FACT CHECK: A One-Sided Story on Trade, Defense

Posted Tuesday, October 9, 2012 --- 11:28 a.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Mitt Romney solely blamed President Barack Obama on Monday for potential defense cuts that Republicans in Congress worked out with the White House and Democrats and left the misimpression that Obama has ignored free trade initiatives.

A closer look at some of the Republican presidential nominee's statements in his foreign policy speech:

ROMNEY: "I will roll back President Obama's deep and arbitrary cuts to our national defense that would devastate our military."

THE FACTS: "Arbitrary" defense cuts do not belong to Obama alone but also to congressional Republicans, including his vice presidential running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan. The first round of cuts in projected defense spending is the result of a bipartisan deal in August 2011 between Congress and the White House to wrestle down the deficit. Unless a new budget deal is reached in time, additional spending cuts will begin in January across government, and the cost to the Pentagon would be $500 billion over a decade. Lawmakers are working to avoid that. Separately, Obama wants to slow the growth of military spending, now that the war in Iraq is ended and the war in Afghanistan is drawing to a close. The Pentagon's budget, including war costs, is $670 billion this year, or about 18 percent of total federal spending. Even setting aside the costs of the wars, military spending has more than doubled since 2001.

At its heart, Romney's statement marks a disagreement with Obama over the proper level of military spending but also skips past a deficit-reduction deal that he recently criticized Republicans in Congress for negotiating.

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ROMNEY: "The president has not signed one new free trade agreement in the past four years."

THE FACTS: Obama hasn't opened new trade negotiations, but he's completed some big ones, overcoming opposition from fellow Democrats to do so. After taking office, he revived a free-trade deal with Colombia that had been negotiated by his Republican predecessor but left to languish without congressional approval and sought similar progress with South Korean and Panamanian free-trade pacts. The president delayed submitting the three deals to Congress while he tried to placate Democrats who opposed some of the terms, but finally submitted them in 2011, and Congress approved them.

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ROMNEY: "I will recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel. On this vital issue, the president has failed, and what should be a negotiation process has devolved into a series of heated disputes at the United Nations. In this old conflict, as in every challenge we face in the Middle East, only a new president will bring the chance to begin anew."

THE FACTS: With this statement, Romney has moved toward the balance enshrined in U.S. policy from one administration to another on the question of Israelis and Palestinians and away from his provocative remarks to a May fundraiser that recently came to light.

In those remarks, he said "the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace," `'the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish," Palestinians are "committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel" and it would be "the worst idea in the world" to put pressure on the Israelis to give up something in hopes Palestinians would respond accordingly.

Now he is appearing to put faith in a negotiation process he all but dismissed before.

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ROMNEY: "As the dust settles, as the murdered (in the Libya consulate attack) are buried, Americans are asking how this happened, how the threats we face have grown so much worse, and what this calls on America to do."

THE FACTS: It's unclear whether terrorism has gotten worse. There has been no incident even remotely comparable in scope or symbolic meaning to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. After a score of counterterrorist successes, the Obama administration has been knocked back on its heels since the attacks' 11th anniversary, when assailants stormed the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. There has also been an uptick in attacks on American troops by supposedly friendly Afghan forces. But many counterterrorist experts say al-Qaida has been significantly weakened and the threats of global terrorism significantly better countered over the last decade.

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ROMNEY: "When we look at the Middle East today -- with Iran closer than ever to nuclear weapons capability, with the conflict in Syria threating to destabilize the region, with violent extremists on the march and with an American ambassador and three others dead likely at the hands of al-Qaida affiliates -- it is clear that the risk of conflict in the region is higher now than when the president took office."

THE FACTS: Risk is always a matter of perception, so it doesn't fall easily into the realm of truth vs. fiction. But for the United States and the region, it's not clear that conflict has increased in the last four years. Obama entered office in 2009 with the United States still engaged in a conflict in Iraq. U.S. troops are no longer there. And he came as Israel and Hamas just finished a three-week war. That was two years after another war between Israel and an Iranian-backed force, in that case, Hezbollah in Lebanon.

There has been no significant Israeli military conflict since Obama has come into office. That said, Syria's conflict has become the region's deadliest since the Iraq war. The U.S. has stayed out of that conflict under Obama.

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Associated Press writer Donna Cassata contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012. The Associated Press.


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