WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, faced off on Monday in their last debate before the November 6 presidential election. Here is some fact-checking of claims made by the two candidates.
During the early part of the debate, Obama went on the offensive by saying that Romney often was “wrong” on foreign policy. As an example, the president said Romney recently said there should still be U.S. troops in Iraq.
“Just a few weeks ago, you said you think we should have more troops in Iraq right now. And ... the challenge we have - I know you haven’t been in a position to actually execute foreign policy - but every time you’ve offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong,” Obama said.
“You said we should have gone into Iraq, despite (the) fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction. You said that we should still have troops in Iraq to this day.”
It wasn’t clear what remarks by Romney the president was referring to. If it was his speech at the Virginia Military Institute on October 8, Romney didn’t say explicitly that there should be U.S. troops in Iraq now. The Republican did, however, bemoan the “abrupt” U.S. pullout at the end of last year.
“In Iraq the costly gains made by our troops are being eroded by rising violence, a resurgent al Qaeda, the weakening of democracy in Baghdad and the rising influence of Iran. And yet America’s ability to influence events for the better in Iraq has been undermined by the abrupt withdrawal of our entire troop presence,” Romney said at VMI.
“The president’s tried, he tried, but he also failed to secure a responsible and gradual drawdown that would have better secured our gains,” Romney said.
The last U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq last December, ending a war launched in March 2003. At the height of the war, there were more than 170,000 U.S. troops there.
Last year Obama did try to negotiate an agreement with Iraq that would have kept some U.S. forces in the country as trainers, but the two governments failed to reach an agreement over giving American soldiers legal immunity.
Romney said that Obama was “silent” during the events of 2009 that became known as the “Green Revolution” in Iran, when Iranians held large street protests to accuse authorities of rigging the country’s presidential election in June.
This allegation is part of the Republican narrative accusing Obama of weakness in dealing with Iran.
“When the students took to the streets in Tehran and the people there protested, the Green Revolution occurred, for the president to be silent I thought was an enormous mistake. We have to stand for our principles, stand for our allies, stand for a strong military and stand for a stronger economy,” Romney said during the debate.
But Obama actually had a lot to say during the Iranian protests.
At a news conference on June 15, 2009, with then-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the president started out by saying that it was up to the Iranians to decide who their leaders should be and that the United States respected Iranian sovereignty.
But then he added:
“Having said all that, I am deeply troubled by the violence that I’ve been seeing on television. I think that the democratic process - free speech, the ability of people to peacefully dissent - all those are universal values and need to be respected. And whenever I see violence perpetrated on people who are peacefully dissenting, and whenever the American people see that, I think they‘re, rightfully, troubled.”
Obama went on at some length. He said he considered some of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statements to be “odious.” He said he would continue to pursue a “tough, direct dialogue between our two countries,” but added: “I think it would be wrong for me to be silent about what we’ve seen on the television over the last few days ... they should know that the world is watching.”
“And particularly to the youth of Iran, I want them to know that we in the United States do not want to make any decisions for the Iranians, but we do believe that the Iranian people and their voices should be heard and respected.”
At a news conference eight days later, Obama spoke out more strongly against the Iranian government’s crackdown on the protests.
“The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.”
“If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect those rights and heed the will of its own people,” Obama said.
The protests were crushed by Iranian security forces at the end of 2009.
During the debate, Romney declared, “We’re the great nation that has allies, 42 allies and friends around the world.”
The Republican appeared to be doing a rather strict accounting of nations that are friends to the United States.
Romney’s campaign provided a list of 27 allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization military alliance, and 15 major non-NATO allies.
NATO includes countries that have been close allies of Washington since the organization was founded in 1949, such as Great Britain and France. Under the NATO charter, an attack on any member is considered an attack on all. After the Cold War ended, several east European countries were added, such as Poland and Estonia.
The “major non-NATO” allies are countries that have strategic working relationships with the U.S. military but are not members of NATO. The list includes countries such as South Korea, Israel, Egypt and Australia; the most recent one to attain that status was Afghanistan.
Major non-NATO allies have some advantages in military cooperation that are not shared by other non-NATO countries, such as in research and development, counter-terrorism, training and U.S. financing for defense equipment.
But the non-NATO list doesn’t include a number of countries that many Americans might think of as quite friendly. A big example is India. Another is Mexico, noted Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“We have an intimate relationship with Mexico. I think they’d be surprised to hear that they are not a friend or ally of the United States,” Alterman said.
At another point during the debate, Romney appeared to need a map.
“Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world,” he said. “It’s their route to the sea.”
Iran actually has a long southern seacoast along the Persian Gulf. In the north, it borders the Caspian Sea.
Syria has a coast on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea.
Editing by David Lindsey and Jim Loney