Even Ben Carson’s Own Advisers Admit He’s Clueless On Foreign Policy

Even the people hired to advice Ben Carson on foreign policy seem to recognize that he is clueless on the subject, and has no apparent desire to educate himself.

To the utter surprise of I am fairly sure nobody, even people who have been advising Ben Carson are admitting that he is completely out of his league when it comes to foreign policy issues:

Ben Carson’s remarks on foreign policy have repeatedly raised questions about his grasp of the subject, but never more seriously than in the past week, when he wrongly asserted that China had intervened militarily in Syria and then failed, on national television, to name the countries he would call on to form a coalition to fight the Islamic State

Faced with increasing scrutiny about whether Mr. Carson — who leads in some Republican presidential polls — was capable of leading American foreign policy, two of his top advisers said in interviews with The New York Times that he had struggled to master the intricacies of the Middle East and national security and that intense tutoring was having little effect.

“Nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East,” Duane R. Clarridge, a top adviser to Mr. Carson on terrorism and national security, said in an interview. He also said Mr. Carson needed weekly conference calls briefing him on foreign policy so “we can make him smart.”

As the deadly assaults in Paris claimed by the Islamic State reframe the presidential race, the candidates’ foreign policy credentials are suddenly under scrutiny. And Mr. Carson has attracted extra attention because his repeated dubious statements give rise to questions about where, as a retired neurosurgeon without government experience, he turns for information and counsel on complex global issues. What is unusual is the candor of those who are tutoring him about the physician’s struggle to master the subject.

In last week’s Republican debate, speaking of the turmoil in Syria, Mr. Carson said that “the Chinese are there.”

Both the White House and China denied that China had intervened militarily in Syria.

This week, Mr. Carson’s advisers said that his source for claiming Chinese involvement in Syria was a telephone conversation he had had with a freelance American intelligence operative in Iraq.

According to notes of the briefing kept by a Carson aide who was also on the line, the operative had said, “Multiple reports have surfaced that Chinese military advisers are on the ground in Syria, operating with Russian special operations personnel.”

Mr. Clarridge, a former C.I.A. agent who had connected Mr. Carson with the operative in Iraq, said on Monday that the information was wrong. The operative in Iraq had “overleaped” in suggesting Chinese troops are in Syria, Mr. Clarridge said, adding of the operative, “You know how it goes when people are desperate for some headline.”

Mr. Clarridge, described by Mr. Carson’s top adviser, Armstrong Williams, as “a mentor for Dr. Carson,” is a colorful, even legendary figure in intelligence circles, someone who could have stepped out of a Hollywood thriller. He was a longtime C.I.A. officer, serving undercover in India, Turkey, Italy and other countries. During the Reagan administration, he helped found the agency’s Counterterrorism Center and ran the C.I.A.’s Latin American division.

Indicted on charges of lying to Congress in the Iran-contra scandal (he was later pardoned), Mr. Clarridge today runs a private network of intelligence sources, including, he said, experts on Iran, China and the Middle East, who have all briefed Mr. Carson in phone calls or Skype sessions.

Mr. Clarridge, who contacted Mr. Carson nearly two years ago to offer his services without pay, has helped the candidate prepare for debates. But the briefings do not always seem to sink in, Mr. Clarridge acknowledged. After Mr. Carson struggled on “Fox News Sunday” to say whom he would call first to form a coalition against the Islamic State, Mr. Clarridge called Mr. Williams, the candidate’s top adviser, in frustration. “We need to have a conference call once a week where his guys roll out the subjects they think will be out there, and we can make him smart,” Mr. Clarridge said he told Mr. Williams.

Mr. Williams, one of Mr. Carson’s closest friends, who does not have an official role in the campaign, also lamented the Fox News interview. “He’s been briefed on it so many times,” he said. “I guess he just froze.”

None of this should come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to Carson has he rose up in the ranks of Republican Presidential candidates. During last week’s debate in Wisconsin, for example, Carson made a series of claims about the status of matters in Syria, such as the claim that China was somehow involved alongside Russia in aiding the Assad regime in Damascus. In that debate, Carson also displayed a complete lack of coherence in trying to answer a question regarding the President’s decisions to extend the American mission in Afghanistan and send a small number of Special Forces operatives into Syria to assist “moderate” Syrian rebels. That incoherence continued on Sunday during an appearance on Fox News Sunday in which Carson seemed to have no idea what he was talking about at all. Beyond his incoherence, though, the fact that one of Carson’s primary military and foreign policy advisers is a retired General who seems dedicated to imbuing the American military with a quasi-religious mission that is both utterly insane and completely inappropriate.

