Doctor-candidate Ben Carson readily admits that he's still cramming for the President Test. Or, as he tries to put it in a way that sounds fancy: "I am still in the stage of rapidly learning about the political dynamics of global politics."
Indeed, those global political dynamics of political global dynamics, of politics, and the globe, can be a real bitch. Such an admission comes after a bad week. Carson went on conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt's show on Wedneday to talk about foreign affairs. Typically Hewitt asks guests a bunch of questions about Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers until they hang up, but on Wednesday Hewitt gave Carson the opportunity to riff about Russian regional aggression. Hewitt asked Carson that if Vladimir Putin "makes a move on the Baltic states," should we go to war with Russia?
"Well, if we have them involved in NATO," Carson replied. "We need to convince them to get involved in NATO and strengthen NATO."
The problem? The Baltic states - Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania - are already in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a security alliance that commits all its members to respond to an attack on one member.
Hewitt quickly pointed out Carson's error. "Well, the Baltics, they are in NATO," he said. Carson was spared the need to respond by a commercial break.
Carson must have been trying to show off his knowledge of what NATO is, and what it means to be in an international alliance generally, without actually knowing the specific members of NATO.
Carson called up Bloomberg's Dave Weigel today as part of the mop-up effort. "I'm in the process of acquiring a lot of information," he said. "It's like being in medical school–you acquire a lot of information, you learn very quickly, you learn to process that information." Hear that? Learning the basics of foreign policy a couple years before you'll be in charge of global foreign policy is a lot like being in medical school. He became a good doctor, so there's no doubt he'd be a swell President of the United States.
If Carson's still a student, though, he (and the advisors who are supposed to watch out for him) should be wary of speaking at length to the press before they know all the facts. Which makes it strange that he would submit himself to an open-ended foreign policy conversation with Weigel this morning. He offers all sorts of suggestions for how we should conduct American foreign policy: namely, we should antagonize Russia, antagonize Russia, and antagonize Russia some more, until Russia... well... caves... Russia sucks, is the point.
Carson also weighed in on the Israeli election and the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state. "We need to look at fresh ideas," he says, which is something that politicians who aren't familiar with the details over a certain issue like to say. What sort of #innovative think-leadership would Carson bring to the Israel-Palestine conflict?
"We need to look at fresh ideas," said Carson. "I don't have any problem with the Palestinians having a state, but does it need to be within the confines of Israeli territory? Is that necessary, or can you sort of slip that area down into Egypt? Right below Israel, they have some amount of territory, and it can be adjacent. They can benefit from the many agricultural advances that were made by Israel, because if you fly over that area, you can easily see the demarcation between Egypt and Israel, in terms of one being desert and one being verdant. Technology could transform that area. So why does it need to be in an area where there's going to be temptation for Hamas to continue firing missiles at relatively close range to Israel?"
"Sort of slip that area down into Egypt" is a fairly cold way to describe a mass removal of a people from their homeland. But sure, it would indeed make this problem much easier for Israel if Palestinians completely abandoned their legitimate territorial claims. He should suggest this to the Palestinian leadership. They'll be all, "Whoa hey, now there's some thinkin' -- check out the noggin on this guy!"
Carson doesn't need to worry all that much, though. Aside from nailing down a few key facts -- what countries are in what alliances, which countries share borders, etc. -- you don't need all that much foreign policy knowledge to compete in a GOP presidential primary. You just need to know that aggressively pushing Russia into a corner is always a great idea that can only have positive consequences and never backfire, the proper Middle East policy is to kill everyone who gives America a nasty look, and same deal for all the other countries everywhere else. Leftism in South America must be dealt with -- that too. Leftism in our hemisphere is bad. "Stand up to badness" is the general idea.
Another few minutes with the books should be enough.