I've just finished watching the GOP debate on George Stephanopoulos' show, and I'm struggling to pick a winner.  I think I'm going with Giuliani, but only just.  Here's why.

1. The big thing that impressed me about Giuliani's performance today was his ability to distinguish himself from the President, and indeed based on my reading of their prior statements, McCain and Romney, on the question of democratization as a major foreign policy tool. 

Possibly my biggest critique when it comes to the Iraq War has been of those leading the charge (i.e., neoconservatives) who have demonstrated their utter, and misplaced, faith in people voting as an answer to all of our problems-- despite all the evidence we have seen from Algeria, Gaza and the West Bank, and now Iraq, that just letting people vote does not a) guarantee democracy as we tend to conceive of it or b) guarantee that the country holding the elections will automatically shift its behavior, and become more attuned to US interests and objectives. 

I have always identified in both neoconservative and liberal approaches to foreign policy (which in truth are not all that far apart in terms of their conceptions) a deep undercurrent of belief that if we just let people vote, they'll move much closer to us, and if every country in the world were a democracy, there would be peace everlasting.  Now, I don't believe this, but the real reason that I have a problem with it is because this kind of thinking fails to lend appropriate weight to the role that an established and recognized system of liberties plays in enabling a democracy to thrive-- and it fails to recognize that without that basic foundation of liberties, democracy cannot thrive. 

This is essentially the theory espoused by Fareed Zakaria in an essay he wrote back in 1997, which has remained probably my favorite essay on international relations since back in the day when I was still studying for my MA-- and it's a theory that many liberals and neocons just completely ignore, but which Giuliani evidenced in one of his answers today, he is not ignoring.  Whereas I feel that both McCain and Romney (and to be fair, the latter to a much, much greater extent) have been willing to ignore the distinction between what Zakaria would term "illiberal democracy" (which is what we see in Iraq and many other parts of the world, where voting preceded the establishment of a foundation of liberties) and "liberal democracy" (which is what we have here, and in the UK, and in India), Giuliani evidenced that he gets this.  This is a major point for him to score with me, and it's something that makes me much more confident in his ability to run an effective foreign policy that will be very different from that of Bush-Cheney (which I don't think has been very effective at all).

(more in the continuation)

www.lizmair.com

2. Some people won't like this, but I think Giuliani was absolutely right to say that Barack Obama had a point in his comments about Pakistan this week.  And apart from Romney having a good line to throw out, criticizing Obama, he basically demonstrated his total naivete and untrustworthiness when it comes to foreign policy with his answer.

While I agree that it isn't ideal to have public figures of any sort saying "hell yes, I'd bomb Pakistan" (it puts President Musharraf in a difficult position with his critics, no doubt), were Al Qaeda pinpointed at a precise location in Pakistan, were a call placed to Musharraf asking him to take them out, and were he to refuse or were the Pakistani military to refuse to act, absolutely it would be the right move for the US to go in and take action.  This is effectively no different a situation than what we saw with Afghanistan, after 9/11-- except much, much smaller scale, and in a country with a "friendly" leader-- though I would underline that Pakistan, in terms of its population, is not exactly friendly to the US. 

Romney's view seems to be that alliances are static and that we have to abide by them and do exactly what our allies want, even when it is not in our own national interest.  This is exactly the kind of thinking that, were he in office, and were that thinking implemented as policy, would risk us de facto taking orders from foreign regimes (like Pakistan, or hell, let's just throw out France).  That's something that should sit badly with the party, and should sit badly with Americans.  While it's almost always better to cooperate, and work with people, and rely on diplomacy and collaboration, instead of seeking out conflict and behaving like the proverbial bull in a china shop, at the end of the day, it is absurd, I think, to suggest that one should say "OK, we'll just ignore that all the Al Qaeda members are assembled in one easy-to-target location, because our ally has asked us to, and we'll sit on our hands, even if it gives Al Qaeda an advantage."  If these people really are a major, existential threat, that kind of thinking makes no sense.  It's time for a good dose of realism to be reintroduced into US foreign policy, and I cannot see Romney doing that to any notable measure.  But I can see it happening with Giuliani, at least a little.

3. Giuliani's answer on what mistakes he has made was just inspired.  And he did a very good job of explaining supply-side economics (side note: I hope Romney economic adviser Greg Mankiw was watching this, and I'd love to know what he has to say about Giuliani's answer, since the guy has described views like these as representing "extreme" fealty to supply-side economics, something from which we can only presume his candidate doesn't suffer).

Ultimately, I think McCain, Romney, and in fact Mike Huckabee did decently (Ron Paul didn't do as much for me as he has in previous debates, but maybe that's because he didn't call for eliminating the Department of Education), but Giuliani has to be the winner for me.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.