Presidential races

Carson adviser criticizes candidate’s grasp of foreign policy

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An unpaid national security adviser to Ben Carson criticized the candidate’s grasp on foreign policy in an interview with The New York Times on Tuesday, saying Carson needs more frequent briefings on the matter to “make him smart.”

{mosads}Duane Clarridge, a former C.I.A. agent who The Times described as a “top adviser” to Carson on national security, said Carson, a retired neurosurgeon with no political background, has not done enough to get up to speed on defense.

“Nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East,” Clarridge told the paper, adding that Carson needed to commit to weekly briefing so “we can make him smart.”

An adviser to Carson pushed back on the notion that Clarridge is a “top adviser” to the candidate, saying he was one of more than two-dozen national security advisers to Carson who had received “a couple meetings, a couple phone calls.”

“[Clarridge] is unaware of all the briefings Dr. Carson gets,” senior strategist Ed Brookover said. “We think Dr. Carson continues to demonstrate a set of values the American people agree with and a great understanding of the world’s complexities.”

A second Carson spokesman accused The Times of taking advantage of Clarridge, 83, calling him an “elderly gentleman” who has “incomplete knowledge” of Carson’s briefing schedule. 

“Mr. Clarridge has incomplete knowledge of the daily, not weekly briefings, that Dr. Carson receives on important national security matters from former military and state department officials,” spokesman Doug Watts said. 

“[Clarridge] is coming to the end of a long career of serving our country,” Watts continued. “Mr. Clarridge’s input to Dr. Carson is appreciated but he is clearly not one of Dr. Carson’s top advisors. For The New York Times to take advantage of an elderly gentleman and use him as their foil in this story is an affront to good journalistic practices.”

Clarridge was indicted in 1991 “on seven felony counts of lying to cover up the Reagan administration’s secret shipments of arms to Iran,” the Chicago Tribune reported. He was later pardoned.

Retired Army Gen. Robert Dees is Carson’s only paid national security adviser, and in The Times piece, Dees praised Carson’s grasp of foreign policy.

“Dr. Carson is an amazing intellect,” Dees said. “He has the right stuff to be commander in chief.”

Still, Carson has struggled at times to respond to questions related to foreign policy.

At the last GOP presidential debate, Carson claimed that China was involved in the conflict in Syria — a claim that the White House and national security experts refute.

Over the weekend, Carson appeared stumped when asked what countries the U.S. should align with in response to the terror attacks in Paris.

In The Times article, Carson’s close friend and confidant Armstrong Williams acknowledged that Carson was frustrated by his failure over the weekend to recall U.S. allies in the region, saying, “He just froze.” (Given a chance to name them in a Monday night interview, he refused, telling Fox News host Sean Hannity, “I can name all the countries down there consecutively and where they are. That’s not the point.)

Carson is jockeying with Donald Trump for the top spot in the Republican primary polls. But at a time when national security has moved to the forefront of the political debate, many Republicans believe Carson will have a hard time withstanding close scrutiny on the matter.

Williams told The Hill in a Tuesday interview that he wasn’t perturbed by Clarridge’s venting, saying he’s just pushing for more time with the candidate. 

Williams, a contributor to The Hill, also argued that as a political newcomer, Carson has “a learning curve” on foreign policy.

“Dr. Carson is making amazing progress, some say he’s had his stumbles, but he’s getting there,” Williams said. “People can see he’s learning and he’ll master this, and he’s surrounding himself with the people to help him do that.”

Carson, he said, is committed to becoming an expert on the matter even if he’s not there yet.

“Carson is transparent and authentic and he’s learning,” Williams insisted. “But he’s doing the heavy lifting and that’s the key.”

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