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Jon Huntsman announced June 21, 2011 that he is running for the Republican nomination for president. Huntsman was previously governor of Utah but also recently served in the Obama administration as ambassador to China.
How is it that Huntsman is running against a president he served? Huntsman has said several times that when a president asks him to serve his country, he serves. He expanded on the point on Wednesday on MSNBC's Morning Joe.
"The president is a good man. He's earnest, he's hard working, he's a great family man," Huntsman said. "But I got to say on the economy, we're not near where we should be, and internationally we're in places I believe we should not be, spending one out of every six Defense Department dollars on Afghanistan. And I'm here to tell you that America's future is not going to be won or lost in the prairies of Afghanistan. It's going to be won or lost based upon our ability to compete in the 21st century crowds of Pacific."
We were interested in fact-checking Huntsman's statement, which he repeated in other interviews, that one out of every six Defense Department dollars goes to Afghanistan.
To do that, we turned to government budget data and an array of defense spending policy experts. It turns out there are a number of ways to slice up the defense budget, and you get slightly different numbers depending on which you choose. You could consider the current fiscal year, 2011, or the one that starts in October, which is 2012. You could also consider authorizations (the legal limits for spending) or appropriations (the money actually approved within the legal limits).
We contacted the Huntsman campaign for its source, and it referred us to testimony from Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent think tank. Haass testified at a U.S. Senate hearing in May; he opposed continuing the war in Afghanistan, which he said had now evolved into a war of choice.
"Just to be clear, wars of choice are not wrong per se. But before undertaking one, it is essential to demonstrate that the likely benefits of using military force will outweigh the costs and produce better results at less cost than other policies. Afghanistan does not meet these tests. It is not a major terrorist haven, and it should not be assumed it will again become one even if the Taliban make inroads," said Haass in his written testimony.
Haass said that if terrorists renewed their activities in Afghanistan, the United States could respond as it has done in countries such as Yemen and Somalia.
"At the macro or global level, Afghanistan is simply absorbing more economic, military, human, diplomatic and political resources of every sort than it warrants. The $110 to $120 billion annual price tag -- one out of every six to seven dollars this country spends on defense -- is unjustifiable given the budget crisis we face and the need for military (especially air and naval) modernization," Haass said.
We ran the one-in-six number by several defense spending experts who said Huntsman was either correct or close to it.
"He is correct. In the current fiscal year (fiscal year 2011), Congress has appropriated a total of $689 billion for the Department of Defense. Of that, $113.5 billion is for operations in Afghanistan," said Todd Harrison, an expert on the defense budget at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, via e-mail.
Another expert, Laura Peterson of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said you could choose to exclude money that goes to the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons budget as well as money that goes to military construction, and then the Afghanistan spending would be between one sixth and one fifth of Defense Department dollars.
Huntsman said we're spending "one out of every six Defense Department dollars on Afghanistan." Budget numbers and defense spending experts said that's a reasonable extrapolation, though there are slightly different ways to calculate it as a little more or a little less. Still, Huntsman's number is a legitimate calculation. We rate his statement True.
MSNBC, Morning Joe interview with Jon Huntsman, June 22, 2011, via Nexis
U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, testimony of Richard Haass, May 3, 2011
The White House, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2012
U.S. Government Printing Office, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2011
E-mail interview with Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, June 22, 2011
E-mail interview with Laura Peterson of Taxpayers for Common Sense, June 22, 2011
E-mail interview with Marc Goldwein of Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, June 22, 2011
E-mail interview with Mackenzie Eaglen of The Heritage Foundation, June 22, 2011
E-mail interview with Baker Spring of The Heritage Foundation, June 23, 2011
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