Ben Carson shocker: Even his own advisers admit he's dumbfounded on foreign policy

Carson advisers are bizarrely fessing up to the NYT that their candidate is struggling to grasp foreign policy

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published November 17, 2015 11:20PM (EST)

  (Reuters/Alvin Baez)
(Reuters/Alvin Baez)

By most accounts, Ben Carson's first post-Paris attack interview did little to quell growing concerns that the political neophyte had failed to grasp a firm handle on major policy issues like national security, especially in light of a damning comedic SNL takedown of his embellished reformed bad boy shtick that's propelled him this far,

Carson struggled to articulate specifics for his plan to defeat ISIL during an interview on "Fox News Sunday." Host Chris Wallace asked the retired neurosurgeon three times to name one specific country or leader he would call to assemble an international coalition to no avail.

“He’s been briefed on it so many times,” Armstrong Williams, close friend and advisor to Carson told the New York Times today. “I guess he just froze.” In an attempt to defend his friend, Armstrong said that he had spoken to Carson since his Fox News fumble, but bizarrely painted the candidate as even more inept than previously thought possible. “Sometimes he overthinks things,” Armstrong said, “I could tell, talking to him, it was a bummer for him.”

Another Carson aide told the paper that he suggested to the campaign that the candidate get weekly briefings to boost his foreign policy chops pronto. "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 former C.I.A. agent and top adviser to Carson on terrorism and national security, said in an interview with the Times.

Pardoned for his role in the Iran Contra affair, the former head of the CIA's Latin division said he recently called Williams to complain. “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.”

Carson has often referenced the intelligence briefings he does receive to bolster some of his most absurd claims. "I would have to refer you to some other people to get you the actual data, but they've shown it to me," he said the day after last week's GOP presidential debate, defending his claim that China is involved in the Syrian war. "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," Carson said during the debate.

Don't tell the President but this is a Syrian Soldier sitting on top of a Chinese Armored Vehicle. The guy posted it on his social media.

Posted by Dr. Ben Carson on Monday, November 16, 2015

Both Armstrong and Clarridge aren't official campaign staff, just advisers, but their rush to run to the media to complain of Carson's disappointing turn in the spotlight as the Republican presidential race makes a turn to focus on national policy may signal that deeper concerns have taken root in Carsonland.

Carson's only paid foreign policy advisor (Clarridge had offered his services free of charge for the last two years), retired Army general Robert F. Dees, is a faculty member at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University and described how he and Carson have “locked ourselves up in a hotel room a couple of different sessions and took walks around the world.”

For his part, Dees is so far sticking with praise for the candidate. “Dr. Carson is an amazing intellect,” he told the Times. “He has the right stuff to be commander in chief.”

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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2016 Republican Primary Ben Carson Ben Carson 2016 U.s. Foreign Policy