Ben Carson’s Incoherence And Ignorance On Foreign Policy Should Be Disqualifying

Ben Carson displays incoherence and ignorance on foreign policy issues that disqualify him from being considered a serious candidate for President of the United States.

As he continues to hold a place at the top of the Republican field, Ben Carson is coming under the kind of scrutiny that he was largely able to avoid when he was a candidate that few people took seriously, and it isn’t making him look very good. We’ve already seen that Carson has a relationship with the truth and reality that is interesting to say that least, and that he seems to have at least exaggerated some elements of the personal biography that has served as the centerpiece of his campaign to date. We’ve discussed his history of making outrageous statements and general ignorance about politics that he has displayed on the stump. Now, though, as people start to pay attention to the substance of what he says it is becoming readily apparent just how empty a vessel the retired pediatric neurosurgeon actually is, even if his supporters apparently don’t.

Perhaps the best example of Carson’s complete incoherence on policy issues can be seen in foreign policy, as typified by this exchange during Tuesday’s debate:

Q: Dr. Carson, you were against putting troops on the ground in Iraq and against a large military force in Afghanistan. Do you support the president’s decision to now put 50 special ops forces in Syria and leave 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan?

Well, putting the special ops people in there is better than not having them there, because they — that’s why they’re called special ops, they’re actually able to guide some of the other things that we’re doing there.

And what we have to recognize is that Putin is trying to really spread his influence throughout the Middle East. This is going to be his base. And we have to oppose him there in an effective way.

We also must recognize that it’s a very complex place. You know, the Chinese are there, as well as the Russians, and you have all kinds of factions there.

What we’ve been doing so far is very ineffective, but we can’t give up ground right there. But we have to look at this on a much more global scale.

We’re talking about global jihadists. And their desire is to destroy us and to destroy our way of life. So we have to be saying, how do we make them look like losers? Because that’s the way that they’re able to gather a lot of influence.

And I think in order to make them look like losers, we have to destroy their caliphate. And you look for the easiest place to do that? It would be in Iraq.

And if — outside of Anbar in Iraq, there’s a big energy field. Take that from them. Take all of that land from them. We could do that, I believe, fairly easily, I’ve learned from talking to several generals, and then you move on from there.

But you have to continue to face them, because our goal is not to contain them, but to destroy them before they destroy us.

Here’s the video:

The part of this that most of the people who have written about it, such as Allahpundit, Matt Welch, Chris Cilliizza, and Rosie Gray, have focused on, of course, is the Palin-esque level of word salad nonsense that came out of Carson’s mouth in response to what seems on the surface to be the rather straightforward question of whether or not he supports the President’s recent policy moves with regarding Special Forces on the ground in Syria and an extension of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Rather than answering that question, though, Carson rambled on for the 90 seconds or so in which he was given to answer the question in a way that seems to make it clear that he has no real understanding of what he’s talking about. A Carson supporter might be tempted to defend him by saying that this is just his nature as a public speaker, but the problem with that is that Carson has shown in the past that he’s able to talk succinctly and clearly when he’s talking about things he actually seems to know something about, such as his own biography. The fact that he just rambled on and on and on without actually saying anything of substance is instead, I’d suggest, indicative of the fact that he’s very much a fish out of water when it comes to foreign policy and that he has no idea what to say on the issue beyond repeating talking points that, while they play well on the stump with supporters, don’t really count as demonstrations that he has any idea of what he’s actually talking about.

Beyond the word salad issue, though, Carson’s answer here and with regard to other foreign policy issues have indicated that he seems to have a world view that relies on information that he has either misinterpreted or simply has no basis in reality at all. The most prominent such claim in the clip above, of course, is Carson’s claim that the Chinese are involved in the Syrian civil war, a point disputed by every person knowledgeable about the situation there. When questioned about that claim after the debate, Carson claimed, through one of his top campaign advisers, to have access to intelligence too ‘top secret’ to reveal publicly. The White House has rebutted the claims thoroughly, and Carson’s campaign seems to be trying to walk the statement back to claim that Carson meant that China was ‘interested’ in what was going on in China, which is certainly far different from what he actually claimed in the debate.

It’s not surprising, perhaps, that a man who doesn’t seem to have had much interest in foreign policy issues before running for President should be so incoherent, but the fact that he is a front runner notwithstanding that incoherence should raise eyebrows, to say the very least. Of perhaps more concern is what a recent Foreign Policy piece reveals about Robert Dees, the retired General who seems to have become Carson’s chief foreign policy adviser:

When it comes to foreign policy, it’s tempting to grade Ben Carson on a curve. A retired neurosurgeon with no political experience, Carson has promised that, as president, he would be as ready “as anybody else when foreign-policy questions come up” by surrounding himself with experts who would help him craft and, eventually implement, foreign policy.

