Trump got killed back in September for answering a question about the Quds Force with a reference to the Kurds so let’s pause a moment to see how his main competition for the national lead in polling is doing on foreign policy. Here’s proof that even a brilliant, Yale-educated neurosurgeon can sound like Billy Madison talking about the Industrial Revolution when he gets a policy question that’s not in his zone of expertise.
Rosie Gray speaks for many in asking: Wut?
Carson disjointedly meandered from topic to topic, not showing a firm grasp of the issues at hand and not giving a clear sense of what his own plans would be (and he didn’t address Afghanistan at all). Though he seemed to agree with Obama’s decision to place special ops into northern Syria to advise and assist rebels in fighting ISIS, he didn’t explain exactly why. He basically stated that the Chinese are involved in the Syrian conflict (they’re not — there have been some unconfirmed reports that China plans to send a warship to Syria that the Chinese government has denied). Segueing to ISIS (though he didn’t refer to them by name), Carson advocated for a policy of “making them look like losers” and striking at the heart of the caliphate by taking their land, which he believes could be done “fairly easily,” despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.
The question was whether he agreed with Obama’s decision to send 50 Special Ops troops to Syria and leave 10,000 soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. You can go two ways with the first part of that: Yes, we need them in the field to conduct raids on ISIS leaders as necessary, to direct airstrikes, and to assist Sunni rebel forces as needed, or no, we shouldn’t be putting American soldiers’ lives at risk when their numbers are too small to influence the wider war. Carson says yes, “putting the special ops people in there is better than not having them there” because they can help with “some of the other things that we’re doing there,” but then he fades into a series of bromides about Putin and the Chinese(?) and how complex the situation is and global jihad before circling around to the idea that we should destroy ISIS’s caliphate starting in Iraq. Okay, but … how many troops is that going to take? Who’s going to go door-to-door clearing major Iraqi cities, like Ramadi, that are held by ISIS? Who’s going to take Raqqa in Syria once the caliphate in Iraq is destroyed and the war moves across the border to Syria? And how is all of this going to be done “fairly easily”? (You can imagine the Democratic attack ads about “Cakewalk 2.0.”) The weirdest thing about this answer is that it starts off as a giant dodge by someone who’s clearly not comfortable getting into the weeds of Syria policy and somehow ends up with a casual de facto call for a second invasion of Iraq. When in doubt and you’re forced to wing it, opt for one of the most extreme, politically fraught solutions you can think of, I guess. Maybe this helps explain why Erick Erickson is hearing of evangelicals moving from Carson to Marco Rubio. If you’re undecided but otherwise set on backing a superhawk, at least choose the superhawk who can defend his position fluently, in great detail.
Eh, doesn’t matter though. If you like Carson, you like him for reasons having nothing to do with foreign policy. Pity poor Ted Cruz, though, his chief rival for social conservatives in Iowa, listening to this and thinking a la that old SNL skit from 1988, “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy.”