By MANIFESTO JOE
It's not surprising that a debate under the auspices of Fox News would be hostile turf for the Republicans' sole presidential candidate who opposes the Iraq war. But I think even U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, was taken aback by the shivs that were being drawn Wednesday night in New Hampshire.
Being an old night-shift, burned-out journalist, I was stuck at a desk and didn't get to watch the debate live. But I read the accounts, and Paul apparently did an OK job of defending himself. But there's so much more he could have said in rebuttal.
The sharpest exchange of the night may have come not between Paul and one of his rivals, but between Paul and Fox News propagandist Chris Wallace, one of the "questioners." The Associated Press reported that Paul:
... made the case for withdrawing troops. That drew a sharp challenge from Chris Wallace ... who asked whether the United States should take its marching orders from al-Qaida.
"No! We should take our marching orders from our Constitution," Paul shouted back, pointing his pen at Wallace for emphasis. "We should not go to war without a declaration" by Congress.
That was a fair counterpoint, but it could have been much better. Paul may have been taken aback by the impudence of the questioner, who seems to have learned right-wing distortion tactics at Sean Hannity's knee. And in the heat of debate, sometimes one doesn't think of the right thing to have said until later.
It seems to me he should have said something more like this:
"No, Chris. We should take our marching orders from the American people, who in polls oppose continuation of this war by 65 to 70 percent. But you miss another crucial point.
"Al-Qaida wants the U.S. to stay in Iraq. There's nothing we could do for the next few years that would be more to their advantage. Sure, let's squander tens of billions more dollars, and thousands more American lives, on a civil war that we're inflaming rather than resolving. Let's deplete our military capability to act against terrorists elsewhere in the world, where it might actually count. Let's just flat-out 'break' our armed forces, when you come down to it. Osama bin Laden must be laughing gleefully in whatever hole he's hiding in.
"We're doing damage to our national defense, and to our reputation in the world community, that will take at least a generation to repair. If you want us to take marching orders from al-Qaida, by all means, let's 'stay the course.' "
Just as my own aside to this, it looks increasingly like the U.S. is being led into what amounts to rope-a-dope. Old-time boxing fans, what few of you are left: Remember Ali vs. Foreman, October 1974, the "Rumble in the Jungle?" There's no way a frightening puncher like the 25-year-old George Foreman should have lost that match to a 32-year-old, somewhat over-the-hill Muhammad Ali. But he was overconfident, showed classic hubris -- and lost entirely on tactics.
Not that the geopolitical/military situation is that simple. But I think there's a telling analogy there. If you're wearing yourself out beating on an opponent, and yet he's still there, inviting you in for more, you're probably doing something wrong. It's time to step back and rethink this.
Anyway, Ron Paul hasn't been acquitting himself badly in these debates, but I would take a different tack if I were him. Not that it's very important to me. I obviously want a Democrat to win next year, or I wouldn't be writing on this blog.
Manifesto Joe is an underground writer living in Texas. Check out his blog at Manifesto Joe's Texas Blues.