Dr. Ben Carson, the renowned neurosurgeon, who is considering a Republican presidential bid, stumbled miserably on foreign policy questions, in an interview with Hugh Hewitt Wednesday. Most notably, Carson seemed utterly confused about basic geography, as he was unaware that the Baltic States were member nations in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Instead, Carson seemed to think the Baltic States were former parts of the Soviet Union that had splintered off recently.
When Hewitt asked Carson, “should we have that sort of commitment, that if Putin makes a move on the Baltic states, we’d go to war?”, Carson responded:
Well, if we have them involved in NATO. We need to convince them to get involved in NATO and strengthen NATO.
A perplexed Hewitt corrected Carson, stating:
Well, the Baltics, they are in NATO. So that’s, we’ll come back after the break and continue that conversation.
As the interview continued, it was readily apparent that Carson was in over his head on foreign policy questions. Part of the exchange continued as follows:
Hugh Hewitt: But Dr. Carson, one of the things I know that’s going to come up, and again, I don’t do ambush interviews, but when it appeared you didn’t know that the Baltic states were a part of NATO, or where you date the…
Ben Carson: Well, when you were saying Baltic state, I thought you were continuing our conversation about the former components of the Soviet Union. Obviously, there’s only three Baltic states.
Hugh Hewitt: Right, and they’re all part of NATO.
Hugh Hewitt: And so what I worry about as a Republican, as a conservative, is that because you’ve been being a great neurosurgeon all these years, you haven’t been deep into geopolitics, and that the same kind of questions that tripped up Sarah Palin early in her campaign are going to trip you up when, for example, the gotcha question, does she believe in the Bush doctrine when it depends on how you define the Bush doctrine. And so how are you going to navigate that, because I mean, you’ve only, have you been doing geopolitics? Do you read this stuff? Do you immerse yourself in it?
Ben Carson: I ‘ve read a lot in the last six months, no question about that. There’s a lot of material to learn. There’s no question about that. But again, I have to go back to something that I feel is a fundamental problem, and that is we spend too much time trying to get into these little details that are easily within the purview of the experts that you have available to you…
Carson’s failure to grasp basic geography puts him in the same category as Sarah Palin in 2008, who frequently stumbled on questions relating to foreign policy or geography. Carson’s missteps also conjure up memories of failed African-American GOP presidential candidate, businessman Herman Cain, who was woefully ignorant of foreign policy. Cain stumbled on foreign policy multiple times. In response to a question on Libya, a flustered Cain complained, ”I got all this stuff twirling around in my head”. However, his most memorable gaffe, may have been his awkward anti-press tirade when he quipped:
And when they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan I’m going to say, you know, I don’t know.
It became obvious that Cain had no clue about foreign policy.
Amateur candidates with little political experience, like Cain in the 2012 race and Ben Carson today, often burst onto the political scene as rhetorical firebrands whom conservatives love to embrace as straight talking Washington outsiders. However, when those candidates demonstrate their ignorance on foreign policy, some of that luster wears off, and they start to appear like risky choices to lead the “free world”.
Ben Carson, like Herman Cain and Sarah Palin before him, will no doubt try to tap into American anti-intellectualism to argue that the “elitists” in the media are picking on him. However, there really is no excuse for anybody seeking to become U.S. President, failing basic geography questions. Electing someone like Ben Carson would be a dangerous mistake. America needs a diplomat on the world stage, not a myopic neurosurgeon whose eyes glaze over when you show him a map of Europe.
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.