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Monday, January 28, 2008

The outrage. . .

. . .over McCain's comments regarding Mitt Romney's springtime romance with timetables seems just a tad overwrought to me. Apparently Stephen Hayes at the Weekly Standard agrees.

It seems pretty clear that Romney, faced with a direct question regarding the conduct of the war in Iraq, decided to take the artful course and send signals to the folks who favored them that he wasn't opposed to "timetables", per se. When given the opportunity to clarify, he further dissembled.

Then, in August, just a couple of months after all the surge troops had been put in place, he began to send signals that he wasn't completely on board, but was somewhat hopeful that it would be effective. All the while, his campaign advisers were crafting a way for him to escape any responsibility in the event that more bad news continued to flow out of Iraq.

Had things gone badly, Romney would have surely pointed to his comments that day on Good Morning America and said, "I supported the efforts of the surge to bring down sectarian violence simply because I thought it was important for both our enemies and our allies to understand that we are committed to the mission. However, I would also point out that, at a time when my fellow candidates were calling for the surge, I am the only one who called for a set of timetables and benchmarks so that we wouldn't commit our troops to an endless civil war for an indefinite period of time with no progress in sight and no exit plan."

Before I'm accused of mistaking myself for the Amazing Kreskin, I think it's important to remember that Mitt Romney has, to my knowledge, still refused to take a firm position as to whether or not the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. I could be wrong, and I'm sure I'll be corrected if I am, but the last time I heard Romney address the question of whether or not we should have invaded Iraq, he rejected it as a "null set".
BLITZER: Governor Romney, I wanted to start by asking you a question on which every American has formed an opinion.

We have lost 3,400 troops, civilian casualties are even higher, and the Iraqi government does not appear ready to provide for the security of its own country. Knowing everything you know right now, was it a mistake for us to invade Iraq?

MITT ROMNEY, FORMER GOVERNOR OF MASSACHUSETTS: Well, the question is, kind of, a non sequitur, if you will. What I mean by that -- or a null set -- that is that if you're saying let's turn back the clock and Saddam Hussein had opening up his country to IAEA inspectors and they'd come in and they'd found that there were no weapons of mass destruction, had Saddam Hussein therefore not violated United Nations resolutions, we wouldn't be in the conflict we're in.

But he didn't do those things, and we knew what we knew at the point we made the decision to get in.

I supported the president's decision based on what we knew at that time.

I think we were underprepared and underplanned for what came after we knocked down Saddam Hussein.

By the way, Harry Reid was wrong. We did not lose the war in Iraq. And that's not the sort of thing you say when you have men and women in harm's way.

We did, however, not do a great job after we knocked down Saddam Hussein and won the war to take him down and his military.

And at this stage, the right thing for us to do is to see if we could possibly stabilize the central government in Iraq so that they can have stability, and so we can bring our troops home as soon as possible.

Not to do that adds an enormous potential risk that the whole region could be embroiled in a regional conflict.

BLITZER: Governor, thank you, but the question was, knowing what you know right now -- not what you knew then, what you know right now -- was it a mistake for the United States to invade Iraq?

ROMNEY: Well, I answered the question by saying it's a non- sequitur. It's a non -- null set kind of question, because you can go back and say, "If we knew then what we know now, by virtue of inspectors having been let in and giving us that information, by virtue of if Saddam Hussein had followed the U.N. resolutions, we wouldn't be having this discussion."

So it's a hypothetical that I think is an unreasonable hypothetical.

Knowing all that we know about Romney's answers and positions on the war in Iraq, I don't see how one can come to the conclusion that John McCain is dishonest, or hitting below the belt.

UPDATE: It just occurred to me how strikingly similar Romney's positions toward the surge and the Bush tax cuts are. That is to say, "I won't be a cheerleader, but I have to maintain a good relationship with the White House."

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