In the last of three high-stakes presidential debates, not everything they said in the Florida beach city of Boca Raton squared with reality. Here’s a fact check of some of what they said:
Obama said he was confident that (Bashar) “Assad’s days are numbered.” However, there’s no evidence to support that the Syrian leader’s fall is imminent, and the administration has repeated that line for several months now with no significant military progress by the rebels.
While it’s true that the rebels have managed to capture sizable parts of the country, they’ve struggled to hold those territories against the better-armed regime forces, and experts agree that there’s no way the rebels can win militarily without either a crucial infusion of heavy weapons or direct foreign military intervention. By contrast, 19 months into the uprising, Assad is still in power, his inner circle is largely intact, and his military is still strong enough to call up reinforcements. Without an assassination or some form of outside military help for the rebels, experts say, Assad could hang on for many more months or even years.
Romney blasted Obama for failing to take “a leading role” in organizing the Syrian political opposition and uniting the “disparate” rebel factions under a single opposition banner.
The United States, along with France and other Western allies, has tried for more than a year to pressure Syrian opposition forces to form a government-in-waiting and streamline the rebel forces.
However, the Syrian dissidents themselves are deeply divided and openly admit that their own ideological and religious differences have prevented the formation of a potential transitional government, as the Libyans managed to create before the fall of Moammar Gadhafi.
President Obama’s notion that U.S. interlocutors only worked with relatively moderate opposition forces during the Libyan uprising is misleading. The United States backed the National Transitional Council, a self-appointed group of exiles and dissidents that included conservative Islamists as well as secularists.
Meanwhile, the rebels who fought Gadhafi’s forces were a hodge-podge of military defectors, civilians and former jihadists — just like in Syria today. The United States, the lead partner in the NATO alliance, supported those rebels militarily. Many of the most seasoned fighters were veteran jihadists, including some who had fought U.S. forces in Iraq or Afghanistan. When the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was attacked in September, the attackers used rocket-propelled grenades that may have come from the arsenal left behind in Gadhafi’s collapse.
Romney was misleading in asserting — as he has previously — that Iran is “four years closer” to having a nuclear weapon. The greatest hurdle to developing nuclear weapons is enriching uranium, and Iran crossed that line almost six years ago, when technicians began feeding uranium hexafluoride gas into high-speed centrifuges at the country’s main enrichment facility at Natanz. He was correct in noting that work has continued. Iran has installed thousands of centrifuges in Natanz, brought on line a second facility buried below a mountain near the holy city of Qom and built up stocks of 3.5 percent and near 20 percent low-enriched uranium. Those stocks can be further enriched to highly enriched uranium, or HEU, for a weapon using the same centrifuges. But if Iran were to move to produce HEU, it would almost certainly be immediately detected by U.N. inspectors and monitoring devices, putting Iran’s facilities at risk of U.S. airstrikes, most experts agree.
Romney largely supported the tough economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the Obama administration but said he would have imposed them earlier.
In what appeared to be a significant geographical gaffe, Romney called Syria Iran’s “route to the sea.” Iran has 1,491 miles of coastline on the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, across which its oil travels to reach global markets. It has another 460 miles of northern coastline on the Caspian Sea. Syria has just 119 miles of coastline, most on the Mediterranean Sea, according to the CIA Factbook.
Obama criticized Romney for suggesting we should have troops in Iraq to this day. But Romney pointed out correctly that Obama was negotiating to keep a few thousand troops in Iraq. Talks on keeping U.S. troops in Iraq collapsed over Iraqi concerns about legal protection of U.S. forces. Obama later declared the war was over.
The president once again claimed that he fulfilled a promise to end the war in Iraq. In reality, all U.S. forces were required to be out of Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011, under a timetable negotiated by the Bush administration with the Iraqi government and that as overwhelmingly approved by the Iraqi Parliament on Nov. 27, 2008. He did ensure that the timetable was met.