The Fact Checker: Foreign Policy

The GOP claim that Obama scrapped a missile defense system as ‘a gift’ to Putin

The GOP claim that Obama scrapped a missile defense system as ‘a gift’ to Putin

The United States should “reconsider putting in our missile defense system back into the Czech Republic and Poland, as we once planned. As you recall, we pulled that out as a gift to Russia.”

-- Former governor Mitt Romney, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” March 23, 2014

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Flashback: Obama’s debate zinger on Romney’s ’1980s’ foreign policy (video)

Flashback: Obama’s debate zinger on Romney’s ’1980s’ foreign policy (video)

“The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”

--President Obama, during the third presidential debate, Oct. 22, 2012

With Russia’s takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea region, some analysts have begun asking if the United States and Russia are once again entering a Cold War. To some extent, it’s a misplaced analogy because the two countries at the moment are not dueling around the globe, battling over a particular economic philosophy. But certainly Russia and the United States—after the Obama administration’s much-heralded “reset” five years ago—are entering a chilly period.

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Fact Checking Vladimir Putin’s speech on Crimea (Video)

Fact Checking Vladimir Putin’s speech on Crimea (Video)

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday swiftly accepted the Ukrainian province of Crimea as part of Russia, announcing his decision in a lengthy speech that reflected his suspicion of the West and his anger at U.S. actions since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A number of readers have asked us to fact check his speech. Here are some of his more dubious statements, using the official Russian translation provided by the Kremlin.

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Rep. Darrell Issa disputes his Four-Pinocchio ratings

Rep. Darrell Issa disputes his Four-Pinocchio ratings

CHRIS WALLACE: That brings up my final question for you, because you have come under fire both in the IRS and Benghazi and other investigations of your committee for political witch hunts. They point specifically to a speech you gave to GOP fundraiser in New Hampshire in February about the Benghazi terror attack. Here’s a clip.

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Rick Santorum’s claim that ‘no Palestinian’ lives in the West Bank


(Charles Krupa/AP)

“All the people that live in the West Bank are Israelis.  They are not Palestinians. There is no Palestinian. This is Israeli land.”

— Former senator Rick Santorum, Nov. 21. 2011

A blog on The Jewish Week Web site highlighted this statement on Monday, which was also captured on tape and posted on YouTube. (See clip at the end of the column.) The statement is somewhat reminiscent of former House speaker Newt Gingrich’s comment that the Palestinians are an “invented people.” 

 Gingrich’s comments spawned outrage at the time, but Gingrich actually spoke a couple of weeks after Santorum’s remarks, which were made in the context of defending Israel’s right to build settlements in the West Bank. As Jewish Week noted, Santorum’s “views got little attention at the time because he was considered a hopeless back-of-the-pack candidate and not being taken very seriously.”

 In many ways, Santorum’s remarks have even more important policy implications than Gingrich’s statement, which was a historical observation (though a highly debatable one).

 

The Facts

 In the conversation captured on tape, Santorum argues that the West Bank belongs to Israel because Arab nations launched an “aggressive attack” in 1967 but Israel defeated them and acquired the land as part of the spoils of war.

“It was ground that was gained during war,” he said, similar to the United States gaining territory after defeating Mexico in the 19th century. “Should we give Texas back to Mexico?” he asked. “Bottom line, it is legitimately Israeli country.” 

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An Iranian ‘terrorist’ in the White House?


(JIM YOUNG/REUTERS)

“Last week, when [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki visited the president, one of the people in his entourage is a commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.”

--Newt Gingrich, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Dec. 18, 2011

Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, when he made this comment on “Face the Nation” on Sunday, was referring to Iraqi Transportation Minister Hadi al-Amiri. Gingrich apparently based his comments on an article in The Washington Times—headlined “Ex-Iran Guard commander visits White House with Iraq leader”-- that generated some attention in the blogosphere. One report headlined it this way: “President Welcomes Suspected Terrorist to the White House.”

But this is a simplistic version of a complex story involving U.S. relations with the current government of Iraq. Let’s explore what’s going on here.

The Facts

First of all, there is a long tradition of militants aspiring to become statesmen. Martin McGuinness, a former Irish Republican Army leader, this year ran for president of Ireland. And, as House speaker in 1995, Gingrich hosted a lunch at the capital that include Gerry Adams, the head of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA—at a time when Britain regarded the IRA to be a terror group.

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Will the United States really spend $700 billion in the next decade on nuclear weapons programs?

“Some in Washington still want to spend $700 billion on old outdated Cold War Programs”

--Advertisement from the American Security Project which aired during the GOP Debate on Nov. 22, 2011

“The United States is projected to spend an estimated $700 billion on nuclear weapons and related programs during the next ten years.”

--Ploughshares Fund Working Paper, Version 2, Sept. 27, 2011

 

In these grim economic times, the cost of maintaining and upgrading the United States’ aging nuclear arsenal of 5,000 warheads is certainly a ripe topic for discussion. The U.S. government has never officially disclosed the exact cost, and whether one should include environmental clean-up costs, missile defense and other programs related to nuclear weapons is a legitimate topic of debate.

In recent weeks, a fierce fight has broken out in the nuclear world over an estimate issued by Ploughshares Fund—a foundation focused on nuclear policy—that the United States will spend $700 billion over the next ten years on “nuclear weapons and related programs.” That estimate has stuck and become part of the public discourse, appearing in the recent advertisement and a letter by Rep. Edward Markey(D-Mass.), often without the caveat of “related programs.”

But the administration of President Obama—who won a Nobel Peace Prize in part for calling for a world without nuclear weapons—has flatly rejected the $700 billion figure. James Miller, principal deputy undersecretary of defense, told Congress on Nov. 2 that the figure was close to $214 billion over ten years, with $88 billion being spent at the Energy Department, which maintains nuclear weapons, and more than $125 billion spent on delivery systems at the Defense Department.

 “I've had an opportunity to look at some of the materials that were referenced in the cost estimates just before coming over here and I—without giving this more time than it deserves—suffice it to say there was double counting and some rather curious arithmetic involved,” Miller said.

 There is such a large gap between $700 billion and $200 billion that some readers asked us to look into the matter. To put it in perspective, the gap between these two estimates would fund the State Department and all foreign aid for the next decade. Hang on, there are lots of numbers, but it is an important issue.

 

The Facts

 First of all, Ploughshares is counting a lot of things that the administration is not including in its estimate. As the spreadsheet below shows, the group included such things as the costs of missile defense (on the theory that it exists only to protect America against nuclear weapons) and environmental clean-up. As we said, there is a legitimate debate about whether or not to include such items—is missile defense needed even if the U.S. gives up all of its nukes?--but those items account for nearly $270 billion of the Ploughshares figure.

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