Carson is a problematic candidate well beyond his foreign policy incoherence, of course.

He has a long history of mating utterly outrageous statements about public policy issues and ascribing malicious motives and mental illness to people who disagree with him such as President Obama, for example. He has displayed ignorance about the basic ways in which government operates and the details of important domestic public policy issues that a candidate running for President ought to aware of quite handily. In addition to this, of course, he has displayed what can only be called an odd relationship with the truth, including many of the details of the personal biography that has largely served as the basis for the arguments that both he and his supporters have made in support of his candidacy. When questioned about these matter, he has resorted to attacking the media even though it is rather obvious that he is not being treated unfairly given the fact that he is not just a candidate for President, but presently in second place in the polls for the Republican nomination for President for reasons that only Republicans themselves can explain.

It’s somewhat extraordinary for a candidate’s own advisers to be this frank about their candidates obvious weaknesses during the middle of a campaign, and perhaps this is a sign that all is not going smoothly inside the Carson campaign. Whatever the explanation for these reports, though, one cannot say that there is not ample evidence in the public record to support what the advisers are saying, and more. In a rational universe, Ben Carson, despite the fact that he is clearly a smart man who has had a brilliant medical career in which her performed feats that few men can, does not belong anywhere near the White House and certainly does not deserve to be taken seriously as a candidate. The fact that he continues to be taken seriously, though, says as much about his supporters and the party he’s running in as it does about the candidate.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, National Security, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds 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.

Comments

  1. C. Clavin says:

    Judging by the reaction to Paris…all the Republican candidates are clueless…and craven.
    Carson probably gets closest to Palin, who had zero interest in actually learning anything.
    But in the final analysis…they are all idiots.

  2. C. Clavin says:

    Kasich wants to create a federal agency to promote Christianity.
    They are all clueless. Every single one.

  3. Rafer Janders says:

    Even Ben Carson’s Own Advisers Admit He’s Clueless On Foreign Policy

    You could have just ended the headline at “Clueless.” No real need for the last few words.

  4. gVOR08 says:

    Adlai Stevenson, on being told every thinking person in America would vote for him, said, “That won’t do – I need a majority.” Carson has a good shot at winning at least the nomination.

    Somewhere I came across a German word for “unbelievable, incredible” that just sounds perfect for this situation. Unglaublich.

  5. Mu says:

    Can’t wait for him to announce Dick Cheney as his future Secretary of State.

  6. Jenos Idanian says:

    Obviously Carson needs to learn from his betters. People such as, say, former Democratic presidential nominee and current Secretary of State John Kerry, who said this about the Paris attacks:

    “In the last days, obviously, that has been particularly put to the test. There’s something different about what happened from Charlie Hebdo, and I think everybody would feel that. There was a sort of particularized focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of — not a legitimacy, but a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, okay, they’re really angry because of this and that. This Friday was absolutely indiscriminate. It wasn’t to aggrieve one particular sense of wrong. It was to terrorize people. It was to attack everything that we do stand for. That’s not an exaggeration.”

  7. C. Clavin says:

    @Jenos Idanian:
    Yes…the guy that negotiated an historic agreement with Iran made a gaffe…which even the radical right-wing site you linked to admits he immediately tried to walk back.
    And to you…that makes Carson his equal.
    You are the dumbest fwcker on the intertubes. Ever. Your mommy must be proud. Call up from the basement and ask her for some more cheetos. And maybe a fresh onsey. You seem to be wetting yourself over the scary brown Syrian orphans.

  8. Scott says:

    @Jenos Idanian: One thing I can’t stand about certain public officials is that they talk too much and can’t resist commenting on everything. And inevitably they will occasionally come out with babble. Kerry is one of those.

  9. James Pearce says:

    Daniel Drezner put it this way:

    So the Carson campaign’s response appears to be, “pay no attention to this old, senile man — who, by the by, has been briefing our candidate.” I’m not sure that’s a winning political response.

    Ouch.

    @Jenos Idanian: What part of Kerry’s statement do you object to? Seems like he’s got it pretty dead on. The terrorists had a motive for the Charlie Hebdo attack. They were mad about some cartoons and killed the people who drew them.

    The Paris attacks, on the other hand, had no rationale. The terrorists weren’t mad at the Eagles of Death Metal, weren’t trying to blow up stadiums because they’re mad at soccer. It was, as Kerry says, “absolutely indiscriminate. It wasn’t to aggrieve one particular sense of wrong. It was to terrorize people. It was to attack everything that we do stand for.”

