A State of the Union address is often difficult to fact check, no matter who is president. The speech is a product of many hands and is carefully vetted, so major errors of fact are so relatively rare that they sometimes can become big news (think of George W. Bush’s “sixteen little words” about Iraq seeking uranium in Niger). At the same time, State of the Union addresses are very political speeches, an argument for the president’s policies, so context (or the perspective of opponents) is often missing.
Here is a guide through some of President Obama’s more fact-challenged claims, in the order in which he made them. As is our practice with live events, we do not award Pinocchio rankings, which are reserved for complete columns.
“For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq. For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country. Most of al Qaeda’s top lieutenants have been defeated. The Taliban’s momentum has been broken, and some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home.”
The killing of bin Laden, which Obama used to open and close his speech, is an achievement that few partisans would quibble with. But the story about Iraq and Afghanistan is much more muddled.
Yes, U.S. troops have left Iraq, in part because the Obama administration was unwilling or unable — take your pick — to extend a security agreement with Iraq. Since the U.S. departure, Iraq has descended into violence as the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has targeted Sunni opposition figures. The country at times appears to teeter on the edge of a new outbreak of sectarian violence. Read more….