But Carson’s foreign-policy experts are likely part of his problem. The candidate’s most outrageous statements on national security — including his shocking declaration in September that he believes Muslims are unfit to serve as president — aren’t merely a collection of ill-informed gaffes. They are a reflection of the troubling worldview of the people he has turned to for advice. Chief among them is Robert F. Dees, a retired Army officer who has indulged in anti-Muslim bigotry and advocated for a national security strategy centered on Christian evangelism.


It’s impossible to know the precise content of Dees’s advice to Carson. But Dees’s professional background doesn’t provide much reassurance. In 2013, he told a gathering at Wildfire Weekend, an all-male religious retreat, “My greatest pleasure has been being a private in the Lord’s army.” He also recounted being introduced to Jesus Christ by a math instructor at West Point not long after he enrolled there as a student in 1968. “Then I went off in the military,” he said, “as an ambassador for the Lord Jesus Christ.” Dees spent most of his career in the infantry and in staff positions in the United States, Germany, and Korea, eventually becoming deputy commander of the V Corps in Europe. His resume does not appear to list any combat assignments.

Dees has cited the 9/11 attacks as a personal and professional turning point. Speaking at Wildfire Weekend, Dees described visiting an intelligence center in Virginia sometime after the attacks. “I looked up on the wall … and there were cell-phone calls coming from certain places, and you could see where they would go into other places, and all of a sudden I saw Kandahar, Afghanistan, to Nashville, Tennessee; Dearborn, Michigan; Greensboro, South Carolina,” Dees told the gathering, describing the links between people in Afghanistan, where America was about to go to war, and residents of the United States.

Dees claimed to have an epiphany: When it comes to terrorism, all Muslims — some 23.4 percent of the world’s population — are equally worthy of suspicion. “It’s not about these guys who came from way out, knocked down some buildings, and then have left,” Dees explained at Wildfire Weekend. “We have a serious internal issue. We’ve been infiltrated.”

Dees’s rhetoric about Islam isn’t unique on the right, of course, and Carson is hardly the first Republican candidate for office to say the kind of things that Dees is apparently whispering in his ear. What does raise eyebrows about Dees and his apparently relationship with Carson, though, are some of the things that Carson has said about what the mission of the U.S. military should be:

In a short video he posted to YouTube in 2007, Dees said: “Within Military Ministry, we do a number of things. We’re at our nation’s boot camps; we are at the ROTC detachments called the Valor Program, over 80 universities of our country…. We also pass out spiritual resources, something called Rapid Deployment Kit, 1.5 million since 9/11: bibles, how to know God personally, and a daily bread, in a waterproof bag inside troop cargo pockets. It’s amazing to hear the power of the word of God among these troops in combat.”

Dees has also described the military as a vehicle to eventually “indoctrinate” the American public at large to evangelical Christianity. “We must pursue our particular means for transforming the nation — through the military,” henoted in a 2005 newsletter published by Military Ministry. “And the military may well be the most influential way to affect that spiritual superstructure. Militaries exercise, generally speaking, the most intensive and purposeful indoctrination program of citizens.”

Dees also had troubling international ambitions for Military Ministry, in line with the organization’s “sixth pillar” to “change continents for Christ.” In the 2007 YouTube video, Dees described his group’s goal of converting foreign countries to Christianity by evangelizing their militaries. “We seek to transform the nations of the world through the militaries of the world,” he said. “And we’re in twenty different countries around the world, recognizing that if you could possibly impact the military, you can possibly impact that whole nation for Jesus Christ and for democracy and for proper morality and values-based institutions.”

After leaving Military Ministry, Dees focused on turning his ideas into concrete action at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. Founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell, Liberty is the world’s largest Evangelical Christian university. Dees became the first director of the Institute for Military Resilience, which is dedicated to educating military personnel. (He has described its mission as “putting the person of Jesus back into the resilience equation that has become so popular within the military.”) Since Dees arrived at Liberty, the school has continued to attract vast numbers of military students, including 21,000 active military personnel enrolled as of 2013, according to Liberty’s statistics.

In other words, Dees seems to see the American military as some kind of crusader army for Christianity and he’s dedicated to efforts to instill those kinds of ideas into members of the military through the organizations he’s involved in. It’s hard to say that these organizations have had any impact in the ranks, of course, and the idea of giving the U.S. military some kind of religious mission that nobody in charge in the Pentagon would take seriously. Nonetheless, the fact that this is the kind of person whispering in the ear of someone who is a front runner for the Presidential nomination of a major American political party ought to be concerning to say the very least. The fact that it is combined with such obvious ignorance and incoherence in such an important policy ought to disqualify Carson from being considered a serious candidate for President, but Republicans seem to think otherwise.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, Democracy, Middle East, National Security, Terrorism, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Pete S says:

    We could do that, I believe, fairly easily, I’ve learned from talking to several generals, and then you move on from there.

