It was the pivotal moment of the latest New Hampshire debate. Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul locked horns over the future of Iraq policy and the obligations of the United States to Iraq, each one drawing cheers of support from the audience. While leading candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney bickered over the real or merely "apparent" efficacy of the surge and Fred Thompson was on the other side of the country gabbing with Jay Leno, Huckabee and Paul were setting the terms of the debate.
One view was sentimental and nationalistic, the other realistic and prudent. Huckabee made many viscerally satisfying statements about honor and unity, while Paul proposed strategic thinking and insisted on the accountability of government to the people. Nothing better demonstrated the vacuity of the leading Republican candidates or the bankruptcy of the pro-war position than those few minutes of lively argument between two "second-tier" candidates for the nomination of a predominantly pro-war party.
Replying to Paul's earlier call for withdrawal, Huckabee issued the challenge: "Congressman, whether or not we should have gone to Iraq is a discussion for historians, but we're there. We bought it because we broke it. We've got a responsibility to the honor of this country and the honor of every man and woman who has served in Iraq and our military to not leave them with anything less than the honor they deserve." Congressman Paul refused to endorse America's collective responsibility: "The American people didn't go in. A few people advising this administration, a small number of people called the neoconservatives, neoconservatives, hijacked our foreign policy. They are responsible, not the American people." Despite the deep, intense divisions that the war has opened up in this country, Huckabee replied, channeling Barack Obama, "Congressman, we are one nation. We can't be divided. We have to be one nation under God. That means if we make a mistake, we make it as a single country, the United States of America, not the divided states of America."
Embarking on reckless, destructive, and divisive policies and then appealing for national solidarity when things go wrong is hardly unique to Republican supporters of the current war, but it is telling of how bereft of ideas pro-war Republicans have become that they are reduced to demanding the unthinking consent of dissenters and laying the blame for the debacle at the feet of those who have most vehemently opposed it from the start. …