AP: Facts in short supply in Obama speech

After Barack Obama’s second Oval Office speech of his term, the Associated Press decided to fact check it, a rather tough job considering the vague nature of the address. Still, the AP managed to deconstruct a number of Obama’s declarations in the speech, mainly but not entirely in the assumptions he presented for his arguments. When Obama turned to the economy for a brief and insubstantial interlude, for instance, he blamed the deficit on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which the AP points out didn’t keep Congress from nearly balancing the budget during the Bush years:

OBAMA:”Unfortunately, over the last decade, we have not done what is necessary to shore up the foundation of our own prosperity. We have spent over a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has shortchanged investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits.”

THE FACTS: This is partly true. For sure, the costly Iraq and Afghanistan wars have contributed to the nation’s budget deficit — but not by as much as Obama suggests. The current annual deficit is now an estimated $1.5 trillion. But as recently as 2007, the budget deficit was just $161.5 billion. And that was years after war expenses were in place for both the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.

Most of the current deficit is due to the longest recession since the 1930s. It has seriously depressed tax revenues while increasing costs to the government — including social safety-net programs such as unemployment insurance and spending by both the outgoing Bush and incoming Obama administrations on stimulus programs and on bailouts of banks and automakers.

Actually, the AP doesn’t quite get this one right, either. The deficits rose in part because of the recession and the drop in revenue to the federal government in caused, but only in small part. The main driver of budget deficits has been a 38% increase in federal spending from Democratic Congresses since they took power in January 2007.

They also disagree with the predicate for the entire speech:

OBAMA:”Tonight, I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended.”

THE FACTS: Peril remains for the tens of thousands of U.S. troops still in Iraq, who are likely if not certain to engage violent foes. Counterterrorism is chief among their continuing missions, pitting them against a lethal enemy. Several thousand special operations forces, including Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs, will continue to hunt and attempt to kill al-Qaida and other terrorist fighters — working closely with Iraqi forces. Obama said, “Of course, violence will not end with our combat mission,” while stopping short of a full accounting of the hazards ahead for U.S. troops.

This one should puzzle everyone. We still have combat troops in Iraq; they may not be in cities or taking the lead in security operations any longer, but the 50,000 troops that remain are not all logistics technicians by any stretch of the imagination. They will take part in operations that will go “hot,” and we will still take casualties from those operations on occasion. How will Obama square that with his claim that the combat mission is over? Wouldn’t it have been better to position this as a planned change in operations that shows Iraq able to direct and control its own security operations, with Americans ready to support them?

Part of politics is setting expectations, and Obama appears to have set this one to extremely unrealistic levels.

Finally, the AP notices the whiff of the flip-flop on the surge, and wonders why Obama didn’t bother to explain it:

Obama is reciting almost the exact language of the Bush administration’s rationale for the Iraq surge: to buy time and space for the Iraqis to reach political accommodations and to strengthen their own security forces. That’s quite a change from Obama’s stand as a presidential candidate, when he criticized it. Obama seems to be embracing the troop surge logic now, even though it’s clear that the Iraqis have yet to achieve the necessary level of reconciliation to form an enduring government.

If he had to explain it, then he would have had to credit George W. Bush for implementing it and defying Democrats to stick with the plan — including then-Senator Barack Obama. Apparently, that was a task that proved too much for our current Commander in Chief.