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Fact Checking the Washington Post

February 13, 2012
Laurence M. Vance,

“We don’t need to pay all this money to keep troops all over the country, 130 countries, 900 bases. But also, just think, bringing all the troops home rather rapidly, they would be spending their money here at home and not in Germany and Japan and South Korea, tremendous boost to the economy.” ~ Ron Paul, February 7, 2012

In a post on February 9th at the Washington Post’s The Fact Checker blog, which claims to give “the truth behind the rhetoric,” Glenn Kessler writes about “Ron Paul’s Strange Claim about Bases and Troops Overseas“:

This comment by GOP presidential aspirant Ron Paul after Tuesday night’s caucuses caught the ear of our editor. Paul’s phrasing could have left the impression that he thinks there are 900 bases in 130 countries, but normally he makes it clear he is talking about two different things.

For instance, in the GOP debate Sept. 12, Paul said: “We’re under great threat, because we occupy so many countries. We’re in 130 countries. We have 900 bases around the world.”

We will lay aside Paul’s loose definition of “occupy” – which denotes taking away a country’s sovereignty. You could also quibble with the concept of a “base,” but we’ll accept that he’s talking about any military facility.

Are there any facts to back up these eye-popping figures?

I never read anything by Kessler until this piece on Ron Paul. The Fact Checker blog says that he “has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.”

In giving us the facts to evaluate the truth of Dr. Paul’s assertions, Kessler refers, but not by name, to two Department of Defense documents: the annual “Base Structure Report” dated September 30, 2011, and the quarterly “Active Duty Military Personnel Strengths by Regional Area and by Country,” most recently issued on September 30, 2011.

Regarding the number of foreign bases, Kessler correctly notes that “the DOD list shows a list of 611 military facilities around the world (not counting war zones).” However, he discounts that figure because “only 20 are listed as ‘large sites,’ which means a replacement value of more than $1.74 billion.” He also notes that most (549) of the DOD foreign sites are listed as being small sites.

Regarding the numbers and locations of U.S. troops in foreign countries, Kessler correctly notes that the “Personal Strengths” document lists “53,766 military personnel in Germany, 39,222 in Japan, 10,801 in Italy and 9,382 in the United Kingdom. That makes sense.” “But wait,” he says, “most of the countries on the list, in fact, have puny military representation.” He points out that the U.S. has only nine troops in Mali, eight in Barbados, seven in Laos, six in Lithuania, five in Lebanon, four in Moldova, three in Mongolia, two in Suriname and one in Gabon.” Then he says that he counts “153 countries with U.S. military personnel, actually higher than the 130 cited by Paul.” But he dismisses both numbers by saying that “the list essentially tracks with places where the United States has a substantial diplomatic presence. (The United States has diplomatic relations with about 190 countries.).” He charges Paul with “counting Marine guards and military attaches as part of a vast expanse of U.S. military power around the globe.” And after all, “this document indicates that only 11 countries actually house more than 1,000 U.S. military personnel.”

Kessler concludes that “Paul’s statistics barely pass the laugh test. He has managed to turn small contingents of Marine guards into occupying armies and waste dumps into military bases. A more accurate way to treat this data would be to say that the United States has 20 major bases around the world, not counting the war in Afghanistan, with major concentrations of troops in 11 countries.”

As one who is very familiar with both of the aforementioned DOD documents and has written about these things long before Ron Paul even ran for the Republican presidential nomination the first time, I can say with confidence that it is Glenn Kessler and the Washington Post that need some fact checking.

And now… the rest of the story. …..

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