Another GOP presidential debate, another battle with facts

Ben Carson, left, and Ted Cruz, right, look on as Donald Trump speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas.
Ben Carson, left, and Ted Cruz, right, look on as Donald Trump speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. AP

The Republican presidential candidates negotiated a minefield of national security and foreign policy concerns and dilemmas in their latest debate Tuesday night.

But it was rocky terrain for many as they slid, slipped and suffered stubbed toes in their encounters with the facts.

Cruz and Syrian refugees

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas asserted that President Barack Obama wants to bring in “tens of thousands” of Syrian refugees. His administration began moving toward mass resettlement only after increased pressure from the European and Middle Eastern nations bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis.

The administration has pledged to admit at least 10,000 Syrians in the fiscal year that began in October. Advocacy groups called the figure a drop in the bucket compared with the millions of displaced Syrians seeking refuge. And these are not new cases: They’ll come from 18,000 cases already referred by the United Nations, which are at varying stages of the screening process. That typically takes around two years.

The fifth Republican debate of 2015 revealed friction between the candidates and highlighted their priorities around issues of protecting America against threats both at home and abroad, including ISIS, the Internet, and immigration.

Rubio and U.S. allies

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s claim that U.S. allies have lost trust in the United States is vague. Certainly, U.S. allies such as France, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have made clear their displeasure with Obama’s policy toward Syria, but they are still part of the U.S.-led coalition to fight the Islamic State and cooperate closely on a number of other counterterrorism and diplomatic initiatives.

Trump and the nuclear deal with Iran

Donald Trump called the nuclear deal forged among Iran, the United States and five other world powers “disgusting” and complained that the Tehran government would “get $150 billion.”

According to Politifact.com, Iran does gain significantly under the nuclear deal, but the $150 billion figure is the “dollar value of Iran’s foreign assets that the U.S can unfreeze” as part of the pact.

Rubio and defense cuts

Rubio lamented the declining strength in force and funding of the Navy and the Air Force. That looked past the fact that he and two other candidates on the stage – Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz – were in office when Republicans signed off in recent years on the so-called budget sequester, which slashed government spending across the board to reduce debt and deficits.

The Budget Control Act of 2011 called for automatic across-the-board spending cuts, beginning in 2013, as a disincentive. They would occur only if lawmakers couldn’t find their own compromise on cuts. They didn’t.

In Feb. 26, 2015, testimony before Congress, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus warned that three years of sequestration have meant a ”continued decline of our relative warfighting advantages in many areas.” Rubio and Paul were in the Senate when the Budget Control Act passed. Cruz was elected in 2012 but has been in office for three “sequester” budgets.

Fiorina and Obama’s generals

Former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina said she would bring back a series of knowledgeable retired generals, including David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, who she said retired early because they told Obama things he didn’t want to hear.

Obama accepted McChrystal’s resignation in 2010 after he and his aides mocked civilian government officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, in an article in Rolling Stone magazine. McChrystal was not directly critical of the president or the president’s policies.

Petraeus retired from the military to become CIA director after he was passed up for the job as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or chief of staff of the Army, as many had expected. (He later resigned from his position at the CIA after his extramarital affair became public.)

Fiorina and Putin

Fiorina said she “knows” Russian President Vladimir Putin. It’s not the first time she has made that claim in a debate or on the stump. Fiorina did meet the Russian leader before the two spoke at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation CEO Summit in China in 2001, according to Factcheck.org. The two met for 45 minutes, according to the Daily Beast.

Cruz and ‘radical Islamic terrorism’

Cruz accused Obama of not uttering the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism.” It’s a frequent criticism of the president by Republicans, who say it’s emblematic of his alleged failure to understand the real threat to the United States.

“America is at war,” Cruz said. “Our enemy is not violent extremism. It is not some unnamed malevolent force. It is radical Islamic terrorism. We have a president who is unwilling to utter its name.”

This has been rated true by the fact-checking website Politifact, which says Obama tends to use the acronym ISIL for the Islamic State and calls its members “thugs” and “killers.” The president has said he does this to isolate the group. Earlier this year, Obama said its members were “desperate for legitimacy.”

