ABC News’ Teddy Davis and Leigh Hartman Report: Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney tells a New Hampshire radio station that the United States will be able to "pull back" troops from Iraq if the surge of troops proves successful.
"If we see the troop surge is working what that will mean is that we’re going to start being able to pull back our troops, and replace our troops with Iraqi troops," Romney told a radio station based in Concord, N.H., this week.
"That’s something that has been spoken about for a long time," he continued, "but if the surge is working it’s actually at a point where that kind of replacement can occur and that’s obviously what we want to see happen. We want to get our troops out of Iraq as soon as we can and replace them with their own troops."
While seeking the GOP’s presidential nod, Romney has tried to balance support for President Bush’s troop surge while warning that it is by no means "a sure thing."
Asked how Romney would know if the surge has been successful, Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said, "The surge will be viewed as working if it comports with judgments of the military commanders on the ground who are working hard to stabilize areas so that Iraqi forces can take over."
Romney’s campaign was not as forthcoming when asked what the Republican presidential hopeful would favor if the surge proves not to be successful or if commanders on the ground conclude that progress is being made but more time is needed before Iraqi forces can take over.
"We can’t pre-judge General Petreaus before his report," said Madden.
The politics of the Iraq war are dicey for 2008 Republicans who have to appeal to the divergent views of Republican primary voters without alienating the independent voters who will be influential in the general election.
In an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted last month, four in ten mainline Republicans say they’re more apt to favor a candidate who supports President Bush’s war policies — but among independents, just 13 percent call this a positive, and 49 percent instead say they’re less likely to back a candidate who supports Bush on the war.
Romney made his remarks to WKXL Radio’s Chris Ryan during an Aug. 1 taped interview which will air Aug. 4 during the station’s weekly "On the Campaign Trail" program.
UPDATE: After Romney’s pullback comments were posted to RedState.com Thursday afternoon, the Romney campaign made an effort to assure the conservative blog that the Republican presidential hopeful is on the same page as President Bush on the question of what a successful surge would mean for the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq. The Romney campaign did this by providing RedState.com with July comments from President Bush in which he said that the troop surge can "hasten the day" that US troops can "begin coming home."
In a possible reflection of the continued support that President Bush enjoys among a large number of conservatives, a person writing under the name CroakerNorge suggested that Romney lacks the steadfastness of rivals Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson, saying, "Romney sounds like Harry Reid-lite."