Saturday, January 26, 2008

Romney Supported Quitting Iraq!

The GOP contest in Florida is getting hot, with the latest flare-up over Mitt Romney's evident and controversial backing last year of a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq (via YouTube):

Here's more on the story, from CNN:

A fired up Mitt Romney demanded John McCain apologize Saturday for recently saying the former Massachusetts governor had once supported a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq – part of the latest back and forth between the two Republican candidates leading up to the crucial Florida primary.

"I don't know why he's being dishonest," Romney told reporters in Lutz, Florida. "But that's dishonest. To say that I have a specific date is simply wrong and is dishonest and he should apologize. That is not the case, I’ve never said that."

Campaigning earlier in Fort Myers on Saturday, McCain said, "In the conflict that we’re in, I’m the only one that said we have to abandon the Rumsfeld strategy and Rumsfeld and adopt a new strategy. Gov Romney wanted to set a date for withdrawal, similar to what the democrats are seeking which would have led to the victory by al Qaeda in my view.”

McCain has suggested for days that Romney once supported a timetable for withdrawal, though he only recently began naming the Massachusetts Republican by name.

The Arizona senator later rebuked Romney's calls for an apology, at an event in Sun City.

"I think the apology is owed to the young men and women who are serving this nation in uniform that we will not let them down in hard times and good," he said. "That is who the apology is owed to."

In his press conference with reporters, Romney also suggested McCain was trying to shift voters' focus away from the economy — an issue that would seem to favor the former business executive.

"I know he's trying desperately to change the topic from the economy and trying to get back to Iraq. But to say something that’s not accurate is simply wrong and he knows better," Romney said.

On Friday, McCain's campaign circulated the transcript of an interview from April, in which Romney seemed to support a private timetable.
Hot Air's got a post up on this, which includes a retaliatory smear against McCain, suggesting the Arizona Senator favored timetables as well (although the news article cited highlights McCain's "sense of the Senate" resolution from January 2007, which considered benchmarks as a contingency to the strategy shift of increased troop numbers under General David Petraeus). More McCain demonization?

See also my previous post, "Battleground Florida: GOP Race is Dead Heat."

Don't forget the campaign coverage at Memeorandum and Michelle Malkin.


Jonathan Martin at The Politico says that McCain - after enduring talk of the economy for days - successful put Romney on the defensive with a shift of focus to Iraq:

The easiest way for John McCain to get the campaign back on the national security turf he wants to fight it on?

Hammer Romney on the topic.

That's what he did today....

Romney was probably right about the first part of what he said -- and it appears that McCain succeded in doing so.

After days of letting Romney essentially define the debate and drive his economy message, the McCain folks
won a news cycle the old-fashioned way: They had their candidate make news.
For an evenhanded analysis of the dust-up, see "McCain's Conversation Changer: A Misleading Low Blow, at Time:

McCain wants the Florida primary to be an election about national security, his best issue. But until Saturday, the contest was humming along as an election more about the economy, Mitt Romney's best issue. So McCain went on the attack Saturday, lashing out at Romney by accusing him of having once wanted to set a deadline for withdrawing troops from Iraq.

''Now, one of my opponents wanted to set a date for withdrawal that would have meant disaster,'' McCain said about Romney, at a stop in Fort Myers. Then McCain added, "If we surrender and wave a white flag, like Senator Clinton wants to do, and withdraw, as Governor Romney wanted to do, then there will be chaos, genocide, and the cost of American blood and treasure would be dramatically higher."

When told of the comments, Romney got visibly testy. ''That's dishonest, to say that I have a specific date. That's simply wrong,'' Romney said at a stop outside Tampa. "To say something that's not accurate is simply wrong, and he knows better."

Romney demanded an apology from McCain, which seemed to simply delight McCain, since he used it to escalate the war of words even higher. "I think the apology is owed to the young men and women serving this nation in uniform," McCain said. Then his campaign started sending out a blizzard of emails, including comments from former CIA director James Woolsey knocking Romney's support for the war.
After reviewing what Romney actually said, here's the final take on McCain:

McCain says that he thinks this amounts to Romney supporting a drop-dead deadline for withdrawing troops. But that's not what happened. A more fair reading of the exchange shows that Romney was instead talking about private benchmarks that would allow Bush and Maliki to measure success or failure. In fact, Romney says flat out that he would veto any bill from Congress that contained such a timetable for withdrawal.

But even if Romney had explicitly supported withdrawal, what exactly does McCain mean by demanding that Romney apologize to American troops? Is McCain suggesting than any American who opposed the surge was somehow not supporting American troops? Is he saying that it is unpatriotic to debate American policy in Iraq? It sure sounds like it. And it is an unbecoming posture for McCain, who has been
boasting in recent days about the "respectful debate" he would have with Hillary Clinton, John Edwards or Barack Obama should he win the nomination.
Well, I would add that if it can be shown, by parsing Romney's words, that he indeed supported pulling the troops, then he'd be more closely aligned to the Democrats and foreign policy. He really would need to apologize in that case.

In fairness, though, I think
Romney's views on foreign policy are among the best of any of the candidates this year, of either party.

Whatever you might think, McCain won this round.