    So where’s the beef?

  10. grumpy realist says:

    Ben Carson’s handlers seem to be equivalently clueless about geography.

  11. Jenos Idanian says:

    @James Pearce: The Charlie Hebdo attacks were because some cartoonists “insulted Islam.” The Paris attacks were because France is bombing ISIS. Kerry thinks that the former is more “justified” or rational or predictable than the latter.

    Kerry is a worthless clod, and he was their party’s nominee in 2004 and our nation’s chief diplomat now.

  12. Jenos Idanian says:

    And Carson needs better unofficial intelligence sources on the Middle East. I wonder if Hillary Clinton will loan Sidney Blumenthal to him? You know him — he’s the guy who helped make Libya what a wonderful place it is today.

  13. Franklin says:

    @grumpy realist: LOL! What, the hell, is that?

  14. Mikey says:

    @Franklin: A lot of New Yorkers who are suddenly very pleased with their new oceanfront property!

  15. James Pearce says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    Kerry thinks that the former is more “justified” or rational or predictable than the latter.

    Quotation marks are used around words that are actually being quoted.

    Did Kerry say the Charlie Hebdo attacks were “justified?” Or are you mendaciously putting words in his mouth, deliberately misunderstanding him because you have an axe to grind?

    You’re right here, though: “The Paris attacks were because France is bombing ISIS.” Shall I now claim you think they were “justified?” Would that be fair? Would that demonstrate an understanding of what you were trying to say?

    And hey, don’t like Kerry? I get it. I’m not that fond of him either. But, and this is key, that doesn’t make him wrong.

  16. wr says:

    @Jenos Idanian: Hey, Jenos has finally found a candidate as ignorant as he is!

  17. gVOR08 says:

    @Jenos Idanian: You have committed one of the commonest, and dumbest, of the standard conservative errors. That Kerry can, on an intellectual level, comprehend the motives of the Charlie Hebdo attackers, does not mean that he thinks they were “justified”. That he recognizes attacks on random cafes and entertainment venues as less rational then the Hebdo attack does not mean that on any absolute scale he accepts either as a rational response. Attempting to understand your enemy is not approval of your enemy.
    Reading comprehension much?

  18. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    Please now focus this laser on Trump. He says the same sorts of crazy things, only louder and much more personally insulting. But’s right off the same stable floor.

  19. al-Ameda says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    And Carson needs better unofficial intelligence sources on the Middle East. I wonder if Hillary Clinton will loan Sidney Blumenthal to him? You know him — he’s the guy who helped make Libya what a wonderful place it is today

    Oh … so Sidney Blumenthal is responsible for the mess that is Libya?
    That explains 8 plus investigations of Benghazi and Hillary Clinton.

  20. Jenos Idanian says:

    @James Pearce: My error; he didn’t say “justified,” he said they had “legitimacy.” Which he immediately tried to walk back.

  21. Pete S says:

    @Jenos Idanian: Really? Kerry used the wrong word, and realized it quickly enough to say IN THE SAME SENTENCE that it was the wrong word. And you equate that to someone whose advisors admit doesn’t even get the concepts?

  22. C. Clavin says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    You know him — he’s the guy who helped make Libya what a wonderful place it is today.

    BENGHAZI boy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    hahahahahahahahahaha

  23. Davebo says:

    Look people, Carson may be clueless on foreign affairs but that’s not why we need to elect him.

    He’s golden on spiritual affairs, and did I mention he’s a neurosurgeon?

    He’ll have competent advisors to help him with foreign affairs. Probably some of those advising him now about China and Syria.

    And really, you don’t need competence on foreign affairs if you hire the right people to help you make decisions. It worked out great for Dubya.

    Dick Cheney is too old and ill to help out but his daughter Liz is there for Ben when he takes office.

  24. Stonetools says:

    When you consider Obama and Clinton on foreign policy, some of their decisions are questionable. But at least you can hold a sane discussion about their foreign policy.
    You can’t even do that with the FP positions of the leading Republican candidates. To reuse Linus Paulings old insult, their positions are so out of whack that they’re not even wrong.
    This creates a dilemma for the intelligent person who is not inclined to vote for Clinton. Do you really not vote for Clinton and risk someone like Trump or Carson running Ametica’s FP? As a patriotic American, you would almost certainly have to hold your nose and pull the lever for Clinton. Seems like James and Doug are headed for a real Hobson’s choice in a few months.

