Erik Kain posted the clip of the main exchange between Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann:

On the substance, Paul is clearly in the right, and Bachmann repeated some fictions that she used during the CNN national security debate last month. For instance, Bachmann claimed that the Iranian government has pledged to use nuclear weapons to “wipe Israel off the map,” and she says that the Iranians have threatened to use such weapons against the U.S. Neither of these is true, but she keeps getting away with making these claims. The first claim is misleading in two ways. Ahmadinejad’s statement probably did not mean what American hawks routinely assume that it means, and there is no reason to believe that Iranian leaders are going to usher in the annihilation of their own country by launching a first strike nuclear attack on Israel. There is also no reason to believe that Iranian leaders are going to provoke massive retaliation from the United States by attacking the U.S. with a nuclear weapon. For that matter, all indications are that the Iranian government has not yet decided to build nuclear weapons. As Ali Gharib reported recently:

The latest still-classified National Intelligence Estimate, a consensus opinion of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, reportedly concludes that there is no unified Iranian nuclear weapons program. The Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, in testimony on Capitol HIll this year, responded affirmatively when asked if his assessment was that “Iran has not made a decision as of this point to restart its nuclear weapons program.”

No less important, the official, public Iranian position on nuclear weapons is that their use is forbidden under Islamic law. Of course, hawks can continue to cherry-pick the evidence as they usually do. Meanwhile, Bachmann and the others provided a perfect argument for why Paul’s candidacy is more necessary than ever if the GOP’s ruinous habit of pushing for new foreign wars is going to be broken.

The conventional wisdom is that Paul hurt himself politically by resisting the clamor for war against Iran, but I’m not so sure. Alone among the candidates on stage last night, Paul made the case for restraint and deterrence, and there is a much larger constituency for this inside the GOP than there once was. Huntsman might have benefited himself by presenting a more qualified position akin to the one Haass outlines in his essay on “Restoration Doctrine,” but he threw away any chance he had to sound reasonable on Iran long ago. That leaves Paul as the only one talking sense on avoiding another unnecessary war. Besides, his position on Iran isn’t as unpopular among Republicans as hawkish pundits would have you believe.

Last month, a national Rasmussen poll asked if the U.S. should take military action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons “if diplomatic efforts failed,” and just 51% of Republicans said yes. 22% said no, and 27% were unsure. Paul has a chance to reach at least part of that 27%, and it is far from obvious that Paul alienated them last night. Independents are even less supportive of preventive war against Iran: only 33% were in favor, 39% were against, and 28% were unsure. The pro-war candidates have essentially written off these voters, and there is really only one candidate left for them to support if they want to register opposition to the rest of the field’s aggressive policies.