The Slatest

Fact-Checking the Foreign-Policy Debate

Donald Trump looks on as Ben Carson speaks during the debates at the Reagan Library on September 16, 2015 in Simi Valley, California. 

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

On Wednesday night, we walked through some of the faulty, misleading, or just plain untrue claims made by GOP candidates about Iran in the CNN primary debate. But there were a lot of other foreign policy statements by Republican candidates during Wednesday’s debates and a whole lot more things that they got just plain wrong. Here is a brief list of the many wrong things we were able to spot.

Donald Trump

What he said: “Mexico and almost every other country anywhere in the world doesn’t have [birthright citizenship]. We’re the only ones dumb enough, stupid enough to have it.”

What he got wrong: About 33 countries, including nearly every single one in the Western Hemisphere, grant at least some form of birthright citizenship according to Numbers USA, a group that favors reduced immigration to the U.S. The Mexican constitution grants nationality to anyone born on Mexican territory, regardless of the nationality of his or her parents. Mexican law distinguishes between nationality and citizenship, and technically you’re not a “citizen” until you turn 18. But, in practice, the policies of the two countries are nearly identical.

What he said: “Think of this: we’re fighting ISIS. ISIS wants to fight Syria. Why are we fighting ISIS in Syria? Let them fight each other and [let’s] pick up the remnants.”

What he got wrong: Not shockingly, it’s a little more complicated than that. First of all, the U.S. government has alleged that the Syrian regime has aided ISIS, or at the very least has focused its attention primarily on western-backed rebel groups, allowing the Islamic State to spread, putting additional pressure on his opponents. ISIS also isn’t just fighting in Syria. Its fighting U.S. backed forces in Iraq and its affiliates have carried out attacks in Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere. Undoubtedly, it’s hard to pick out clear-cut good guys in the conflict, but the various sides of the war have been fighting each other for five years and the result has been the worst humanitarian catastrophe of this century without achieving Trump’s purported aim.

Carly Fiorina

What she said: (On the subject of Obama’s foreign policy failures) “We could also, to Senator Rubio’s point, give the Egyptians what they’ve asked for, which is intelligence. We could give the Jordanians what they’ve asked for, bombs and materiel. We have not supplied it. We could arm the Kurds. They’ve been asking us for three years.”

What She Got Wrong: Fiorina has used versions of this message before and its worth going through line by line. The U.S. had frozen military aid to Egypt—the second largest recipient of such aid after Israel—a few months after the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi, but resumed it in March. Even during the freeze, the head of Egypt’s intelligence agency told the Washington Post’s David Ignatius that there had been “no change” in his friendly relationship with U.S. spy agencies.

On Jordan, the Obama administration  agreed last year to increase annual economic and military aid from $660 million to $1 billion over the next three years. It was reported in February that the U.S. was expediting plans to supply Jordan with munitions including precision-guided arms following an appeal from King Abdullah. It is true, though, that Jordan has been denied licenses to buy certain systems, such as armed drones.

As for the Kurds, critics of this policy usually qualify it, as Fiorina didn’t, by saying the U.S. hasn’t “directly” supplied them arms. The U.S. has sent weapons to Kurdish forces, but the Kurdish Regional Government is not a sovereign state. That means that under U.S. law, all weapons systems have to go through Baghdad. The Kurds say this effectively gives the central government, which is hostile toward Kurdish aspirations for independence, has led to delays and shortages of much needed arms. Secretary of State John Kerry has invited congress to change that law, but an amendment to do so failed in the Senate in June.

John Kasich

What he said: “We have a Holocaust memorial on our state house grounds. And there is one line on there that stands out all the time. ‘If you’ve saved one life, you’ve changed the world.’”

What he got wrong: It may stand out all the time but Kasich doesn’t remember it correctly. The quote from the Talmud, also featured in a memorable scene in the movie Schindler’s List, is translated on the Ohio statehouse’s memorial as “If you save one life, it is as if you saved the world.” Not too far off, but the meaning is not quite the same and the misquote is a little odd given the emphasis he placed on the line in his closing statement.

Marco Rubio

What he said: (On his vote against authorizing military force against Syria in 2013.) “Let’s remember what the president said. He said the attack he would conduct would be a pinprick. Well, the United States military was not build to conduct pinprick attacks.”

What he got wrong: Actually, Obama said the exact opposite of that. In a televised address on Sept. 10, 2013 he said, “Let me make something clear: The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks.” (In fairness to Rubio, it’s true that he was proposing a limited air operation in response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons, one that Kerry said would be “unbelievably small.”) But, whether Obama or Rubio says it, the pinprick argument doesn’t make much sense. From Ronald Reagan’s one-day airstrikes against Muammar al-Qaddafi’s regime in Libya in 1986 to the Seal Team Six raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound, the U.S. military has plenty of experience carrying out limited, small-scale operations.

What he said: (On climate change.) “America is not a planet. And we are not even the largest carbon producer anymore, China is. And they’re drilling a hole and digging anywhere in the world that they can get a hold of.”

What he got wrong: It’s true that China is now the world’s largest carbon emitter—though the U.S. is much higher per capita—but China has already started reducing the amount of coal it burns, which experts say is a major reason why global emissions growth stalled last year .

Ben Carson

What he said: (On how he would have responded to 9/11 instead of invading Afghanistan.) “Declare that within five to 10 years we will become petroleum independent. The moderate Arab states would have been so concerned about that, they would have turned over Osama bin Laden and anybody else you wanted on a silver platter within two weeks.”

What he got wrong: This makes no sense at all. Al-Qaida, since its inception, has been dedicated to the destruction of “moderate” U.S.-backed Arab governments. Bin Laden was hiding in Afghanistan and then Pakistan, neither of which are Arab countries and neither of which are significant oil exporters.

In other stuff the Republicans got wrong in Wednesday’s debates: Rick Santorum said that Supreme Court doesn’t get to interpret laws; Mike Huckabee incorrectly said the Ft. Hood got a religious accommodation to shave his beard; Carly Fiorina seemed to invent a grisly and inaccurate description of the Planned Parenthood sting videos; Marco Rubio got nearly everything wrong about climate change; Chris Christie cited a faulty report to claim that social security was going insolvent very soon; Carly Fiorina wrongly said that most inmates are locked up for non-violent drug crimes; Donald Trump said some horrible things about vaccinations; and finally, Jeb Bush seemed to forget that 9/11 was not an example of the America being kept safe.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the GOP primary.