April 3, 2007 -- Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate who sits atop the GOP pack in fundraising, appears to have grown comfortable with talk of "timetables," in addition to talk of "milestones," when discussing U.S. involvement in Iraq.
The former Massachusetts governor is quick to note, however, that these timetables should be private and not published.
Romney Supports Private Timetable in Iraq
When asked by ABC News' Robin Roberts on "Good Morning America" if he believes there should be a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, Romney replied, "Well, there's no question 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."
The former governor went on to explain, "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 Iraqi government."
When asked a similar question on CBS's "Early Show," Romney responded, "Well, I wouldn't publish [a timetable] for my adversaries to see," advocating instead "a series of milestones, timetables as well, to measure how well they're doing."
"But," Romney said, "that's not something you publish for the enemy to understand, because of course they could just lay in the weeds until the time that you're gone. So these are the kinds of things you do privately, not necessarily publicly."
While Romney's Tuesday call for "milestones" is nothing new, he has mostly shied away in the past from employing the more politically charged terminology of "timetables."
When asked if Romney's Tuesday morning show comments represented something new for the Republican presidential hopeful, Romney spokesman Kevin Madden described them as "consistent with his previous statements about milestones and metrics towards success in Iraq."
Madden also pointed to a Jan. 10, 2007, statement Romney issued about President Bush's Iraq troop surge in which Romney endorsed the troop buildup while adding that this effort "should be combined with clear objectives and milestones for U.S. and Iraqi leaders."
It is worth noting, however, that the Jan. 10, 2007, statement studiously avoided references to timetables, in contrast with his Tuesday morning show comments.
Republican Candidates Weigh Bush Loyalty and Political Reality
Romney's new comfort level with speaking of timetables will be closely watched by political observers who have wondered whether any leading GOP presidential candidate would take steps to fashion a third way between Bush and the Democratic Congress on the Iraq War.
While Romney's embrace of timetable terminology seemed to put some distance between himself and Bush, the former Massachusetts governor also made it clear that he does not support efforts on the part of the Democratic Congress to establish a public timetable.
Asked on "Good Morning America" if he, like Bush, would veto anything that passes Congress with a timetable for troop withdrawals, Romney answered, "Of course. Can you imagine a setting where during the second World War we said to the Germans, 'Gee, if we haven't reached the Rhine by this date, why we'll go home,' or 'If we haven't gotten this accomplished we'll pull up and leave?'"
Romney did not indicate how the timetables he favors would be kept private nor did he indicate what steps he thinks the United States should take if the Iraqi government were to fail to meet the privately established timetables and milestones.
Previously, he has warned that the desire for a rapid U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq should be balanced with a recognition that, in his view, "if Iraq descends into all-out civil war, millions could die," Iraq's Sunni region "could become a base for al Qaeda," Iraq's Shia region "could be seized by Iran," Kurd tension "could destabilize Turkey" and "even the broader Middle East could be drawn into conflict."
"For these reasons," Romney said in his Feb. 13 formal declaration of candidacy in Dearborn, Mich., "I believe that so long as there is a reasonable prospect of success, our wisest course is to seek stability in Iraq, with additional troops endeavoring to secure the civilian population."
Romney Tops in Cash Dash
Romney's high-profile comments about the Iraq War came one day after his presidential bid received a major boost from first quarter fundraising totals.
By raising $21 million in the first quarter, Romney outraised both of his better known rivals for the GOP's presidential nomination.
Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor who led the city through the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, raised $15 million, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is making his second presidential run, raised $12.5 million.
ABC News' Paul Fidalgo contributed to this report.