In the New Hampshire debate a few months ago, Mitt Romney was asked by a voter, “Osama bin Laden is dead. We’ve been in Afghanistan for 10 years. Isn’t it time to bring our combat troops home from Afghanistan?” Romney instantly replied: “It’s time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can” and went on to explain that the lesson he had taken from our experience in Afghanistan is that “our troops shouldn’t go off and try and fight a war of independence for another nation.”

Tonight it was Rick Perry’s turn to flirt with withdrawal. Not long after Jon Huntsman gave his regular call for retreat, Perry said, “I agree with Governor Huntsman when we talk about it’s time to bring our young men and women home as soon and as obviously safely as we can. But it’s also really important for us to have a presence there. And I think the entire conversation about how do we deliver aid to those countries, and is it best spent with a hundred thousand military who have the target on their back in Afghanistan? I don’t think so at this particular point in time. I think the best way for us to impact that country is to make a transition where that country’s military is going to be taking care of their people. Bring our young men and women home and continue to help them build the infrastructure they need.”

When it comes to questions of national security, no one should ever start a sentence with the words “I agree with Governor Huntsman. . .” So we now have both the current and the former front-runners on record bowing to war fatigue and sentiment for withdrawal. It was left to Rick Santorum — a good man with little chance of winning the GOP nomination — to make the vigorous case for victory in the war on terror.

You would not know it from last night’s discussion, but we are still a nation at war. And we can’t decide who is qualified to be the next commander in chief based on nine minutes of discussion in each debate. Before this primary campaign is over, there ought to be at least one debate devoted exclusively to national security.

More on the GOP debate from PostOpinions

Rubin: Romney, Perry — or someone else?

Milbank: Under attack, Perry stumbles

Dionne: GOP’s Social Security hypocrisy

Stromberg: Perry’s substance vs. Romney’s substance

Bernstein: GOP spins further from reality

Petri: Rick Perry’s sinister vaccines