Fact Checking the Final Presidential Debate

Sorting through the facts on everything from Russia to the Detroit auto bailout.

ByABC News
October 22, 2012, 11:46 PM

Oct. 23, 2012 -- intro: ABC News' team of reporters and producers fact check the final presidential debate, which was held at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., and focused on foreign policy. (Click HERE for the full debate transcript and ABC News' debate analysis)

quicklist: 1Title: Romney's Education Record in MassachusettsText: ROMNEY: While I was governor, I was proud that our fourth graders came out number one of all states in English. And then also in math. And our eighth graders, number one in English, and also in math. First time one state had been number one in all four measures. How do we do that? Well, Republicans and Democrats came together on a bipartisan basis to put in place education principles that focused on having great teachers in the class room. [OBAMA: Ten years earlier]. And that was what allowed us to become the number one state in the nation. [OBAMA: But that was 10 years before you took office and then you cut education when you came into office]. The first - and we kept our schools number one in the nation, they're still number one today. And the principles that we put into place, we also gave kids not just a graduation exam that determined whether they were up to the skills needed to be able to compete, but also if they graduated in the top quarter of their class, they got a four-year tuition free ride at any Massachusetts public institution of higher learning.

OBAMA: That happened before you came into office, Governor.

ROMNEY: No, that was actually mine, Mr. President. You got that fact wrong.

ABC News' John R. Parkinson and Jason Ryan report:

Romney served as governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007. It is true that Massachusetts led these areas in math and English scores for the National Assessment of Educational Progress during different periods of Romney's tenure as governor. The scores remain above the national average.

So how much did Romney have to do with these numbers? When Obama says these achievements were the result of reforms that happened 10 years before Romney took office, he is referencing a 1993 state law that led to the creation of the state accountability system, which became the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. It also authorized charter schools and invested more money in local school districts with the goal of improving standards for Massachusetts students, and it apparently worked. Trends show statewide results improved in the years leading into Romney's term but did not reach the top of the rankings until Romney took office as governor. Here is a table from the National Center for Education Statistics showing data from 1990 to 2011.

quicklist: 2Title: Is the Navy Shrinking?Text: ROMNEY: Our Navy is old - excuse me, 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 under 285. We're headed down to the low 200s if we go through a sequestration. That's unacceptable to me.

The Washington Post gave this claim three Pinocchios.

ABC News' Luis Martinez has the facts:

There are currently 285 ships in the Navy's fleet.

A report by Naval History and Heritage Command provides a look at the decrease in the number of Navy ships over the past 50 years since the peak during World War II.

According to this study in 1917 the U.S. Navy had 245 ships. From that date on until 2003 the Navy maintained more than 300 ships in the fleet. The number of ships in the fleet fell to its lowest point in 2006 when there were 278 ships in the fleet. Since then the number of ships has increased to the current 285.

Beginning in 2011 the U.S. Navy began adding two new submarines a year instead of the one a year it had been buying. The Navy is expected to add two Virginia Class attack submarines a year through fiscal year 2016. Romney aides have said he would like to see three new Virginia attack submarines added per year.

Obama replied:

"But I think Gov. Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works. 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 ships. It's what are our capabilities. And so when I sit down with the Secretary of the Navy and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we determine how are we going to be best able to meet all of our defense needs in a way that also keeps faith with our troops, that also makes sure that our veterans have the kind of support that they need when they come home."

"And that is not reflected in the kind of budget that you're putting forward because it just doesn't work."

And ABC News' Luis Martinez adds that yes, the U.S. military - both the Army and Marines still use bayonets.

quicklist: 3Title: Did Obama Embark on an International Apology Tour in 2009?Text: ROMNEY: "The president began what I've 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."

ABC News' Matthew Larotonda has the facts:

Independent fact check organizations have poured over the rhetoric of diplomatic apologies repeatedly during this election, and the results have been mostly in opposition. Most recently the governor has brought it into reference of the administration's response to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya.

Further back, the idea of an Obama " apology tour" has been a recurring attack for conservatives for a long time and has its roots in diplomatic travel the president undertook in 2009 shortly after taking office. Romney himself first took up the phrase in 2010 with his book, "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness," and has repeated the theme continuously on the campaign trail.

"In his first nine months in office, President Obama has issued apologies and criticisms of America in speeches in France, England, Turkey, and Cairo; at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and the United Nations in New York City," the book reads in its first chapter.

President Obama never formally regrets American policy during these speeches, rather taking a tone of reciprocal blame at times for diplomatic ties that may have been strained. At other times the president is drawing a distinction between his policies and those of his predecessor, President George W. Bush.

During the 2009 Cairo speech for example, Obama comes close to regretting American actions in Iran during the overthrow of the Shah. But he immediately counters by pointing the finger at subsequent regimes for continued hostility.

"In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government," he said. "Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known."

