McCain considered benchmarks in January 2007

During the Reagan Library debate, Sen. John McCain spent several minutes attacking Gov. Mitt Romney for allegedly supporting timetables and benchmarks on progress in Iraq. I’ve already taken that attack apart here and Jay has the original GMA clip here. But the facts are not only inconvenient to McCain on what Romney said. They’re inconvenient on what McCain himself said. He considered supporting timetables himself in January 2007. The Arizona Star has the story.

Read it and weep, John McCain.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., one of the most stalwart supporters of the war in Iraq, said Thursday that he might propose that the Iraqi government meet certain benchmarks for the United States to continue its engagement.

Fellow senators and independent political scientists said McCain’s thinking reflected growing concerns within the Republican Party about the course of the war, and also might mark a turning point for the likely 2008 presidential contender, whose previous unconditional backing of the war may have hurt his prospects.

McCain said Thursday that he hadn’t yet decided on precise benchmarks. “They’d have to be specific, and they (Iraqi government officials) would have to meet them,” he said.

Asked what penalty would be imposed if Iraq failed to meet his benchmarks, he said: “I think everybody knows the consequences. Haven’t met the benchmarks? Obviously, then, we’re not able to complete the mission. Then you have to examine your options.”

That suggests withdrawal. The story goes on to say:

McCain in no way is withdrawing his backing for the war or President Bush’s plan to add 21,500 troops. It was unclear what consequences or timetables McCain would spell out, or whether he believes that Congress has the authority to enforce them.

Still, several Senate Democrats who oppose the troop buildup and also may seek the presidency said they were struck by McCain’s comments.

“We Catholics call that an epiphany,” said Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., who is sponsoring the main Democratic resolution opposing the troop buildup.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said: “I called for that . . . several weeks ago. I’m glad that John McCain agrees with me.”

So other than being for the surge earlier than Romney, who supported it himself the day it was announced, McCain’s position on timetables is less clear but certainly not obviously stronger than Romney’s. How will Mr. Straight Talk spin his way out of this one?

(h/t Ace)