The first Republican presidential debate might not have been illuminating on every front.
But it did feature some of the bluntest talk yet heard on national media – especially the debate’s host, Fox News – about the right response to the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Two candidates came down for the rapid – make that very nearly immediate – withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Asked how United States should respond to the Osama’s end, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum essentially endorsed the Washington-insider “stay the course” line with regard to Afghanistan.
Retired CEO Herman Cain, who tried to play the role of Donald Trump in the debate, admitted that: "At this point, I don’t know all the facts."
But Texas Congressman Ron Paul and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson had the facts. And they had the right answers.
Asked whether the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan occupation might have helped with the search for Osama bin Laden, Paul responded: “Absolutely not. [Bin Laden] wasn’t caught in Afghanistan. Nation-building in Afghanistan and telling those people how to live and getting involved in running their country hardly had anything to do with finding the information where he was being held in a country that we give billions of dollars of foreign aid to, at the same time we are bombing that country.”
“So it’s the policy that is at fault. Not having the troops in Afghanistan wouldn’t have hurt,” continued the congressman, who has cosponsored proposals to bring the troops home. “We went to Afghanistan to get him, and he hasn’t been there. Now that he’s killed, boy, it is a wonderful time for this country now to reassess it, get the troops out of Afghanistan and end that war that hasn’t helped us and hasn’t helped anybody in the Middle East.”
That produced the first big round of applause for any of the candidates from the conservative audience that attended the debate in South Carolina.
But it was quickly followed by applause for Johnson, who detailed his opposition to the U.S. missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
The former governor acknowledged that he initially supported the Afghanistan mission, saying: "We were attacked. We attacked back. That’s what our military is for, and after six months, I think we pretty effectively had taken care of al Qaeda."
"But," he added, "that was 10 years ago. We are building roads, schools, bridges and highways in Iraq and Afghanistan and borrowing 43 cents out of every dollar do that. In my opinion, this is crazy."
Cue the applause.