Is this the moment that Mitt, The Mayor, and other Republican '08ers have been waiting for?
Is this their chance to endorse a troop drawdown without having to break with President Bush?
Or will President Bush's Labor Day talk of "fewer American forces" be undermined by events on the ground in Iraq?
While on his way to Australia after leaving Iraq, President Bush told reporters on board Air Force One that no decision has yet been made about a troop drawdown.
He added, however, that he could now "speculate on the hypothetical" because of improvements in security. "Isn't that remarkable?" he asked.
Remarkable or not, the President's willingness to "speculate on the hypothetical" is critical to his party's chances of holding the White House.
While Republican '08ers cannot afford to be closely identified with a protracted war from the standpoint of the general election, they also cannot afford to alienate the sizable bloc of GOP primary voters who still support President Bush. By raising the prospect of "fewer American forces" in Iraq, President Bush makes it possible for Republican '08ers to associate themselves more closely with change.
Campaigning in New Hampshire on Monday, Romney occupied the new space given to him by the president by indicating for the first time that he thinks the U.S. can shift to a support role in Iraq at some point in 2008, reports ABC News' Matt Stuart.
"I think you're going to find sometime in '08 that by virtue of success of the surge militarily, we'll be able to move to the support role," said Romney. "I certainly hope so."
While noting that the former governor's time specification is "not a certainty, but instead a goal to look at should we reach certain metrics of success with the troop surge," Romney spokesman Kevin Madden confirmed for ABC News that Monday was the first time that Romney has specified that he thinks the U.S. shift to a support role in Iraq can happen in 2008. During the "support phase," Romney envisions the United States providing Iraq with "air support, intelligence support, and logistical support but with far fewer troops."
Romney also grew more confident in predicting what Gen. Petraeus will report to Congress.
"My view," said Romney, "is you're going see us begin bringing our troops down and moving into that support role. That's what I think you're going to hear from Gen. Petraeus as well, that the surge is working from a military standpoint and therefore, from a military standpoint, we're able to start pulling back. . ."
War critics are not satisfied with the President merely hinting at a troop drawdown of unspecified size.
"President Bush is trying to do a bit of a snow job here," Moira Mack, spokeswoman for the liberal coalition known as Americans Against Escalation in Iraq told ABC News. "This is the deadliest summer that our troops have seen in Iraq."
Referring to the Republican '08ers, she added, "I don't think any of those guys are getting cover until they disassociate themselves with President Bush. The public's mind is made up that the President's policy has failed in Iraq."
President Bush did not specify how many American forces might be able to come home nor did he indicate whether he envisioned any forces being withdrawn sooner than next spring, when the first of the 30,000 troops which made up the "surge" are already scheduled to leave Iraq.