I'm highly disappointed that half of the debate was on the economy, not on foreign policy, greatly cutting the depth and substance of the foreign policy debate. I guess the economy's important too, whatever. Still disappointed. Bah.
Anyway, I think both candidates did well. Obama missed some opportunities to really knock it out of the park though. First, since we had to gab about the economy, he got hit by McCain about voting for a bunch of earmarks. What I wish he'd addressed is the fact that not every earmark is a bridge to nowhere. Some of those are really useful and important, like the earmark that created the national bone marrow registry. Second, McCain hit him on wanting to spend all sorts of money. What he should have addressed (before hitting McCain back about all his tax cuts for the rich) is that not all spending is wasteful. We've had excessive spending for wars, and yet desperately-needed social programs and education have been ignored.
A few points of irritation:
First, can we not pull a Reagan and make up historical stories? Eisenhower never wrote a resignation later to deliver in case the invasion of Normandy failed, that's a load of cow pucky. (And if McCain's argument is that anyone who makes a bad judgment call should resign, well, let's start with Senator Deregulation himself.) This is the letter he obviously means, which is taking responsibility for any failure. My bachelor's was in American history, and my concentration was 20th century military history. It irks me when members of our government screw up facts in history and use it as a basis for whatever muddled point they're trying to make. (Don't even get me started on Joe Biden's recent gaffe about how FDR was president in '29 and appeared on the Magic Box when the stock market crashed.)
Second, just because Sarah Palin says something stupid, doesn't mean you have to repeat it. Just because you constantly repeat something stupid, doesn't eventually make it true. So, when you repeat that Kissinger never said we should talk to Iran without preconditions, well... Yeah, he did. Both Kissinger and Obama support low-level talks that would progress first to cabinet level, then to heads of state. I think it's a little late to avoid giving legitimacy to the government of Iran. Like 29 years too late. My entire life. Talking to a lunatic does not give legitimacy to the lunatic and his positions. We have to figure out how to manage him. Military intervention is just not an option, and the sort of hard power McCain advocates for (hard-hitting sanctions) are just not going to happen. You aren't going to get Iran's trade partners on board for that one. 29 years we've been shunning them, and they haven't crumpled. Then we managed to take out Iraq, leaving them unchecked. Iran getting nukes is serious. Not because I think the second the bomb is complete, it gets launched toward Tel Aviv, but rather, because it will end up being an arms race in the Middle East. Bad stuff.
But the point Obama didn't hit home is that we don't have the troops to fight anymore wars, or make anymore surges. We don't have the troops for a surge in Afghanistan, and won't until next year at the earliest. We have no choice but to use diplomacy as our strongest tool in international relations. And finally, I think the worst thing Obama was hit with was not supporting the surge, which "worked." Well... it's a little more complicated than that. There were other factors involved, including talks with Sunni nationalist insurgents, and as Stratfor suggests, back-channel U.S.-Iranian talks. Maybe both Senators know more than they're saying, maybe not, but it's pretty apparent that saying "oh, the surge worked!" is not an accurate picture of events in Iraq.
In conclusion, I think both parties expressed their positions as well as possible. I think it comes down to whose view of the world is more realistic, and whose methods are going to be more effective. I believe Obama will have better success in energizing our allies, as well as engaging our enemies in serious talks. I also believe an Obama administration will be proactive in addressing global issues, rather than merely reactive. He's right about the situation in Georgia. That should have been diffused awhile ago. Ignoring the rest of the world until shit starts blowing up? Not a good policy.