    This is a frightening statement. I assume when a general is trotted out to speak with him as a Republican front runner, they just smile and nod when Carson starts with his nonsense? Then Carson considers it a briefing?

  2. C. Clavin says:

    If Carson should be disqualified…they all should be. None of them talks sense. Even Paul wants to blow up the Middle East.
    If for no other reason than gas prices [$1.56 pre-Bush43…over $4.00 during Bush43…$2.15 post- Bush].
    Obama talking to Stephanopolous:

    GS – “What do you think when you hear Ben Carson get up at the debate and say, ‘This would be easy. We can take ISIL just by bombing their oil fields.’ That’s what a general told him.”
    BO – “What I think is he doesn’t know much about it…Look, George, I think it’s fair to say over the last several years I’ve had access to all the best military minds in the country and all the best foreign policy minds in the country, and I’m not running for office, so my only interest is in success….If I’m down in the Situation Room talking with people who have worked in these regions and have run major military operations — from the chairman of my Joint Chiefs of Staff (Gen.) Joe Dunford to individuals like Gen. (John) Allen, who was involved in Iraqi operations back in 2007 and 2008 — and they don’t think it’s easy, then it’s probably not easy,”

  3. Slugger says:

    Dr. Carson’s views are not outside the mainstream of Republican candidates. When I read that Russia was undertaking air strikes against ISIS, I wished Vania well and thought this to be a great chance for the US to sneak away while Putin spends his peoples’ blood and money. In contradistinction, most GOP candidates chat about a “no-fly zone” and seem willing to shoot down Russian aircraft in Syria. This appears totally crazy to me, but is the expressed view of most of the candidates. I am not saying that Dr. Carson isn’t crazy, but he is not outside the norm of Republican candidates.

  4. Scott says:

    by surrounding himself with experts who would help him craft and, eventually implement, foreign policy.

    When a candidate says things like this, then, it is sensible to me, that we should be vetting the team the candidate surrounds themselves with.

  5. Moosebreath says:

    I suspect that, if one polled Republican primary voters, one would find little or no discontent with Carson on foreign policy grounds. Part of it is general lack of interest in foreign policy, and part of it is that Republican consensus has changed. This is not the Republican electorate of 20 years ago, or even 10.

    “But Carson’s foreign-policy experts are likely part of his problem.”

    The same can be said of nearly all of the Republican candidates, starting with Jeb! and his reliance on neoconservatives

  6. legion says:

    Doug, you’re adorable when you think the GOP base voter is any more sophisticated than a mentally disabled 10-year-old. “Incoherence and ignorance” are literally plusses in the primary race. And our worthless media will totally forget it all by the time the general election rolls around.

  7. DrDaveT says:

    In other words, Dees seems to see the American military as some kind of crusader army for Christianity and he’s dedicated to efforts to instill those kinds of ideas into members of the military through the organizations he’s involved in.

    Huh. I thought only the Air Force was actively and explicitly evangelical…

  8. DrDaveT says:

    Ban Carson is an IQ test for the Republican Party. The longer he stays a popular candidate, the lower the number goes…

  9. Stan says:

    There’s a Washington Post article today, see, about the panic in the Republican donor class about the possibility of Trump or Carson (T/ C for short) winning the nomination. They’re worried about damage to the party, of course, but some of them are equally worried about the possibility of T/ C as president. David Brooks expresses similar worries today in the New York Times.

    I confess to being an elitist. Ever since suffering through plane geometry taught by an ignoramus, I’ve realized that some adults simply don’t have it upstairs. But I never thought that somebody like Carson could do this well.

    There’s a small silver lining in all this. A number of Republican pundits, George Will and Charles Krauthammer, for example, are thought of as public intellectuals, the Republican equivalents of Paul Krugman. I’m sure they’ll back the Republican ticket if T/C is nominated, and I’m looking forward to see how they do it.

  10. Ron Beasley says:

    The Republican base is incoherent and ignorant when it comes to foreign policy so he will do just fine in the primaries.

  11. Hal_10000 says:


    In contradistinction, most GOP candidates chat about a “no-fly zone” and seem willing to shoot down Russian aircraft in Syria. This appears totally crazy to me, but is the expressed view of most of the candidates.

    To be fair, this is also the position of Hillary Clinton (although she later said we should have Russian cooperation). The one thing both parties agree on right now is an aggressive foreign policy. The only dissenter is Paul, who was branded an isolationist for it.

    Re: Carson. I propose that we start measuring candidate incoherent rambles in units of Palins. So Carson’s answer at the debate was 500 milliPalins (mP). Trump’s hour and a half anti-Carson rant last night was probably close to 1200 mP.

