Huffpost Politics

AP's Debate Factcheck: Kissinger, Ahmadinejad, And More

Posted: Updated:

WASHINGTON — Some facts got lost when Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain confronted each other over the financial crisis, Iraq, the oil industry and more in the first presidential debate of the 2008 general election.

Here are examples:

OBAMA: "Senator McCain mentioned Henry Kissinger, who is one of his advisers, who along with five recent secretaries of state just said we should meet with Iran _ guess what? _ without preconditions."

MCCAIN: "Dr. Kissinger did not say that he would approve face-to-face meetings between the president of the United States and (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad. He did not say that. He said there could be secretary-level and lower-level meetings. I've always encouraged that."

THE FACTS: Obama was right that Kissinger called for meetings without preconditions. McCain was right that Kissinger did not call for such meetings to be between the two presidents.

In a foreign policy forum Saturday, Kissinger said: "I am in favor of negotiating with Iran." He went on to say "I actually have preferred doing it at the secretary of state level" and the U.S. should go into the talks with "a clear understanding of what is it we're trying to prevent. What is it going to do if we can't achieve what we're talking about? But I do not believe that we can make conditions for the opening of negotiations. We ought, however, to be very clear about the content of negotiations and work it out with other countries and with our own government."

OBAMA: "John, you want to give oil companies another $4 billion" in tax breaks.

THE FACTS: The $4 billion in tax breaks for the oil companies is simply part of McCain's overall corporate tax reduction plan and does not represent an additional tax benefit. In other words, the corporate tax reduction applies to all corporations, oil companies included. Both Obama and McCain have proposed eliminating oil and gas tax loopholes.

MCCAIN: "I've been criticized because I called for the resignation of the chairman of the Securities and Exchange commission."

THE FACT: McCain did eventually call for the resignation of SEC Chairman Christopher Cox. But he first said that if he were president he would fire him, a step a president cannot take with the head of an independent regulatory agency. This is what McCain said on Sept. 18 during a rally in Iowa: "The chairman of the SEC serves at the appointment of the president and, in my view, has betrayed the public's trust. If I were president today, I would fire him."

OBAMA: Said he would make sure that the health care system "allows everyone to have basic coverage."

THE FACTS: If that sounds like universal health coverage, it's not. Obama picked his words carefully _ stopping short of claiming outright that his plan provides health care for all. He promises to make health insurance affordable but would only require that children have coverage, not adults. Estimates of how many would remain without insurance vary. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said during the primaries that Obama's plan would leave 15 million people uninsured.

MCCAIN: "We had an energy bill before the United States Senate. It was festooned with Christmas tree ornaments. It had all kinds of breaks for the oil companies, I mean, billions of dollars worth. I voted against it; Senator Obama voted for it."

THE FACTS: Obama did vote for a 2005 energy bill supported by President Bush that included billions in subsidies for oil and natural gas production. McCain opposed the bill on grounds it included unnecessary tax breaks for the oil industry. Obama voted to strip the legislation of the oil and gas industry tax breaks. When that failed, he voted for the overall measure. Obama has said he supported the legislation because it provided money for renewable energy.

OBAMA: "We're also going to have to look at, how is it that we shredded so many regulations? We did not set up a 21st-century regulatory framework to deal with these problems. And that in part has to do with an economic philosophy that says that regulation is always bad."

THE FACTS: Some of the abuses that occurred stemmed from the 1999 repeal of a Depression-era law that separated banks from brokerages. In legislation supported by former President Clinton and Robert Rubin, now a top Obama adviser and Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, this separation was ended _ allowing banks and insurance companies to sell securities.

But while regular banks were strictly regulated by the government, Wall Street banks and other non-bank institutions _ many of the same institutions whose abuses led to the current crisis _ were allowed to operate with less regulation.

MCCAIN: McCain said Obama voted to cut off money for the troops in Iraq.

THE FACTS: Despite opposing the war, Obama has, with one exception, voted for Iraq troop financing. In 2007, he voted against a troop funding bill because it did not contain language calling for a troop withdrawal. The Illinois senator backed another bill that had such language _ and money for the troops.

MCCAIN: In a discussion of how the government could shrink spending, he said: "Look, we are sending $700 billion a year overseas to countries that don't like us very much."

The comment echoes one he made in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention earlier this month, when he was talking about money the U.S. spends on foreign oil. FactCheck.org says the U.S. this year is on track to spend $536 billion on imported oil _ not $700 billion _ and nearly one-third of that comes from friendly nations: Canada, Mexico and Britain.

MCCAIN: "Senator Obama twice said in debates he would sit down with Ahmadinejad, (Venezuelan President Hugo) Chavez and (Cuban President) Raul Castro without precondition."

OBAMA: "Now, understand what this means, 'without preconditions.' It doesn't mean that you invite them over for tea one day. ... There's a difference between preconditions and preparation. Of course we've got to do preparations, starting with low-level diplomatic talks, and it may not work, because Iran is a rogue regime."

THE FACTS: Obama was asked in a July 2007 debate whether he would be willing to meet "without precondition" with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Cuba and other rogue nations. Obama replied, "I would," adding that it was ridiculous to think that America is punishing such nations by refusing to speak with them. Time and again since then he has been forced to defend the statement, both by Democrats during the primaries and by Republicans.

Obama has tried to draw a distinction between a precondition and preparation. He has argued that he wouldn't demand that a foreign leader give in on some fundamental issue before the two sides met to discuss the dispute. But he has said "preparations" would require diplomatic contacts to gauge whether a formal meeting would be useful and to lay the groundwork for those talks

MCCAIN: Defending his call for Cox's resignation, McCain said the country has lost the sense of accountability exemplified by Allied commander Dwight Eisenhower on the eve of D-Day. He said Eisenhower wrote one letter to be released in the event of victory, which praised the troops, "and he wrote out another letter, and that was a letter of resignation from the United States Army for the failure of the landings at Normandy."

THE FACTS: Eisenhower prepared to take responsibility in the note to be delivered in the event of D-Day disaster but did not offer to resign.

The full text:

"Our landings in the Cherbourg-Le Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone."

___

Associated Press Writers Tom Raum, Lolita Baldor and Anne Gearan contributed to this report.