenda overnight, but we believe that the mounting weight of political and financial pressures on its leadership can persuade Tehran to reassess its approach to the world.
An Iranian reassessment of its nuclear plans would be wonderful news, but if it is not happening “overnight,” when is it expected to happen? Burns did not say. What he did says is that, in addition to ratcheting up the pressure in various ways, “we remain committed to meaningful engagement” with the leaders of Iran.
The clock is ticking.
The Pentagon, for its part, sounds positively rueful. A joint lamentation by Michèle Flournoy, under secretary for policy, and General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledges that “unfortunately, despite the President's genuine and extensive efforts at engagement, Iran has so far failed to respond constructively.”
Yet engagement, they continue, has not been all for naught: the administration’s “approach has been successful in demonstrating to the international community that it is Iran and not the United States that is standing in the way of dialogue.”
Perhaps, in some quarters—in Venezuela, say and/or among various Euro-Communists—that question was in doubt. It surely is still in doubt in just those quarters. But meanwhile the clock is still ticking. In fact, more than a year has been wasted on the predictable—and predicted—failure of engagement.
If Gates’s estimate of the timeframe before Iran has the bomb is even ballpark, President Obama has done the ayatollahs a favor that they are unlikely to repay in kind.