Going Nuclear

It’s a pity that the polling on the two parties’ candidates will only reflect American voters. I’d bet the ranch that more accurate reactions could be obtained by polls among the denizens of the halls of government in Tehran and whichever cave the al-Queda leadership is hiding in. On Sunday night, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Usama bin Laden probably slept soundly. Tuesday night, I’d bet that they didn’t sleep at all.

Faced with the question of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the best Hillary Clinton could do was to say that we have to avoid it at all costs. But “all costs” means only the lowest of costs: talk, as we learned from her husband, is cheap. Hillary said the toughest thing she’d do is send better diplomats than Dick Cheney to bargain with them. The eight Dems couldn’t even muster agreement to use military force to kill bin Laden if we had him cold, quibbling like the lawyers John Edwards is used to dealing with. On Tuesday night, the Republicans went nuclear.

The question went first to Duncan Hunter, and he took a hard swing, aiming for the bleachers. If there were no other way to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, he’d use tactical nuclear weapons against them. Rudy Giuliani — having begun by adopting New Hampshire’s motto of “Live Free or Die” for the nation – wasn’t about to quail at the prospect of going nuclear and he didn’t. Both Mitt Romney and Jim Gilmore said they wouldn’t take the option off the table. Pity that Wolf Blitzer didn’t ask the bin Laden question. We’d have probably been treated to a recitation of America’s military catalogue to list what Hunter and the others would use to take out the terrorist chieftain. (Don’t sweat the details, Mr. Hunter. Just dial 1-800-Air Combat Command.)

The biggest difference between the debates was the energy. The Dems lacked it, spending what little they had by taking turns shooting at George Bush and attacking each other. The Republicans — even Ron Paul, who was intermittently sane — were proposing ideas for improving America and defeating its enemies.

CNN’s Blitzer, the reporters from the Manchester Union Leader and the local television station, posed every liberal agenda item from global warming to national health care, and got a wide range of answers, some good (such as Giuliani’s refusal to experiment with gays in the military in time of war — which Romney and McCain agreed with quickly) and some awful, like Romney’s defense of Romneycare, which the former Massachusetts governor said he’d extend to the whole nation. Hillarycare and Romneycare aren’t yet synonymous. Yet.

Three questions dominated the night: Iraq, immigration, and George W. Bush.

The Dems competed to blame everything wrong in the war on President Bush, cloaking their commitment to “cut and run.” This time it was “trim and trot.” The Republicans were all over the place, sticking to the need to win and airing some well-intentioned but really dumb ideas. Leading the descent into dumbness was Senator Sam Brownback.

Brownback removed himself from serious debate quickly, insisting that the best solution in Iraq was a three-state partition, carving Iraq into Kurd, Sunni and Shia mini-states supposedly united by some loose federal structure. That would last only as long as it took for a few more Quds Force and Revolutionary Guard units to arrive from Iran or the Turks to attack Kurdistan.

Ron Paul repeated his desire to cut and run, and the other Republicans didn’t buy it. Jim Gilmore disappointed, saying that we need to stabilize the Middle East. How, one asks prayerfully, can that be done when Iran and Syria are fighting the dirtiest of wars to keep the Middle East from becoming anything other than a terrorist caliphate? Tommy Thompson went foolish, saying that we should ask the Maliki government to vote on our staying. John McCain was solid, Giuliani forceful in an awful way. Rudy believes we need to transform our forces to fight the 21st Century’s wars. For all the world, Giuliani sounded like a neocon.

Giuliani has apparently drunk too much of the “let’s democratize the Middle East” Kool Aid. He wants our soldiers to learn “nation-building.” No, Mr. Mayor. That’s George Bush’s biggest mistake. That is why we are stuck in a self-imposed quagmire in Iraq, rather than prosecuting this war in a manner calculated to win it decisively in the shortest time. It matters not who rules those nations, so long as they are no threat to America and our allies.

When asked to identify George Bush’s greatest error none of the candidates, except for Tom Tancredo and Ron Paul, were willing to attack the president. Paul renounced “pre-emptive war”, saying that we’ve abandoned the “just war” theory of Christianity.  Paul is apparently willing to accept another terrorist strike rather than save American lives by taking out an imminent threat. Paul — looking at the others — condemned the idea of nuking Iran, which he said has done nothing to harm us and is no threat. The Iranian war against America, which began in 1979, can best be explained to Mr. Paul in two words: shut up. Tancredo did better, blaming the President for the illegal immigration mess.

The debate on illegal immigration was the most revealing. McCain took many hits on the McCain-Kennedy-Bush bill, but several others fared no better. Again, Giuliani disappointed. His only idea is to have a tamper-proof ID card to track every alien in America. How to do that without the border security McCain opposes wasn’t explained. Once again, Duncan Hunter rose above the crowd.

Hunter is the sponsor of a bill passed last year requiring the construction of 850 miles of fence along the Mexican border. Hunter again swung for the bleachers and connected. He said his bill mandated the fence and provided the funds for it. He said the Bush administration had “the slows,” having refused to build more than eleven miles of the fence.

Mitt Romney tried to be forceful and fell flat. He said the 1986 laws should be enforced, that the Senate bill backed by McCain was a mistake. But then Romney started whining that it “wasn’t fair” to allow the Z visa to legalize those here illegally in preference to legal immigrants who are slow to get immigrant visas. Oh, please. Romney isn’t strong on illegal immigration. Neither is Giuliani. McCain is a disaster on it. Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter and Tommy Thompson are. Thompson was the only one to say clearly that border security should come before any of the other parts of the problem are dealt with.

Though he got much less air time than most, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee again rose above the crowd. On the war, he said something none of the others alluded to: commitment to winning the war. Huckabee knows that determination is a decisive factor. His point, that we have underestimated terribly the “fight in the dog” we’re fighting is central to the mindset of any commander in chief. Huckabee did well on other counts too, on religion, creationism and right to life, and understanding why Republicans were beaten in the last election. He said Republicans were fired because they didn’t do what they were hired to do. And – again demonstrating understanding of leadership — said that Bush’s failure was in not communicating his policies and objectives well to Americans.

So after Debate Three, who’s up and who’s down? Hunter and Huckabee up big time, McCain, Giuliani and Romney down as much or more. And why, oh why, is Ron Paul still on the stage?