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.