WASHINGTON -- Over the last several Republican presidential debates, it's been obvious foreign policy isn't Ben Carson's forte. The guy is a surgeon, after all.
But nowhere was his unpreparedness for the office more evident than Tuesday night in Milwaukee, where he delivered a bizarrely simplistic answer on the Middle East that just about no one, liberal or conservative, could make sense of.
Below is the question and his answer, in its full, unadulterated glory:
QUESTION: 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?
CARSON: 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.
Got it? Neither do we.
Setting aside the clumsy reference to a "big energy field" (oil field), Carson's glaring unfamiliarity with foreign policy is even more evident next to someone like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who, while firmly in the neoconservative camp, at least has a deep understanding of the issues at hand.
Carson's solution for eradicating the Islamic State, which operates most freely in Syria, is to retake a single oil field in Iraq. Aside from failing to offer a strategy for the fight in Syria, where U.S. efforts are complicated by the absence of a reliable allied force on the ground, Carson can barely delineate the parties engaged in the fight. China, while supportive of Russian efforts to back President Bashar Assad, has not yet engaged militarily in Syria. Glaringly absent from Carson's response is any mention of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed paramilitary whose support to Assad has undoubtedly prolonged the civil war, or the al-Qaeda-linked groups that make up part of the opposition to the Assad government.
The most concerning aspect of all this is that Carson doesn't really seem perturbed. Last week, when a reporter for the Miami Herald asked him about the so-called wet-foot, dry-foot policy, which allows Cubans who come to the U.S. to stay here, Carson freely admitted he didn't know what it was.
“You’re going to have to explain to me exactly what you mean by that,” Carson said. “I have to admit that I don’t know a great deal about that, and I don’t really like to comment until I’ve had a chance to study the issue from both sides.”
Jessica Schulberg contributed reporting.
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