WASHINGTON (AP) - Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney on Thursday parted ways with President Bush over the vision of a decades-long U.S. troop presence in Iraq similar to the one in South Korea.
"Our objective would not be a Korea-type setting with 25-50,000 troops on a near permanent basis remaining in bases in Iraq," the former Massachusetts governor told The Associated Press.
"I think we would hope to turn Iraq security over to their own military and their own security forces, and if presence in the region is important for us than we have other options that are nearby," Romney said in a wide-ranging, hourlong interview with AP reporters and editors.
U.S. forces have helped keep an uneasy peace in South Korea for more than 50 years, and the White House last week offered the comparison between Iraq and the Korean War as the Pentagon announced the completion of the troop buildup that Bush ordered in January.
Presidential spokesman Tony Snow says Bush has cited the long-term Korea analogy in looking at the U.S. role in Iraq, and the president himself has suggested that his successor will inherit the unpopular war now in its fifth year.
Romney said the parallel "doesn't flow naturally" for him and he rejected Bush's vision for the future of U.S. troops in Iraq. He has supported Bush on Iraq and the recent troop increase but has grown increasingly critical of how the administration has waged the war and handled its aftermath.
"We have communicated to the people in the region and the country that we're not looking to have a permanent presence in Iraq and I don't think we want to communicate that we were just kidding about that," he said.
Romney noted that the U.S. has bases in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar, and said: "We can have a presence in the region, but I think that at this time we need to exercise care not to communicate to insurgents something that they can use to say 'Ah ha! America does intend to be an occupier forever!"'