  12. michael reynolds says:

    Actually, I think the end is nigh for both Trump and Carson. Trump’s bizarre rant in Iowa will hurt him but also hurt Carson. Ted Cruz is happy this morning.

  13. DrDaveT says:


    The one thing both parties agree on right now is an aggressive foreign policy. The only dissenter is Paul, who was branded an isolationist for it.


    I would have more respect for Paul(*) if he objected to our military spending on the grounds that there are better things we could do with the money(**), or that the military isn’t underfunded — they just waste too much of what they get. I have much less sympathy for his oft-repeated mantra of “it isn’t conservative“…

    (*) This is a low bar
    (**) Even if it’s just reducing the deficit

  14. jukeboxgrad says:


    Ben Carson’s Incoherence And Ignorance

    For decades now GOP leadership has been going out of its way to embrace “Incoherence And Ignorance.” Here are a few key dates in this remarkable history.

    12/11/92. On this day Saint Ronnie himself described Rush as “the Number One voice for conservatism.”

    8/29/08. On this day McCain announced his running mate, the queen of “Incoherence And Ignorance.”

    2/2/12. On this day Mitt said “Being in Donald Trump’s magnificent hotel and having his endorsement is a delight. I’m so honored and pleased to have his endorsement.”

    In each instance, the de facto head of the GOP was going out of his way to elevate a major clown. A few weeks ago a commenter at WP did a nice job of summarizing the problem:

    After 20 years of the GOP grooming, breeding and shaping a large herd of racists, bigots, and infantilized, paranoid radicals using Fox “news” and AM hate radio, the two-ton chicken has come home to roost. Their party is so overrun with crazies that it is ungovernable.

    The GOP is an asylum, and the inmates are in charge. And this is the natural result of a process that was supported by GOP leaders at the highest level.

  15. gVOR08 says:

    A Carson supporter might be tempted to defend him by saying that this is just his nature as a public speaker…

    I have become convince over the years that clear writing and speaking does indeed reflect clear thinking, and murky, incoherent speaking reflects murky, incoherent thinking.

    “Word salad” is going to become a very overworked phrase in this election. I liked Rachel Maddow’s variant, ‘refrigerator magnet poetry”.

  16. gVOR08 says:


    milliPalins (mP)

    I’m gonna steal that for sure.

  17. Scott says:

    @michael reynolds: Yep, third in line for the base is Ted Cruz. I am shocked some of the other candidates don’t see this and start taking pot shots.

  18. Davebo says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I’d imagine Trump’s Iowa rant will net him a 3 point bump.

    But then I remember when his attack on McCain’s military record was supposed to sink him.

  19. SenyorDave says:

    @Hal_10000: MilliPalins? Will they start having recommended maximum daily amounts? Maybe the EPA could get involved. But then they would have to cancel the Republican debates about five minutes in.

  20. Neil Hudelson says:


    I have much less sympathy for his oft-repeated mantra of “it isn’t conservative“…

    To be fair, do you think talking specifics about cost-benefits of military spending versus deficit reduction would appeal at all to Republican voters? Paul knows that the message has to be pretty godd*mned simple for the base. “Not conservative is BAD, conservative GOOD” is about as complicated as it can get.

  21. grumpy realist says:

    @Hal_10000: But how do we measure the level of word-salad-ness, given that Sarah Palin wasn’t equally incoherent with everything she….oh, wait.

    (1 milliHelen: amount of beauty sufficient to launch one ship.)

  22. Tyrell says:

    This news has come in : one of the ISIS leaders has reportedly been killed in an attack. The guy responsible for murdering several people on those horrible videos.
    If that is true, this is great news
    Those who pulled this should get some presidential awards and some kind of bonus.

  23. al-Ameda says:

    I hope that Carson is a viable candidate right on up to the convention. Within the continuum-spectrum of Republican-advocated foreign policy ideas Ben Carson does not seem to be too far out there.

  24. dmichael says:

    @Tyrell: You mean President Obama?

  25. michael reynolds says:

    I’ll bet you an eventual adult beverage.

  26. bill says:

    compared to obama- really?

  27. DrDaveT says:


    compared to obama- really?

    The sad part is that you really might not be able to tell the difference. Should we blame your teachers, or your parents?

  28. DrDaveT says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    Paul knows that the message has to be pretty godd*mned simple for the base.

    And that, of course, is the current tragedy. Any policy — economic, diplomatic, military, immigration, climate, etc. — that has a recognizable connection with reality will be entirely unacceptable to the base. The base rejects reality as a scam being perpetrated by a conspiracy of “liberals” and “the mainstream media”. Their current primary election dilemma is not choosing between fact and fiction; it’s choosing between dragon’s blood and unicorn tears.