It was the decisive moment of the South Carolina debate.
Hearing Rep. Ron Paul recite the reasons for Arab and Islamic resentment of the United States, including 10 years of bombing and sanctions that brought death to thousands of Iraqis after the Gulf War, Rudy Giuliani broke format and exploded:
"That's really an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of 9-11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don't think I have ever heard that before, and I have heard some pretty absurd explanations for Sept. 11.
"I would ask the congressman to withdraw that comment and tell us what he really meant by it."
The applause for Rudy's rebuke was thunderous -- the soundbite of the night and best moment of Rudy's campaign.
After the debate, on Fox News' "Hannity and Colmes," came one of those delicious moments on live television. As Michael Steele, GOP spokesman, was saying that Paul should probably be cut out of future debates, the running tally of votes by Fox News viewers was showing Ron Paul, with 30 percent, the winner of the debate.
Brother Hannity seemed startled and perplexed by the votes being text-messaged in the thousands to Fox News saying Paul won, Romney was second, Rudy third and McCain far down the track at 4 percent.
"I would ask the congressman to ... tell us what he meant," said Rudy.
A fair question and a crucial question.
When Ron Paul said the 9-11 killers were "over here because we are over there," he was not excusing the mass murderers of 3,000 Americans. He was explaining the roots of hatred out of which the suicide-killers came.
Lest we forget, Osama bin Laden was among the mujahideen whom we, in the Reagan decade, were aiding when they were fighting to expel the Red Army from Afghanistan. We sent them Stinger missiles, Spanish mortars, sniper rifles. And they helped drive the Russians out.
What Ron Paul was addressing was the question of what turned the allies we aided into haters of the United States. Was it the fact that they discovered we have freedom of speech or separation of church and state? Do they hate us because of who we are? Or do they hate us because of what we do?
Osama bin Laden in his declaration of war in the 1990s said it was U.S. troops on the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia, U.S. bombing and sanctions of a crushed Iraqi people, and U.S. support of Israel's persecution of the Palestinians that were the reasons he and his mujahideen were declaring war on us.
Elsewhere, he has mentioned Sykes-Picot, the secret British-French deal that double-crossed the Arabs who had fought for their freedom alongside Lawrence of Arabia and were rewarded with a quarter century of British-French imperial domination and humiliation.
Almost all agree that, horrible as 9-11 was, it was not anarchic terror. It was political terror, done with a political motive and a political objective.
What does Rudy Giuliani think the political motive was for 9-11?
Was it because we are good and they are evil? Is it because they hate our freedom? Is it that simple?
Ron Paul says Osama bin Laden is delighted we invaded Iraq.
Does the man not have a point? The United States is now tied down in a bloody guerrilla war in the Middle East and increasingly hated in Arab and Islamic countries where we were once hugely admired as the first and greatest of the anti-colonial nations. Does anyone think that Osama is unhappy with what is happening to us in Iraq?
Of the 10 candidates on stage in South Carolina, Dr. Paul alone opposed the war. He alone voted against the war. Have not the last five years vindicated him, when two-thirds of the nation now agrees with him that the war was a mistake, and journalists and politicians left and right are babbling in confession, "If I had only known then what I know now ..."
Rudy implied that Ron Paul was unpatriotic to suggest the violence against us out of the Middle East may be in reaction to U.S. policy in the Middle East. Was President Hoover unpatriotic when, the day after Pearl Harbor, he wrote to friends, "You and I know that this continuous putting pins in rattlesnakes finally got this country bitten."
Pearl Harbor came out of the blue, but it also came out of the troubled history of U.S.-Japanese relations going back 40 years. Hitler's attack on Poland was naked aggression. But to understand it, we must understand what was done at Versailles -- after the Germans laid down their arms based on Wilson's 14 Points. We do not excuse -- but we must understand.
Ron Paul is no TV debater. But up on that stage in Columbia, he was speaking intolerable truths. Understandably, Republicans do not want him back, telling the country how the party blundered into this misbegotten war.
By all means, throw out of the debate the only man who was right from the beginning on Iraq.