In the days preceding Wednesday's Republican debate, Senator John McCain repeatedly equated rival Mitt Romney's Iraq war stance with the Democrats' proposal to leave Iraq. "Governor Romney wanted to set a date for withdrawal similar to what the Democrats are seeking, which would have led to a victory by Al Qaeda in my view," McCain said at a Florida rally on Jan. 26.
Romney accused McCain of "dishonesty" and twisting his words from an April interview on "Good Morning America." "I'm opposed to setting a specific date for withdrawal," Romney said at the debate. "By the way, we've had, since that time, 10 or 12 debates. Senator McCain never raised that question in any of those debates. If he ever wondered what my position was, he could have raised it."
McCain answered: "[You said] we don't want to have them lay in the weeds until we leave and Maliki and the president should enter into some kind of agreement for, quote, 'timetables.' 'Timetables' was the buzzword for withdrawal."
Romney said: "Why don't you use the whole quote? Why do you insist on not using the actual quote? That's not what I said."
In making his accusation, McCain relied on a nine-month-old interview in which Romney said nothing of waving the white flag. The whole quote was: Robin Roberts, ABC News: "Do you believe that there should be a timetable in withdrawing the troops?"
Romney: "Well, there's no question but that the president and Prime Minister al-Maliki have to have a series of timetables and milestones that they speak about. But those shouldn't be for public pronouncement. You don't want the enemy to understand how long they have to wait in the weeds until you're going to be gone. You want to have a series of things you want to see accomplished in terms of the strength of the Iraqi military and the Iraqi police and the leadership of the, of the Iraqi government."
Romney elaborated on his position during an Associated Press interview in June, expressing hopes that the United States would turn over Iraqi security to the Iraqi military. He again referred to timetables and benchmarks. "This is a time when it would be helpful for the American people and the people of Iraq to see that we are actually making progress if that's what's happening," Romney told the AP.