  25. Tony W says:

    The disconnect here is that cluelessness is an advantage in the modern Republican party. The Democrats are demonized for their uppity attitude, you see – all that learning and knowledge and study and reflection makes them think they know better, simply because their positions are rooted in fact.

    That evil open-minded Democratic attitude leaves little room for emotion and superstition in policy setting. Changing positions when facts change is flip-flopping and wishy-washy. Only rigid thinking founded on bronze-age texts and fantasies about life in the 1950s can be leveraged for historical relevance.

  26. James Pearce says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    he didn’t say “justified,” he said they had “legitimacy.” Which he immediately tried to walk back.

    I know you’re not stupid, Jenos. Please don’t think I am.

    Kerry’s quote:

    There was a sort of particularized focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of — not a legitimacy, but a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, okay, they’re really angry because of this and that.

    You don’t “walk back” a statement before you’ve even finished it.

    A walk back is you and your “justified” stuff.

    And I don’t find “not a legitimacy” to be all that confusing or ambiguous. Seems pretty clear to me.

  27. Stonetools says:

    I love how Jenos pivoted from a post showing how completely clueless a leading Republican candidate is on foreign policy to obsessing about some minor misstatement by Kerry, a SoS who is respected everywhere outside the right wing media bubble. Hey Jenos, I bet Kerry can pick out New England on a map. Your guy can’t. Says it all right there, really.

  28. Mikey says:

    @Davebo:

    He’ll have competent advisors to help him with foreign affairs.

    He’ll have top men working on it for him.

    Who?

    Top. Men.

  29. C. Clavin says:

    Trump doubles down with Hannity and says we must close all mosques.
    They are all clueless. Every single one.

  30. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Heu, guys, cut Jenos a break. He suffers from that affliction that affects all too many in the modern GOP: the inability to empathize. For only $10 per month, you too can sponsor the Decent Human Being classes needed to provide critical thinking skills to a RWNJ like Jenos.

    Operators are standing by.

  31. C. Clavin says:

    Hey look…the mayor of Roanoke stole Jenos’ brilliant idea that blocking Syrian refugees is OK because we had Japanese internment camps.
    http://www.vox.com/2015/11/18/9757638/refugees-internment-camps
    Has anyone ever seen Jenos and this Mayor in the same room?
    Is Jenos actually the Mayor of Roanoke?
    Or are they simply both RWNJ’s?

  32. bill says:

    considering who’s in office now- do we really need to go there?

  33. anjin-san says:

    Well, Jenos has – once again – been punk slapped from one end of OTB from the other.

    Hey Jenos, is it time for you to declare victory yet? PS, don’t forget to mention my guns…

  34. anjin-san says:

    @Gromitt Gunn:

    that affliction that affects all too many in the modern GOP: the inability to empathize

    Let’s not forget the desperate need to find someone, anyone, who is below them on the food chain so they can look down with distal and feel just a bit better about their own sorry lot in life. Granted, in the case of Jenos, he probably needs a microscope to do this…

  35. An Interested Party says:

    considering who’s in office now- do we really need to go there?

    Sure, why not

    A lot of people who go into prison straight and when they come out, they’re gay, so did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question…

    Obamacare is really I think the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.

    I mean very much like Nazi Germany — and I know you’re not supposed to talk about Nazi Germany, but I don’t care about political correctness — you know, you had a government using its tools to intimidate a population…we now live in a society where people are afraid to say what they actually believe, and it’s because of the PC police, it’s because of politicians, because of news — all of these things are combining to stifle people’s conversation.

    My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain. Now all the archaeologists think that they were made for the pharaohs’ graves. But, you know, it would have to be something awfully big if you stop and think about it. And I don’t think it’d just disappear over the course of time to store that much grain…

  36. rachel says:

    My GOD, what idiots Carson and that moron supporting him in this-here comment thread are. How do people like these ever get let out in public?

  37. Guarneri says:

    “Ben Carson are admitting that he is completely out of his league when it comes to foreign policy issues:”

    Puts him on par with Obama. But it’s only a “setback.” I think Carson has it “contained.”

  38. al-Ameda says:

    @Guarneri:

    “Ben Carson are admitting that he is completely out of his league when it comes to foreign policy issues:”

    Puts him on par with Obama. But it’s only a “setback.” I think Carson has it “contained.”

    The only thing Carson has ‘contained’ are Nazi analogies.