The final presidential debate
October 23rd, 2012
07:13 AM ET

Checking the candidates' facts on Iraq, China, al Qaeda and more

President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney had plenty to discuss at Monday night's foreign policy match-up:

There's an ongoing war in Afghanistan, civil war in Syria and a tense standoff between Iran and Israel. Terrorism is still an issue, as evidenced by the recent embassy attack in Libya. And then there is a perceived threat from China.

But what are the facts behind the claims made by the candidates? Here's a round-up of CNN's fact checks from Monday's debate:

2014 AFGHANISTAN DEADLINE

Obama accused Romney of initially being against a withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan in 2014.

The claim: "In the same way that you initially opposed a timetable in Afghanistan, now you're for it, although it depends," Obama said.

Conclusion: Mostly false. Romney agrees with a 2014 withdrawal deadline but has added the caveat that he would seek advice from commanders on the ground at that point, leaving the door open to possibly staying longer. What Romney has disagreed with was the announcement of the withdrawal deadline, not the deadline itself.
CNN's full fact check on the 2014 Afghanistan deadline

Related: What unanswered questions do you have?

IRAQ VS. LIBYA MISSION COSTS

Obama asserted that it cost the United States less to help oust Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi than it did to run two weeks of the 2003-2011 war in Iraq.

The claim: "Keep in mind that I, and Americans, took leadership in organizing an international coalition that made sure that we were able to - without putting troops on the ground, at the cost of less than what we spent in two weeks in Iraq - liberate a country that had been under the yoke of dictatorship for 40 years."

Conclusion: Comparing only Pentagon expenditures, two weeks of military operations in Iraq generally appear to have been more expensive than the U.S. military role in the seven-month Libya operation.
- CNN's full fact check on the mission costs

'APOLOGY' TOUR

The contention that Obama apologized to other nations for American behavior has been mentioned repeatedly by his critics, including Romney at Monday's debate.

The claim: "The president began what I have called an apology tour, of going to various nations in the Middle East and criticizing America."

Conclusion: Romney's claim is false. The president has mentioned past U.S. mistakes and flaws during speeches about the larger issues of building bridges to other countries. But he has never apologized or gone on an "apology tour."
- CNN's full fact check on the claims of an Obama apology tour

THE STATE OF AL QAEDA

Obama made the case that al Qaeda in Pakistan is decimated while Romney argued they are on the rise in other countries.

The claims:
Obama: Al Qaeda's core leadership has been decimated.

Romney: This is a group that is now involved in 10 or 12 countries, and it presents an enormous threat to our friends, to the world, to America, long term, and we must have a comprehensive strategy to help reject this kind of extremism.

Conclusion: Both claims are true. Al Qaeda's core leadership has been seriously weakened, but the affiliates remain active, particularly in Yemen and North Africa, where the threat to Western interests and plotting against the homeland remain strong. Romney's claim that al Qaeda is in 10 to 12 countries is in the ballpark, and the administration would seem to agree that poses an enormous threat.
- CNN's full fact check on the state of al Qaeda

Related: Who was history's best foreign policy president?

IRAQ

The claims:
Obama: "You say that you're not interested in duplicating what happened in Iraq," said Obama, a Democrat who opposed the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. "But just a few weeks ago, you said you think we should have more troops in Iraq right now. ... You said that we should still have troops in Iraq to this day."

But Romney, who supported the invasion, said Obama wanted to keep U.S. troops there longer - he just couldn't get the Iraqis to go along. "There was an effort on the part of the president to have a Status of Forces Agreement, and I concurred in that, and said that we should have some number of troops that stayed on," Romney said. "You thought it should have been 5,000 troops," he told Obama. "I thought there should have been more troops, but you know what? The answer was we got no troops through whatsoever."

The conclusion: Each man's attacks are rooted in fact. The Obama administration did attempt, unsuccessfully, to extend the presence of a scaled-back U.S. training mission in Iraq, while Romney has said Washington should have kept a considerably larger force in Baghdad.
- CNN's full fact check on Iraq

CHINA TIRES

Obama said Romney had criticized his administration for being too tough against China, and bringing a protectionist case at the World Trade Organization.

The statement: Obama cited a case in which the Chinese "were flooding us" with cheap tires. "And we put a stop to it and as a consequence saved jobs throughout America. I have to say that Gov. Romney criticized me for being too tough in that tire case; said this wouldn't be good for American workers and that it would be protectionist," Obama said.

The conclusion: In the tire case above, Obama is correct in his characterization of Romney's position. In the larger case of what to do about U.S.-China relations, both candidates have promised to get tough. But that will hardly be the last word.
- CNN's full fact check on the China tire case

More from CNN's debate coverage:
- 5 things we learned
- Global reaction: Disappointment
- Opinion round-up: Obama in command, Romney plays it safe

Topics: 2012 Election • Afghanistan • China • Iraq • Libya

soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. cljahn

    Obama said that Romney opposed a timetable, CNN says that indeed, Romney opposed a scheduled deadline; what kind of crack are you smoking that this is a false statement?

    What's false is CNN's summary of Obama's actual quote, which does not match what Obama actually said. Someone in CNN needs to brush up on their reading comprehension skills. I guess that's why there's no by-line: no one want to be credited with shoddy work.

