BENCHMARK WATCH….The following version of the story has disappeared from the Washington Post website, but here’s what Gen. Peter Pace and SecDef Robert Gates told Congress about the surge on Friday:

[Pace] and Gates suggested that their deployment could be curtailed if the Iraqis fail to meet their commitments.

….In response to skeptical questioning by the new chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), Gates said the United States would “know fairly early in this process whether the Iraqis are in fact prepared to fulfill the commitments that they’ve made to us,” such as sending more Iraqi brigades into Baghdad, permitting them to crack down on Shiite militias as well as Sunni insurgents and refraining from political interference in military operations. This would be known “probably within a couple of months,” Gates said.

“If at that time we conclude that at a government level and on a broad level they have not fulfilled their commitments, then I think we have to reevaluate our strategy,” the Pentagon chief said.

So one day after Bush’s big speech, what was the Iraqi government’s very first action toward “fulfilling their commitments”? Here’s the LA Times:

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has filled the top military job in Baghdad with a virtually unknown officer chosen over the objections of U.S. and Iraqi military commanders, officials from both governments said.

….Maliki’s decision to push through his own choice for one of the country’s most sensitive military posts — and to reject another officer who was considered more qualified by the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey — has renewed questions about the prime minister’s intentions.

I’ll bet it has. Apparently no one knows a thing about this guy, including, most crucially, whether he has any ties to Shiite military or political parties. I think we can all guess what that means.

So what does this say about the benchmarks Bush talked about on Thursday? As the Post admits, “Gates and Pace said that they think they have assurances from the Iraqi government, but that there is no specific deadline for success or clear benchmarks for progress.” Needless to say, this makes no sense. As a way of bringing pressure to bear in a situation like this, benchmarks are nearly meaningless unless they’re clear and public, and the fact that ours are neither is an umistakable sign that no one is taking them very seriously. Obviously Maliki knows this.