A man from the moon, having read about the past five decades of American history and sent to Earth to listen to the foreign policy debate, would have concluded that the aggressive Mr. Obama was the conservative Republican and the inoffensive Mr. Romney was the moderate Democrat.
For the first ten minutes, it appeared Mr. Romney had decided not to show up. The night began with Libya, where the administration has behaved indefensibly. But Mr. Romney hovered at 30,000 feet in a cloud of obscure rhetoric.
Mr. Obama counterpunched rat-a-tat from the opening bell. Mr. Obama was much firmer and scored better on any debater’s card. However, he was also too personal and unrelenting in his attacks at times when it was uncalled for.
Only gradually did it become clear that the Romney strategy was not to fight, but to woo. The difference between the genders in the choice of candidates has been striking, and Romney’s performance would lead no reasonable undecided voter, female or male, to worry he was too bellicose.
Neither side offered a serious foreign-policy agenda. Mr. Romney, who had much more to lose if he appeared too tough, did not lose ground in the overall presidential race. Mr. Obama did not gain ground. The debate did not make a difference; so on balance, Mr. Romney came out ahead.
— A former assistant secretary of defense, Bing West is co-author of Into the Fire: a Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle of the Afghanistan War