Fact checking the South Carolina debate

at 01:46 PM ET, 11/13/2011

The GOP candidates met for a debate Saturday night sponsored by CBS and the National Journal, with a specific focus on foreign policy and national security. In foreign policy, there is often no right or wrong answer; the results of a policy are often ambiguous and its effectiveness is usually only determined by history. Still, there were a number of statements made by the candidates that were factually challenged, exaggerated or lacking context.

“It’s ironic to me that [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak, who had been our ally for years, who had done everything he could to help the United States, who had helped us in the Iraq campaigns, who had done literally everything we had requested of him, he was dumped overnight by this administration in a way that signaled everybody in the world, don’t rely on the United States because they’ll abandon you in a heartbeat if they feel like it.”

--Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich

Whether Gingrich is right depends on your definition of “overnight.” At the time, the Obama administration was perceived as acting too slowly and hesitantly to the gathering forces for change in Egypt that began on Jan. 25, in part because of the reasons that Gingrich outlined in his comment. In fact, as we have documented, Obama had even cut back funding for democracy efforts in Egypt in order to curry favor with Mubarak.

As the protests grew in size, Obama never directly requested that Mubarak resign. Instead Obama spoke in diplomatic code, calling for “an orderly transition” (Feb.1) and for Mubarak to make “the right decision” (Feb. 4). In the end, Obama’s cautious stance impressed no one; the demonstrators believed he did not embrace their cause and autocratic allies such as Saudi Arabia were angry that he appeared to abandon a long-time partner.

“You’re giving some countries $7 billion a year. So you start off — or in the case of Egypt, $3 billion a year.”

--Newt Gingrich

We’re not sure where Gingrich gets the $7 billion figure, unless he is adding in U.S. military expenditures for countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. The actual 2012 aid requests for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq are $2.3 billion, $1.9 billion and $1 billion, respectively, according to the State Department .

Moreover, Gingrich’s figure for aid to Egypt is nearly double the reality. According to the nifty USAID foreign assistance Web site, aid for Egypt was $1.65 billion in 2011 and the administration requested $1.55 billion in 2012. A huge chunk of that—$1.3 billion—is military aid, which of course benefits U.S. arms manufacturers because Egypt is obligated to spend the money mostly on U.S. equipment. (Israel is only the country that receives U.S. military aid that is partially exempted from this requirement.)

If readers have any questions about where foreign aid is going, we highly recommend a visit to the USAID Web site. You can find out exactly how much each country gets, and what the money is spent on, and how those numbers have changed over the years.

“We need to put economic pressure on Iran by way of our own energy independence strategy. By having our own energy independence strategy, we will impact the price of oil on the world market because Iran uses oil not only as a means of currency, but they use it as a weapon.”

--Herman Cain

Cain appears to be talking about a foreign-policy bank shot here—the United States reduces its dependence on foreign oil, and then oil prices will go down and Iran will suffer. Given the speed at which Iran is developing its nuclear program, such an effort may not be effective in the short term. In any case, the United States imports no oil from Iran.

“When [Obama] gave in [on] our missile defense system to agree to stand with those crippling sanctions, he gave Russia what they wanted, their number one foreign policy objective, and got nothing in return.”

--Former Massachusetts governor. Mitt Romney

Romney overstates the case here. The Obama administration has denied any connection between its decisions on missile defense and the Iran sanctions discussions. Moreover, Russia did support new sanctions on Iran, even canceling an $800 million sale of S-300 air defense missiles to Iran.

“The request was made for 40,000 troops. President Obama dithered for approximately two months when he should have given the full complement of 40,000 troops.”

--Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.)

One person’s “dither” may be another person’s deliberate consideration of the facts. As Bob Woodward documented in his book, “Obama’s Wars,” the president faced a sharp divide among his advisers on the best possible course, and ultimately compromised on a figure of 30,000. Moreover, it is worth noting that Obama overall significantly increased the forces in Afghanistan beyond the levels set in the Bush administration.

“And an American century means a century where America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world. We have a president right now who thinks America is just another nation. America is an exceptional nation.”

--Mitt Romney

Romney is making a reference to a statement by Obama that he has previously mischaracterized. When Obama’s comments are read in full, the president never said that America was not exceptional.

“[China is] a currency manipulator. And on that basis, we also go before the WTO and bring an action against them as a currency manipulator and that allows us to apply selective tariffs where we believe they are stealing our intellectual property, hacking into our computers or artificially lowering their prices and killing American jobs.”

--Mitt Romney

“I don’t think, Mitt, you can take China to the WTO on currency-related issues.”

--Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman

We love it when candidates fact check each other. And in this case, Huntsman – a former U.S. ambassador to China—is right. As the Congressional Research Service has documented, the WTO is not designed to be a forum to discuss currency manipulation, and its rules would need to be amended before Romney’s proposal could be entertained.

“It is not easy to amend WTO agreements, however, since the process basically requires the unanimous consent of all Members,” the report said. “Countries that manipulate their currencies could easily block the approval of the amendment.

(UPDATE: Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom disputed this analysis, noting that the CRS report did not rule out the possibility of such litigation. “Of course all litigation is uncertain, but just because a particular type of case has not been litigated before does not mean that it can’t or shouldn’t be pursued,” he said, adding: “As a purely technical matter, Governor Romney is correct that such a case can be brought and Governor Huntsman is incorrect that it cannot be.”)

“I also would like to say that today under Barack Obama, he is allowing the ACLU to run the CIA. You need to understand that today -- today we -- when we -- when we interdict a terrorist on the battlefield, we have no jail for them. We have nowhere to take them.”

--Michele Bachmann

Bachmann is on the House Intelligence Committee, so maybe she knows something we don’t. But as far as we can tell, prisoners are still held in Afghanistan (Bagram air base), where 1,700 suspects are held, and Guantanamo Bay, as well as possibly other facilities.

As The Washington Post reported earlier this year, one Somalia terrorism suspect was interrogated for more than two months on a Navy ship before flown to New York for arraignment. “The case represents the Obama administration’s attempt to find a middle ground between open-ended detentions in secret prisons, as practiced by the George W. Bush administration, and its commitment to try as many terrorism cases as possible in civilian courts,” the article said.

“Ronald Reagan said that Russia would end up on the ash heap of history. And he was right. Mitt, I happen to think that the Communist Chinese government will end up on the ash heap of history if they do not change their virtues. It is important for a country to have virtues, virtues of honesty.”

--Texas Gov. Rick Perry

 Actually, Reagan spoke of communism—what Reagan called “Marxism-Leninism”-- ending up on the “ash heap” of history, during a famous speech at the Palace of Westminster in London. Perry was wrong about something else: Russia was part of the former Soviet Union, but it still exists.

 

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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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