Checking the candidates' facts on foreign policy and national security
October 21st, 2012
06:00 PM ET

Checking the candidates' facts on foreign policy and national security

Monday’s debate focuses on foreign policy and national security. The debate commission announced that the main topics will be: Afghanistan and Pakistan, Israel and Iran, "The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism," and "The Rise of China and Tomorrow's World.

Ahead of the debate, here’s a look at some campaign claims about foreign policy that we've looked at:

Also: My debate checklist: AEI's Danielle Pletka

What happened in Benghazi

Claim: "The day after the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people in the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened," President Barack Obama said during the second presidential debate. "That this was an act of terror and I also said that we're going to hunt down those who committed this crime."

"It took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror," Mitt Romney responded moments later.

Conclusion: Romney's precise comment was false. Obama did describe the killings in Benghazi as an act of terror twice in the two days after the attack. In an interview two weeks after the incident, though, he appeared to reserve judgment, and some Obama administration officials, including Carney and Rice, suggested in the days after the attack that the United States had no indication that it was a planned assault. (How we reached our conclusion)


Claim: "We weren't told they wanted more security. We did not know they wanted more security," Vice President Joe Biden said during the vice presidential debate.

Conclusion: It's unclear how high Nordstrom's request got in the administration, but he says he did ask the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs for more security help at the Benghazi post. (How we reached our conclusion)


Claim: "There were requests for extra security. Those requests were not honored," Rep. Paul Ryan said during the vice presidential debate.

Conclusion: The GOP-led House did initially approve about $330 million less than what the administration requested, but in the final bill, passed with bipartisan support after adjustments by the Senate, put the amount a little closer to the administration's target. (How we reached our conclusion)

Also: My debate checklist: Center for American Progress' Brian Katulis


Claim: "When Barack Obama was elected, they had enough fissile material, nuclear material, to make one bomb. Now they have enough to make five," Rep. Paul Ryan said during the vice presidential debate. "They're racing toward a nuclear weapon. They're four years closer toward a nuclear weapons capability."

Conclusion: According to at least one widely circulated estimate, Iran could produce enough uranium for five bombs, as Ryan says. But the same estimate notes that it would draw attention if it did so, and that's only part of the work necessary to make a weapon. (How we reached our conclusion)


Claim: "When millions of Iranians took to the streets in June of 2009, when they demanded freedom from a cruel regime that threatens the world, when they cried out, 'Are you with us, or are you with them?' - the American president was silent," Mitt Romney said on October 8th.

Conclusion: During the first couple of days of the protests and violence, Obama did not weigh in publicly, but by a few days in, he was not "silent" - and a week later, took a tougher stance. (How we reached our conclusion)

Security Clearance: The latest on military, diplomacy and intelligence


Claim: "The president explicitly stated that his goal was to put 'daylight' between the United States and Israel. And he has succeeded," said Mitt Romney on October 8th. "This is a dangerous situation that has set back the hope of peace in the Middle East and emboldened our mutual adversaries, especially Iran."

Conclusion: There have been numerous reports of tensions and disagreements, and there have been times where Obama has expressed a view (as on settlement activity) not shared by his Israeli counterpart. But any blanket assessment should also take into account assertions from the likes of Barak, lauding cooperation between the two nations over the last four years. (How we reached our conclusion)


Claim: "When he was asked about bin Laden in 2007, [Governor Mitt Romney] said, and I quote, 'It's not worth moving heaven and Earth and spending billions of dollars just to catch one person,' " Vice President Joe Biden said.

Conclusion: Romney was critical of Obama's position in the days following the future president's August 2007 speech. Biden's speech Thursday night left out some context about Romney's remarks, and Kerry mischaracterized Romney's comments - Romney didn't say attacking targets in Pakistan was naive but talking about it publicly was. Also, Biden himself once characterized Obama's comments as naive. (How we reached our conclusion)

Also: Libya, Iran are likely flash points in final debate

Defense spending

Claim: "His trillion-dollar cuts to our military will eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs, and also put our security at greater risk," Mitt Romney said in his acceptance speech to the GOP national convention in Tampa, Florida.

Conclusion: Romney's "trillion-dollar" figure is roughly accurate. But the cuts aren't entirely of Obama's making, and their impact on national security is a subject of some debate. (How we reached our conclusion)


Claim: "So we're saying don't cut the military by a trillion dollars. Not increase it by a trillion, don't cut it by a trillion dollars," Rep. Paul Ryan said during the vice presidential debate.

Conclusion: An analysis of the Romney campaign platform call for defense spending to be increased to 4 percent of Gross Domestic Product would lead to an increase in spending by $2 trillion over the next decade. (How we reached our conclusion)


Claim: During a foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute, the Republican presidential nominee said the number of ships in the U.S. fleet were equivalent to that of the fleet in 1916. And to address that, he wanted to bolster the Navy overall by building 15 ships a year, including three submarines.

Conclusion: While Romney is fairly close in assessing the size of the U.S. Naval fleet, his claim is basically pointless. (How we reached our conclusion)

Free trade agreements

Claim: Mitt Romney stated Monday that President Barack Obama "has not signed one new free-trade agreement in the past four years."

Conclusion: While President Obama continued trade agreements begun under the previous administration, it is not accurate to assert that Obama has not signed any free trade agreements when, in fact, he has done so with South Korea, Panama and Colombia. (How we reached our conclusion)

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