I didn't see the debate (no TV), but late last night, I did read a fair amount of coverage online, and see some clips. So perhaps someone who actually saw the debate in context can challenge these conclusions--which go beyond the debate, to some of the coverage...
National Review seems to have decided backing a winner is the main thing--so they seem to be soft-soaping all the ways Giuliani is a liberal, and will take this country in a liberal direction, and hyping the few, slender things about him that count as "conservative." It's all about the war. Too bad about the unborn babies...
And gun rights...
It's all about the war...so why shouldn't we torture? Rep. Tom Tancredo said that anything goes if you're saving Western Civilization. Who cares about torture? No, he wasn't exactly that explicit, but he did say do whatever, do anything, to get information. This in response to a hypothetical about nukes exploded on U.S. territory, and do you countenance torture? I don't much care for McCain, but he had the right answer, from what I gather -- we don't do that because it's wrong. He also had the right answer to Romney -- "I don't change my position based on it being an even-numbered year, or what office I'm running for next" or words to that effect. Too bad he's so terribly wrong on the First Amendment, and shows every sign of wanting to whack away further at free speech (his followup to his execrable "McCain-Feingold" law is to complain it doesn't go far enough).
Where was Sam Brownback? I know he was there, and I know he spoke, but that his answers show up almost nowhere in the coverage -- including conservative-wonks' coverage -- tells me he offered little that was memorable or decisive. Too bad. Huckabee may steal his rationale for running -- i.e., being a full-package conservative, proving that you don't have to opt for a different flavor of sell-out ("Rudy McRomney").
What Ron Paul said deserves more reflective consideration, rather than merely being dismissed as "blame America" and "moonbat."
What he said is deeply unsettling--he challenged over 60 years of American foreign policy--and the response, beyond Giuliani, has been to treat his words as if he'd uttered obscenities in polite company, and everyone moves on.
And yet, let's consider. Is it truly unspeakable to say that bad decisions or policy on the part of the U.S. can have terrible consequences? Isn't that what Reagan said about Jimmy Carter in 1980? Was that "blame America"?
Michelle Malkin rightly points out that his answer ignores the long history and deep roots of jihadism at work here. Yes, but: the jihadists, the folks who want to subdue everyone in the name of Islam, didn't attack us until relatively recently. Why? What moved the U.S. up the list?
One problem with Congressman Paul's answer is the suggestion that we should reconsider our relationship with Israel in this light. As with the torture question: our relations with Israel should be based on what's right; not fear of what an enemy may do to us for it.
Another problem is that I have a hard time conceiving of how the U.S. operates in the world as he seems to envision. He seemed to question whether we should have belonged to NATO! I.e., it seems to me that our engagement with Europe, post-World War II, and the resulting stance against the Soviet empire, seems to be one of the singular accomplishments of American foreign policy. Calling it a big mistake seems a pretty tough sell.
Is he suggesting we should return to a contemporary version of "Fortress America"? I suppose it would be do-able: very secure borders, full missile-defense systems, including space-based weapons, and the long reach of our military where we can identify something brewing that is clearly aimed at us. But can our economy work very well if our long borders with Canada and Mexico are not highly porous--let alone our air- and seaports? One of our problems is we are a trading nation. That means lots and lots of people and things come and go across our borders.
So Paul suggests we withdraw from "their area" -- meaning wherever Osama bin Laden et al. call "theirs." That means out of the Middle East, where our oil comes from--and not just ours, but much of the world's. The mistake many make, left and right, is to think that its just about "our" oil. No it's not. I.e., suppose, tomorrow, we discovered vast oil fields, in, say, Piqua--enough to make the U.S. oil-independent. Do we then no longer care what happens to the oil fields in the Middle East?
Yes--unless those Piqua fields are big enough to supply much of the world--because the U.S. has a stake in the stability of the rest of the world, too. Think of it this way: you and your neighbors are in the middle of a very dry area. You have your own source of water, and your neighbors have theirs. What happens if theirs stops supplying water? You really think it won't affect you?
All that said, Rep. Paul raised a valid question, too little discussed. He said something like "They (meaning bin Ladin et al.) didn't hit us because we're rich and we're free, but because of what we're doing over there." We were rich and free for a long time before it was all-important to them to hit us.
And I will say what Rep. Paul didn't say: some of the "freedoms" we push on the world, that the Islamists do hate, they are right to hate: contraception, abortion, obscenity, the radical deconstruction of marriage, family and the human person, the manipulation of life, etc. Which is to say that when President Bush and Mayor Giuliani say, "they hate us for our freedoms," I only half-cheer, because I'd rather be without some of them.
Which is all to say that Paul may be right, that we're fighting a war we needn't; or he may be wrong, that we are fighting a war we do need to fight--but we're fighting it for the wrong reasons, meaning his GOP critics are wrong, too.
...Which suggests that for all the flaws one can find in what Rep. Paul said, there's more fruitful responses to it than are being offered in much of the discussion.
Update: here's a thouhtful response to Rep. Paul's statements last night, at National Review Online. Further update: And here's more from NRO...