On his first visit to France, Obama again seemed to take responsibility for declining attitudes toward Americans abroad, for policies that have shown "arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive." But on the flip side he immediately derided Europeans for "casual" and "insidious" anti-Americanism.

"On both sides of the Atlantic these attitudes have become all too common," he said. "They are not wise. They do not represent the truth. They threaten to widen the divide across the Atlantic and leave us more isolated."

All of these remarks fall short of formally apologizing for American diplomacy, but some of the president's most conciliatory remarks have come regarding the detainees of Guantanamo Bay. At the 2009 National Archives speech on terrorism, Obama said the military prison's use was "based on fear than foresight," and that "it likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained."

quicklist: 4title: Was Obama Silent During Iran's Green Revolution?text: ROMNEY: 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.

ABC News' Dana Hughes, Sarah Parnass and Serena Marshall have the facts:

Romney has repeatedly accused President Obama of sitting on the sidelines during the protests in Iran that followed a disputed presidential election on June 12, 2009.

But the president was not entirely silent. Three days after the election, Obama said in a press avail:

"I want to start off by being very clear that it is up to Iranians to make decisions about who Iran's leaders will be; that we respect Iranian sovereignty and want to avoid the United States being the issue inside of Iran, which sometimes the United States can be a handy political football -- or discussions with the United States.

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.My understanding is, is that the Iranian government says that they are going to look into irregularities that have taken place. We weren't on the ground, we did not have observers there, we did not have international observers on hand, so I can't state definitively one way or another what happened with respect to the election."It wasn't until 8 days later when Obama held a press conference on June 23, 2009 that he strongly spoke out:"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. I've made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not interfering with Iran's affairs. But we must also bear witness to the courage and the dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore the violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place."Secretary Clinton clarified the Obama Administration's actions in an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria on Aug. 9, 2009.

Clinton said that the Obama administration was trying to balance leaving the revolution in the hands of the protesters with intervening behind the scenes.

"We knew that, if we stepped in too soon, too hard, the attention might very well shift and the leadership would try to use us to unify the country against the protesters," Clinton said. "Now, behind the scenes, we were doing a lot, as you know. One of our young people in the State Department got twittered, you know, 'Keep going,' despite the fact that they had planned for a technical shutdown. So, we were doing a lot to really empower the protesters without getting in the way. And we're continuing to speak out and support the opposition."

The request by the member of the State Department that Clinton referenced spurred criticism for the administration. Technology and social movement researcher Evgeny Morozov wrote in his book, "The Net Delusion," that because of this incident, Iranian officials came to see the Internet as a way for the West to infiltrate Iran and may have led to the arrests of Iranian bloggers.

quicklist: 5title: Romney's Recommendations on Libyatext: OBAMA: To the governor's credit you supported us going into Libya and the coalition that we organized but when it came time to making sure that Kaddafi didn't stay in power, that he was captured, Governor, your suggestion was that this was mission creep, that this was mission muddle. Imagine if we had pulled out at that time.

ABC News' Serena Marshall and Chris Good have the facts:

Obama is referring to Romney's op-ed titled "Mission Middle" posted at Nationalreview.com on April 21. He wrote that he had supported President Obama's "specific, limited mission," which he said the president had defined "as humanitarian: We would enforce a no-fly zone to prevent Libyan forces from bombing civilians. I support that."

But noting that President Obama had joined UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in an op-ed that said "to succeed, Qaddafi must go and go for good," Romney attacked the president, saying, "It is apparent that our military is engaged in much more than enforcing a no-fly zone. What we are watching in real time is another example of mission creep and mission muddle."

Later, after Qaddafi's death Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom said: "Mitt Romney supported the initial humanitarian mission-as articulated by President Obama-to enforce a no-fly zone. As the mission went on, however, it became clear that President Obama had no idea about his intentions in Libya and that's when Mitt warned against mission muddle and mission creep. The fall from power and subsequent death of Qaddafi brings to end a brutal chapter in Libya's history-but that does not validate the president's approach to Libya. The credit goes to the people of Libya."

Romney supported involvement, but he criticized the multilateral approach in a March 21, 2011 interview with Hugh Hewitt, saying "we're following the French into Libya" and suggesting Obama delegated U.S. foreign policy to the U.N.HH: What is your reaction to President Obama's announcement of air strikes on Libya?