    October 23, 2012 at 9:56 am | Reply
    • darrin0

      Clearly the crack you are smoking is much more desirous. Obama's comment wasn't "mostly" false, it was 100% false. Let me help you understand where your reading and comprehension skills just aren't at the level you think they are. The statement is clear, just like Romney has be very clear about this, what Romney "disagreed with was the ANNOUNCEMENT of the withdrawal deadline, NOT the deadline itself."

      Romney has repeatedly stated that it was wrong to announce to the world and Al Qaida exactly how long they just need to hold out until the American's will be gone from Afghanistan so they can make their surge.

      October 23, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Reply
  2. springsgranny

    How are we supposed to vote for a President when the candidates lie so much. You can't tell me that they don't know the facts...and yet they distort them to try to destroy their opponant. I'm so sick of this nonsense. No one has any principles any more, they are all beholding to their benefactors, they don't care what the people REALLY want, only what they can do to promote themselves in any way (right or wrong) that they can. This country is going to pot an the politicians are to blame. We are no longer a Democracy!

    October 23, 2012 at 11:43 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      It's sad that a power-hungry candidate would do anything to get himself elected. It's totally irresponsible to spread spurious claims and facts. That's where the checks-and-balances mechanisms come in place to expose inappropriate behaviour.

      October 24, 2012 at 8:12 am | Reply
  3. AO Johnson

    What about Romney's claim that Syria is Iran's link to the sea? The two countries do not border with each other and Iran has a huge sea link to the south. It doesn't make sense.

    October 23, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Reply
    • kls817

      I wondered about that too and I assume he meant the Atlantic Ocean (via the Mediterranean Sea).

      October 23, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Reply
    • CausinAScene

      Yeah, That kind of threw me for a loop too. does he have a map or google earth or anything? Straits of Hormuz(is that the correct spelling?) right to the indian ocean...Persian Gulf...does that ring any bells for 'Ya Mr.Romney....?

      October 23, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Reply
  4. Fillo

    'APOLOGY' TOUR, Conclusion: Romney's claim is false. "he has never apologized or gone on an "apology tour.""

    So, the fact checker actually thought the claim is that he actually went on a tour named "apology tour."?
    For any dummy who may have thought that as well, let me explain. "apology tour." was the phrase coined to denounce the apologetic, anti-American rhetoric Obama fed other countries.

    October 23, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Reply
  5. MattB

    I agree with Fillo...it wasn't a tour called "Apology Tour 2009" The phrase is used to describe the nature and tone of the diplomatic mission, which was in this case, apologetic of the US "bad behavior" in the region (in the sense "we're sorry we invaded Iraq and Afghanistan") which is what he takes issue with. America should not apologize for defending its interests. When Terrorist groups attack US Citizens and our interests, on our soil or abroad, it is not only our right but our duty to ensure that such tyranny against our interests be brought to swift, assured justice. The methods may not have been perfect (honestly I prefer Obama's Special Forces approach to all-out invasions) but we certainly should not be apologizing for responding to terrorist threats and despotic dictators in the best manner intelligence dictates to our leaders at the time. We may have to agree to disagree, both on what an "apology tour" means and on whether or not Obama did exactly that when he took office three and a half years ago (I recall being disgusted at the time).

    October 23, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Reply
  6. you apologist pacifist socialist f-tards

    it absolutely was an apology tour when he went to cairo and other places and spoke ill of the prior administration and america's actions (circa. 2000 to 2008). it was tasteless, no other president had disrespected a predecessor in that way, and it was an apology tour to 'improve americans' image abroad' ....which didn't work mind you. but keep defending him cnn

    October 23, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Reply
    • Bob in CA

      Some education would do you good.

      October 23, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Reply
    • Larry

      He didnt apologize he said he disagreed with the previous administrations stance/ policies. He said someone was wrong its not the same as apologizing

      October 24, 2012 at 5:53 am | Reply
  7. Bob Hofler

    And what about Romney's statement that Syria is Iran's passage to the sea? Wha? Why didn't you fact check that? Or that Romney said he was for a managed bankruptcy, but would not have used government money to leverage it? Like there was private money available then?

    October 23, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Reply
  8. steve

    Did it ever dawn on CNN that the word I am sorry or I apologize . is not the only way to apologize to other countries in the way he categorized our behavior from the past administration ?
    Even in fact checking they can't interpret speeches honestly.
    Like "Acts of terror" in reference to extremism after 9/11/01 by the President in the Rose Garden was Fat checked as the correct words "Act of War" in reference to the Benghazi debacle.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:26 am | Reply
  9. JJ

    FACT CHECK HAD MITT 100 % CORRECT AND OBAMA MOSTLY ALL FALSE WOW CNN DID CANDEY CRAWLEY DO THESE CHECKS? UNBELIEVABLE, WE HAVE A CORRUPT MEDIA AND CORRUPT WHITE HOUSE AND WHERE IS THE FRONT HEAD LINES ON THE NEW BREAKING ABOUT BENGHAZI? HOW THEY KNEW AND WATCHED THE ATTACK FOR 7 HOURS AND STILL DIDNT HELP THE AMBASSADOR! CNN YOU SUCK, THATS WHY SO MANY WATCH FOX NEWS TO GET ACCURATE NEWS!

    October 24, 2012 at 1:07 am | Reply
  10. Coop

    I checked this out about GM and Romney.
    What he wanted was for the government to guarantee a private parties
    investment in GM. That way, if the investment was profitable, they make out
    like bandits. If it was a loss, they could still make out like bandits 'cause we,
    the taxpayers, would reimburse their failures !

    Ha ha ha ha ha haaaaaaaa

    October 24, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Reply

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