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From ‘Apology Tour’ to Bayonets: Fact-Checking the Debate on Foreign Policy

October 23, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Margaret Warner fact-checks different debate highlights, including Mitt Romney's characterization of President Obama's early overseas trips, what the candidates said about their opponent's and their own defense spending proposals, and the ideal scope and size of the Navy.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And we return to the final presidential debate with a closer look at the arguable statements made by both candidates. 

Margaret Warner has our report. 

MARGARET WARNER:  Last night’s final presidential debate took on a long list of foreign policy questions.  And the answers at times raised further questions. 

As we did last week, today, we reviewed some of what was said and how it matches the record, starting with Mitt Romney’s charge that from the beginning of his term, President Obama was apologizing overseas for America’s actions. 

MITT ROMNEY, Republican Presidential Candidate:  The president began what I have called an apology tour, of going to various nations in the Middle East and criticizing America.  I think they looked at that and saw weakness. 

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  Nothing Gov. Romney just said is true, starting with this notion of me apologizing.  This has been probably the biggest whopper that’s been told during the course of this campaign.  And every fact-checker and every reporter who’s looked at it, Governor, has said this is not true. 

MITT ROMNEY:  Mr. President, the reason I call it an apology tour is because you went to the Middle East and you flew to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia and to Turkey and Iraq. 

And then in those nations, and on Arabic TV, you said that America had been dismissive and derisive.  You said that on occasion America had dictated to other nations.

Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations.  We have freed other nations from dictators.

MARGARET WARNER:  Mr. Obama never used the words apology or apologize in his early trips abroad, including one to Europe, Turkey and Iraq in April of 2009. 

Romney appeared to be quoting what the president said on that trip during a stop in France about friction between the United States and Europe. 

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Instead of celebrating your dynamic union and seeking to partner with you to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive. 

But, in Europe, there is an anti-Americanism that is at once casual, but can also be insidious.  Instead of recognizing the good that America so often does in the world, there have been times where Europeans choose to blame America for much of what’s bad. 

MARGARET WARNER:  Two months later in Egypt, the president did voice regret for some Bush administration actions in the post-9/11 war on terror. 

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country.  The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals.  We are taking concrete actions to change course. 

CAREN BOHAN, National Journal:  There was definitely no apology. 

MARGARET WARNER:  Caren Bohan, then a White House correspondent for Reuters on one of the trips, said President Obama was trying to reach out to the Muslim world and signal a break from the Bush years. 

CAREN BOHAN:  President Bush was very unpopular in the Muslim world.  And he wanted to turn the page on Guantanamo Bay, on the Iraq war, on all of the things that had given the United States a negative image in the Muslim world. 

MARGARET WARNER:  Defense spending was another point of contention.  President Obama stood behind his Pentagon spending record and dismissed Romney’s call for more. 

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  He then wants to spend another $2 trillion on military spending that our military is not asking for.  Now, keep in mind that our military spending has gone up every single year that I have been in office. 

MARGARET WARNER:  Today, Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments said Mr. Obama is right about Governor Romney’s spending proposals. 

TODD HARRISON, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments:  The $2 trillion figure, that’s based on Governor Romney’s plan to gradually increase defense spending to 4 percent of gross domestic product, GDP.  If you do that over a four-year presidential term, that will cost $2 trillion more than what the president has proposed sending on the Department of Defense.  So that part is true. 

MARGARET WARNER:  But he said the president’s own defense spending record is more complicated to assess. 

TODD HARRISON:  Now, the president also said that he has increased his defense budget every year since he’s been in office.  That’s not exactly right.  The president has proposed increases in defense spending each year.  But, in 2011 and in 2012, Congress cut what the president proposed.  Each year, they cut more than $20 billion out of the defense budget request. 

So, as a result, when you adjust for inflation, defense spending has actually gone down in the past two years. 

MARGARET WARNER:  As part of that argument, the candidates also clashed over the Navy in one of the debates more talked-about exchanges. 

MITT ROMNEY:  Our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917.  The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission.  We’re now at under 285.  That’s unacceptable to me.

I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy. 

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. 

Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed.  We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them.  We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. 

And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting slips. 

MARGARET WARNER:  As it happens, bayonets are still standard equipment for U.S. Marines. 

But analyst Harrison and others say the Navy is not smaller than it was 90 years ago or even four years ago. 

TODD HARRISON:  Right now, our ship count is 285.  In 2007, it was just 278 ships.  So, actually, we were smaller in 2007 than we are now.  We have actually been increasing the size of the Navy under President Obama. 

But, moreover, I think this was the president’s point in the debate about horses and bayonets is that it’s really not a valid comparison to compare the number of ships today to the number of ships more than 90 years ago.  The reason for that is technology has changed dramatically since then. 

MARGARET WARNER:  The candidates also jousted over America’s exit from the nearly nine-year war in Iraq.  It’s been 10 months since the last U.S. convoy crossed the border into Kuwait, a point that President Obama often touts on the campaign trail. 

BARACK OBAMA:  Four years ago, I told you we’d end the war in Iraq, and we did. 


MARGARET WARNER:  By contrast, last November, Mitt Romney criticized the U.S. pullout. 

MITT ROMNEY:  The precipitous withdrawal is unfortunate.  It’s more than unfortunate.  I think it’s tragic. 

MARGARET WARNER:  Last night, the two men clashed over whether they had wanted to keep troops in Iraq and, if so, how many.  The president charged Romney as trying to have it both ways. 

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  You say that you’re not interested in duplicating what happened in Iraq.  But just a few weeks ago, you said you think we should have more troops in Iraq right now. 

MARGARET WARNER:  That was believed to be a reference to Romney’s address at the Virginia Military Institute earlier this month. 

MITT ROMNEY:  America’s ability to influence events for better in Iraq has been undermined by the abrupt withdrawal of our entire troop presence. 

MARGARET WARNER:  Romney didn’t say at VMI that U.S. troops should still be in Iraq.  But at a secretly taped fund-raiser last May, the video shows Romney said this. 

MITT ROMNEY:  This president’s failures to put in place a status of forces agreement allowing 10,000 to 20,000 troops to stay in Iraq, unthinkable. 

MARGARET WARNER:  Last night, Romney pressed his argument that Mr. Obama also had wanted to keep troops in Iraq, but could not get Baghdad to guarantee them legal immunity. 

BARACK OBAMA:  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.  That was something I concurred with…




MITT ROMNEY:  …that your posture.  That was my posture as well.  You thought it should have been 5,000 troops…



MITT ROMNEY:  … I thought there should have been more troops, but you know what?  The answer was we got…


MITT ROMNEY:  … no troops through whatsoever.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  This was just a few weeks ago that you indicated that we should still have troops in Iraq.



MITT ROMNEY:  … I’m sorry that’s a…



MITT ROMNEY:  … that’s a — I indicated…


PRESIDENT OBAMA:  … major speech.

MARGARET WARNER:  Last November, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey told a Senate committee the Obama administration wanted to keep about 3,000 troops in Iraq if there had been a status of forces agreement.