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February 22, 2012

Pity the Fact-Checkers
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

I would say the just-completed GOP debate set a new record for mendaciousness in its Iran/Syria phase, but that record's been falling a lot lately. But I took away five developments -- and in lieu of drinking games consumed quite a bit of cough syrup.

1. The GOP has discovered women in combat. none of the candidates would come right out and oppose this and Gingrich said, quite rightly, that servicemembers are in danger everywhere now in an age of total warfare. This is a remarkable turnabout from just 2 years ago -- I'm looking forward to analysts of the GOP women's vote to explain it.

2. Gingrich thinks you can question the judgment of a wartime Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on national tv, and get away with it.  He ridiculed General Dempsey for saying that Iranian President Ahmadinejad is a rational actor (a view shared by the CIA, among others) and dismissed Dempsey's opposition to an Israeli strike.  Now, thought experiment -- if candidate Obama, or Clinton, or Edwards had ever said something so negative about the senior uniformed American on national tv, what would have happened the next day? An outcry of editorial writers urging him/her to apologize and/or get out of the race. Donations drying up. Protests from the VFW. So, can you get away with it if you're a Republican?

3. Looks like no one really cares about the Syrian people. Fascinating to see how every candidate turned the Syria question to Iran, with scarcely a word for the terrible travails of Syrian civilians on behalf of the same "freedom" these candidates are always on about. Of course, if you don't favor military intervention or arms deals, that leaves you with... the UN. Never mind.

4. Looks like no one cares much about gas prices either. Mitt Romney was shockingly quick to pivot away from the real effects of a gas price rise to the still-hypothetical effects of a still-hypothetical military strike on a still-hypothetical Iranian nuclear weapon (note, the program is not hypothetical, it's real, but it hasn't produced a weapon, or anywhere near it). One could have a serious debate about how much volatility in gas prices, for how long, would be worth it to produce what concrete increase in regional stability/security. One would have to look elsewhere to have it, however.

5. Did I say mendacious? The candidates:

  • repeated oft-debunked critiques of alliance management;
  • mistakenly claimed that Obama "got nothing" for missile defense change of plans (what we got: 1) a system that actually works 2) Russian coop on Iran in 09-10 and overflights for Afghanistan)
  • misstated Admin positions on the 2009 Iranian Green Revolution, and on support for Syrian opposition and demanding Assad step down
  • claimed that Obama opened a new embassy in Syria, when in fact he sent a new ambassador who was widely praised for toughness on Assad;
  • said that Admin wasn't considering military options for Iran, when Panetta has said publicly at least twice (once to Jewish group and once to Wall Street Journal) that Pentagon was drawing up plans.

Profoundly grateful not to be a fact-checker tonight.

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