Debate Fact Check: The Third Presidential Debate Between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama answer a question during the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla.  (National Journal)

President Obama and Mitt Romney focused on foreign policy in their third and final presidential debate, held Monday at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. Here is a look at some of their statements and how firmly they are grounded in fact.

Obama on Romney's stance on Russia:

During Monday's debate, Obama accused Romney of having a foreign policy that is stuck in the 1980s, saying: "A few months ago, when you were asked what's the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia." While Romney has said this, he soon after followed the comment with an assurance that Iran is truly "the greatest threat."

In a March interview with CNN, Romney said, "Russia, this is, without question, our No. 1 geopolitical foe." When pressed, however, Romney conceded that "Of course, the greatest threat that the world faces is a nuclear Iran. A nuclear North Korea is already troubling enough." As a result, Politifact has ruled Romney calling Russia our No. 1 enemy as "mostly true." Since that interview, Romney has repeatedly commented on Russia being a geopolitical adversary. But during the debate on Monday, Romney countered Obama's claims that his foreign policy is stuck in the '80s. "I have clear eyes, no rose-colored glasses," he said.

Romney on Massachusetts college scholarships:

Romney described the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship program in Massachusetts as an example of his concern for promoting education. He accurately explained that the scholarship covered full in-state tuition for Massachusetts students who score in the top 25 percent on standardized tests in their school districts. What he left out was that the scholarship doesn't cover fees, which in the Massachusetts state university system are greater than tuition. At the flagship University of Massachusetts (Amherst), one semester of in-state tuition is $857. Fees each semester, meanwhile, can total more than $5,700. And that doesn't include one-time fees.

Obama and Romney on Status of Forces agreement:

Obama denied he tried to reach a Status of Forces agreement with Iraq that would have left more troops there. His Pentagon did try to reach such a deal, but it broke down over Iraqi insistence that troops be subject to Iraqi justice. According to Time, President George W. Bush signed the Status of Forces agreement that called for complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by 2012 unless a new agreement was signed. notes that Obama wanted to leave several thousand troops in Iraq, but the Iraqis would have none of it. Romney strongly criticized the Status of Forces agreement with the Iraqi government, saying at a roundtable discussion in November 2011, "It is my view that the withdrawal of all of our troops from Iraq by the end of this year is an enormous mistake." Romney told Fox News that Obama should have left "10-, 20- 30 thousand personnel there."

Romney and Obama on Syria:

Romney said Obama should have coordinated Syrian opposition and formed a "council of some kind." The administration did help to form just that, the Syrian National Council, although it has been somewhat hapless in coordinating the various Syrian rebel factions.

Obama and Romney on Bush economic policies:

Obama said Romney had praised President George W. Bush's economic policies. In March, Romney did credit Bush, not Obama, with avoiding a depression. "I keep hearing the president [Obama] say that he's responsible for keeping America from going into a Great Depression," Romney said at a campaign event in Maryland. "No, no, no. That was President George W. Bush and [then Treasury Secretary] Hank Paulson that stepped in and kept that from happening."

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Romney on Obama's 'promise' to bring down unemployment:

Romney's claim that Obama promised to bring unemployment down to 5.4 percent by the fall of 2012 stretches the truth. "The president said by now we would be at 5.4 percent unemployment," Romney said. Romney gets the number from a 2009 report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers, which forecast that unemployment would drop to 5.4 percent by the third quarter of 2012 if the stimulus package were passed, has reported. The president himself never made this claim. And the report itself "was highly speculative," Factcheck reports. It was a forecast, not a promise, and it underestimated the size of the hole in the economy.

Obama on Romney's record on job creation:

The Obama campaign has frequently rolled out the statistic that Massachusetts ranked 47th out of 50 states in job creation under Romney's watch. Obama mangled the talking point slightly in the debate, saying, "In Massachusetts, small-business development ranked about 48th out of 50 states" under Romney. Obama's debate-night claim appeared to confuse employment statistics with small-business development. Under Romney, Massachusetts did indeed rank 47th out of 50 states in job growth, according to Politifact. But Romney inherited a poor jobs picture, and job growth occurred under his tenure. And in any case, there's not a whole lot that state governors can do to change the overall economic picture, Politifact has noted, which means it's hard to pin all the blame for Massachusetts' jobs numbers on Romney.

Obama on military spending:

Obama accurately said that the United States spends more on defense than any other nation. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Yearbook 2012, U.S. defense spending dwarfs that of the rest of the world, including four of the top five largest military spenders: China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and France. Obama also added accurately that spending has gone up every year since he has been in office. But U.S. defense spending has surged in all the years since 9/11, and spending itself isn't necessarily an indicator of effectiveness.

Romney on Obama's 'apology tour':

Romney's well-worn accusation that Obama began his presidency with an "apology tour" won a "Pants-on-fire" rating from Politifact. The definition of apology is somewhat subjective. For example, in a 2009 speech in France, Obama said, "There have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive." But Politifact asserts that while Obama criticized some U.S. actions, he "did not offer one apology." That verdict was echoed by and The Washington Post's Fact Checker.

Romney on Obama saying he would meet with 'world's worst actors':

Romney revived a 2008 criticism of Obama when he accused Obama of saying "he would meet with all the world's worst actors in his first year," including Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. During the summer of 2007, then-Sen. Obama was asked at a CNN/YouTube debate if he would be willing to meet "without precondition" the leaders of "Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea." Obama responded: "I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them--which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration--is ridiculous." The 2008 Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, slammed Obama over the remark later in the campaign.

Obama on Romney's statements on auto industry:

Obama accused Romney of wanting to "liquidate" the auto industry. Obama has repeatedly said Romney would have "let Detroit go bankrupt" when the auto companies were in crisis in 2009. Politifact has rated this claim as half-true. It's a matter of nuance: In a 2008 New York Times op-ed, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" (a headline he did not write), Romney suggested a "managed bankruptcy" for the auto industry. He emphasized in TV interviews that he was not advocating liquidation and that he was opposing government bailouts with no strings attached. He did not define "managed bankruptcy" in the op-ed, but he listed a string of desired outcomes, including new labor agreements, new management, and an end to such executive perks as corporate jets. Most of Romney's desired outcomes did eventually occur, which may have led him to suggest in the last debate that Obama essentially did what he would have done.

Obama on Romney helping to outsource jobs:

The Obama campaign's perennial claim that Romney helped other companies outsource jobs has been questioned by independent fact checkers. While the private-equity company Romney founded, Bain Capital, did invest in companies that helped other companies outsource jobs, many examples of outsourcing that the Obama campaign has linked to Romney took place while Romney was on leave and running the Salt Lake City Olympics, according to Director Brooks Jackson. Romney may have remained the titular head of Bain during that period, but there's little evidence that he was actively involved in management decisions, Jackson said.

Obama on doubling of U.S. exports to China:

Obama was slightly off when he said that exports to China have doubled since he came into office. U.S. exports to China last year rose above $100 billion for the first time, according to a report by the U.S. China Business Council. The report also shows that total U.S. exports to China rose to $103.9 billion in 2011 from $16.2 billion in 2000, making China the third-largest U.S. export market. Ten states have at least doubled their exports to China since 2009. Three of those states--South Carolina, South Dakota, and Vermont--have more than tripled their exports to China in the past two years. But the U.S. as a whole has not yet doubled its exports to the country. In 2009, U.S. exports to China were at $69.5 billion. In 2011, U.S. exports to China were at $103.9 billion.

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