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Ben Carson Is Struggling to Grasp Foreign Policy, Advisers Say

By TRIP GABRIELNOV. 17, 2015


Photo: NYT
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 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,” said Duane R. Clarridge, a top adviser to Mr. Carson on terrorism and national security. He also said Mr. Carson needed weekly conference calls briefing him on foreign policy so “we can make him smart.”Photo

Duane R. Clarridge, former C.I.A. agent and adviser to Ben Carson.CreditMike Wintroath/Associated Press

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 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 his 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 said, “Multiple reports have surfaced that Chinese military advisers are on the ground in Syria, operating with Russian special operations personnel.”

Mr. Clarridge, 83, 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 that 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, and sprinkles his remarks with salty language. During the Reagan administration, he helped found the agency’s Counterterrorism Center and ran the C.I.A.’s Latin American division.


MORE INFORMATIONS: 

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/18/us/politics/ben-carson-is-struggling-to-grasp-foreign-policy-advisers-say.html?ref=politics

NEW YORK TIMES

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