MR: Well, first, I support military action in Libya. I support our troops there and the mission that they've been given. But let me also note that thus far, the president has been unable to construct a foreign policy, any foreign policy. I think it's fair to ask, you know, what is it that explains the absence of any discernable foreign policy from the president of the United States? And I believe that it flows from his fundamental disbelief in American exceptionalism. In the president's world, all nations have common interests, the lines between good and evil are blurred, America's history merits apology. And without a compass to guide him in our increasingly turbulent world, he's tentative, indecisive, timid and nuanced. And as a result, I think, he says, for instance, he's committed to our success in Afghanistan unless it means commitment beyond 2011. He stands with our ally, Israel, but condemns its settlement policy even more forcefully than he condemns Hamas' rockets. And he calls for the removal of Muammar Qaddafi, but then conditions our action on the directions we get from the Arab League and the United Nations.

quicklist: 6title: Did Romney Say We Should Still Have Troops in Iraq?text: OBAMA: 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 have not been in a position to actually execute foreign policy, but every time you have offered an opinion you have been wrong.

ABC News' Luis Martinez has the facts:

It is true that Mitt Romney was critical of President Obama's decision to pull combat troops out of Iraq. And on Oct. 8th, during a foreign policy speech he delivered at the Virginia Military Institute, Romney said the pullout from Iraq was too abrupt.

"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. The president tried - and failed - to secure a responsible and gradual drawdown that would have better secured our gains," Romney said at VMI.

Read the transcript of Romney's VMI speech.

Romney's speech does not specifically say he would prefer to still have American combat troops still in Iraq. But it does clearly imply the president's pullout was too fast.He was critical of the president while the pullout was occurring too. At a Nov. 11, 2011, roundtable meeting with veterans in South Carolina, Romney criticized the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq was a mistake.

"You probably know that it is my view that the withdrawal of all of our troops from Iraq by the end of this year is an enormous mistake and a failing by the Obama administration. Secretary Panetta and others had indicated they were working to put in place a Status of Forces Agreement to maintain our presence there, so that we could most effectively transition to the Iraqi military and Iraqi security forces providing security for their country," Romney said.

"The precipitous withdrawal is unfortunate. It's more than unfortunate. I think it's tragic. It puts at risk many of the victories that were hard-won by the men and women who have served there. I hope the risk is not realized. I hope instead that the Iraqis are able to pick up the baton, and despite the fact that we will have walked away on a too-rapid basis."

It is also true that the Obama administration actually wanted to keep troops in the country for a while longer.

In October the talks between the U.S. and Iraq intended to extend the U.S. military presence in Iraq beyond the pullout date of December 2011 collapsed. President Obama announced that all U.S. troops would pull out by the end of 2011. Gen. Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee on December 15, 2011 that the U.S. was seeking to keep 3,000 American troops beyond the pullout date. He said that the proposals had originally started with keeping 16,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and then was revised downward to 10,000. Dempsey told Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that no U.S. military commander had recommended a complete U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

The last combat troops left Iraq in December of 2011. Read more about the pullout here.

How many troops would Romney have kept in Iraq if the talks with that country had been successful?

According to the Mother Jones transcript of the video of his secret May 17 "47 percent" speech Romney said:

"And the American people are not concentrated at all on China, on Russia, Iran, Iraq. This president's failure to put in place a status forces agreement allowing 10,000-20,000 troops to stay in Iraq? Unthinkable!"

This number is consistent with what Romney said back in December 2011 on an appearance on "Fox and Friends." Romney said he would have sought a deal that would have kept between 10 and 30,000 US troops in Iraq beyond 2011.

"Well, first of all if I were president, I would have carried out the status of forces agreement that was long anticipated that actually Secretary Panetta, President Obama, Secretary of Defense indicated he wanted to have as well, which would have allowed to us have somewhere between 10 and 30,000 troops in Iraq," Romney said.

quicklist: 7title: Did Romney Say Russia is the Top 'Geopolitical Foe' of the U.S.? text: ROMNEY: Russia, I indicated, is a geo-political foe not a --

OBAMA: Our number one geopolitical foe.

ROMNEY: Excuse me. It's a geopolitical foe and I said in the same paragraph and I said in the same paragraph and I said Iran is the greatest national security threat we face. Russia does continue to battle us in the UN time and time again. I have clear eyes on this. I'm not going to wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia or Mr. Putin and I'm certainly not going to say to him I'll give you more flexibility after the election. After the election he'll get more backbone.

ABC News' Kirit Radia predicted foreign policy towards Russia would be on the table tonight, and from the very beginning he was right.

Less than ten minutes into the debate, President Obama told Romney that the 1980s "want their foreign policy back," referencing Romney's earlier comment in an interview with CNN in March, where he called Russia the United States' "number one geopolitical foe."

Read more from Kirit here.

But Romney pointed out that though he named Russia as the top geo-political foe, he called Iran the largest security threat. That's correct.

"Well, I'm saying in terms of a geopolitical opponent, the nation that lines up with the world's worst actors," Romney said in reference to Russia on CNN on March 26. "Of course, the greatest threat that the world faces is a nuclear Iran. A nuclear North Korea is already troubling enough." Read the rest of the transcript from CNN here.

Compiled by ABC News' Z. Byron Wolf and Sarah Parnass