“They try to portray themselves as religious leaders – holy warriors in defense of Islam,” Obama said during a summit on violent extremism Feb. 22. “That’s why ISIL presumes to declare itself the ‘Islamic State.’ And they propagate the notion that America – and the West, generally – is at war with Islam.”

Obama also likes to stress that the United States is “not at war with Islam,” similar to what former President George W. Bush said after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“This great nation of many religions understands our war is not against Islam or against faith practiced by the Muslim people. Our war is a war against evil,” Bush said in January 2002.

Data curated by InsideGov

Fiorina, the Internet and terrorism

Fiorina said she would ask Internet companies to monitor social media to protect against terrorists. But companies have already been asked to do that and say they already cooperate with law enforcement and that any messages that promote terrorism violate their usage rules, according to NPR.

Obama referred to the issue again in his speech to the nation Dec. 6: “I will urge high-tech and law enforcement leaders to make it harder for terrorists to use technology to escape from justice.”

Congress is also considering a proposal that would require companies to report knowledge of terrorist activities to the government. But one major problem is that companies often rely on users to flag possible inappropriate content, in part because of the amount of content they have. It’s true they could do more by using programs to identify images of terrorism, as they do with images of child pornography.

Fiorina, Hillary Clinton and Assad

Fiorina didn’t get it quite right when she said that Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, a former secretary of state, once called Syrian leader Bashad Assad a “positive reformer.” In fact, as this fact-checking site notes, Clinton’s real statement was more nuanced. She was asked about Assad in the early days of the revolt and said, “There is a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.”

So, Clinton did refer to Assad as a “reformer,” but she attributed the statement to legislators, not her own opinion.

Rubio and visas

Rubio attacked Cruz for calling for a “500 percent increase in H1B visas and doubling the number of green cards.”

Cruz has been a big booster of H1B visas, which give preferences to high-tech workers. He has proposed an increase in the base H1B cap from 65,000 to 325,000. Cruz has also proposed increasing the number of green cards awarded annually, to 1.35 million from 675,000.

However, Cruz recently did a complete about-face on H1B in his immigration plan and introduced a bill Dec. 10 with Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., designed to limit the H1B program, suspending it for 180 days, and protect American workers displaced by skilled foreign workers. He would also end birthright citizenship.

Cruz, Rubio and immigration

Cruz wrongly accused Rubio of supporting a 2013 immigration bill that would have allowed Obama to admit people with no background checks.

It’s true the bill would have made it easier for members of certain groups designated by the president to qualify as refugees. But they would still be subject to the same screening process before they could come to the U.S. That process is lengthy and involves numerous background checks.

Trump, ISIS and cellphones

Trump’s comments about beefing up immigration controls along the U.S. southern border included a claim that he’d keep out “tens of thousands of people having cellphones with ISIS flags on them.” He was apparently referring to a news report from earlier this week about Syrian refugees who entered Norway and were later found by authorities with pictures of ISIS flags on their cellphones.

The Norwegian government has not released official information about how many refugees allegedly had ISIS materials or photos on phones.

Christie and the king of Jordan

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie incorrectly referred to the king of Jordan as Hussein. King Hussein died in February 1999. His son, Abdullah II, is the current king of Jordan.

Paul and Iraqi refugees

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was correct in his comments about screening systems failing to raise red flags about two Iraqi refugees – Waad Ramadan Alwan and Mohanad Shareef Hammadi – who pleaded guilty in connection with a 2011 scheme to send cash and arms to al Qaida operatives in Iraq. The two men reportedly had been involved in insurgent attacks in Iraq before settling in Kentucky in 2009 through a U.S. resettlement program.

An AP report says, “Federal officials already had evidence of Alwan’s ties to the Iraq insurgency from a fingerprint on a roadside bomb found in 2005, but it didn’t stop him from entering the U.S. as a refugee four years later.”

The AP report notes that neither man was charged with plotting to launch attacks inside the U.S. and that none of their money or weapons ever made it to Iraq, because an FBI informant foiled the plan.

Hannah Allam, Anita Kumar, Kevin G. Hall, Javaria Khan, Anna Douglas, Sean Cockerham and Maria Recio contributed to this article.

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