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Cheney's 'bad cop' act in Iraq: What's really going on

Story Highlights

• A senior administration official said was ''game time" for the Iraqi government
• Cheney sent to Baghdad to play the "bad cop" with the Iraqi government
• Administration is getting desperate to show progress in Iraq, observer says
By Ed Henry
CNN Washington Bureau
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Editor's Note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news around the world. Ed Henry is a CNN White House correspondent who has reported on the administration's statements on Iraq for the last year.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- My ears perked up when I heard one particular detail about Vice President Cheney's unannounced trip to Baghdad on Tuesday.

Journalists traveling with the vice president reported that aboard Air Force Two en route to Iraq, someone identified only as a "senior administration official" said Cheney's message to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki would be clear.

"We've got to get this work done. It's game time. ... Everybody's got to sit down, raise their game, redouble their efforts," the senior administration official said.

To say that it's finally "game time" more than four years into the war is a pretty startling statement.

"The administration is becoming increasingly desperate because they know time is running out," explained Lawrence Korb, a former Reagan Defense Department official who now works at the liberal Center for American Progress.

What's really going on here is a classic example of the White House's good-cop/bad-cop approach to thorny issues. For months, the president has been playing the good cop -- gently prodding and coaxing Maliki along.

But now that fellow Republicans are really turning up the temperature on the White House to turn the situation around, Cheney -- "The Enforcer" if you will -- is sent in to play bad cop and deliver the message in blunter fashion to Maliki face-to-face.

(It was quite interesting to me that reporters on the ground in Baghdad noted they were left cooling their heels for some 45 minutes waiting for the vice president to emerge from the Maliki meeting, which suggests to me it was a "frank exchange" as they say in diplomatic parlance).

In public, Cheney's comments were more tactful but still pointed in noting that U.S. patience is growing thin, especially with the Iraqi parliament planning a controversial two-month summer break.

"I did make it clear that we believe it's very important to move on the issues before us in a timely fashion, and that any undue delay would be difficult to explain, and that we hoped they would approach these issues with all deliberate dispatch," Cheney told reporters.

When hearing Cheney's latest progress report from Iraq, it's also important to remember that his previous predictions have been off the mark. It was two years ago this month that the vice president told CNN's "Larry King Live": "I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."

After his series of briefings with U.S. and Iraqi officials on Wednesday, the vice president declared that sectarian violence is "down fairly dramatically" though he cautioned that there are serious security problems. "They do believe we are making progress, but we've got a long way to go."

As if on cue, there was an explosion that rattled the windows at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad during Cheney's visit. Reporters were raced to a basement "attack shelter" before getting the all-clear signal a few minutes later.

The vice president's schedule was not interrupted, and he proclaimed himself impressed by the answers he got from Maliki. "I do believe there is a greater sense of urgency now than I'd seen previously."

But don't forget that last June, during the president's own unannounced visit to Baghdad, he expressed similar confidence in Maliki. "I appreciate you recognizing the fact that the future of this country is in your hands," the president said to Maliki then.

Nearly one year later, the future of Iraq is still in Maliki's hands -- but even Republicans admit privately the clock is ticking.


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Vice President Cheney, right, delivered a tough message to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki when he visited Baghdad Wednesday.

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