Ben Carson gave the following answer during Tuesday night's debate to a question about whether he supports President Obama's decision to send 50 special operations forces into Syria and leave 10,000 troops in Afghanistan:
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.
This was an otherwise strong debate for Carson, who handled questions about his past easily, avoided attacks from his rivals despite his frontrunner status, and delivered a strong closing statement. But this answer left a lot of people scratching their heads:
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.
Carson isn't the only candidate to not be well-versed in foreign policy, and as a former neurosurgeon, he has no experience in the topic. But it's unclear to what extent his campaign is focusing on getting him up to speed on these issues; he has one known foreign policy adviser, retired Army officer Robert Dees, but it's hard to say how often, how much, and what kind of advice Dees is giving Carson.
Carson's campaign manager didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.