Carson “doesn’t know much about it,” President Obama said in an exclusive interview with ABC News’ Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos that aired in part on Friday, referring to Republican Ben Carson’s claims that the Chinese are in Syria.
During the GOP debate, Ben Carson made a bizarre claim that the Chinese were in Syria, a claim he is both walking back while at the same time bragging that if the white House disagrees with him, he must have better sources.
“We also must recognize that it’s (Syria) a very complex place. You know, the Chinese are there, as well as the Russians, and you have all kinds of factions there,” Carson said in the GOP Fox News debate. Sure sounds like he’s talking about “factions”, since that is the word he used.
Then on Friday, after becoming a laughing stock for claiming he had better sources than the White House, Carson claimed he never said what he said and if he did, he didn’t mean it:
Carson campaign: when Dr. Carson said “the Chinese are there” in Syria he was referring to Chinese sales to Syrian govt of weapons/supplies
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) November 13, 2015
But quotes don’t lie, and while a person can be unclear when they are speaking, Carson’s campaign attempted to back up his claim by sending the Washington Post fact checkers a blog post and a 2012 article speculating that the Chinese were in Syria.
The Carson campaign did not respond to a query. (Update: Spokesman Doug Watts sent links to blog posts from September 2015 speculating that China was in Syria and a 2012 article about possible Chinese participation in war games with Russia and Syria, which noted the reports were unconfirmed.)
But while there were reports in Middle Eastern media that China would fight alongside Russia in Syria, that has been dismissed by the Chinese media as “speculative nonsense.” A newspaper tied to the ruling Communist Party noted, “It’s not China that brought chaos to Syria, and China has no reason to rush to the front lines and play a confrontational role.”
Both sources claim the Chinese were actually IN Syria, not arms, as Carson is now claiming he meant.
This is Carson’s source that is better than the White House, “Western naval sources reported Friday that a Chinese landing craft, the Jinggangshan, with a 1,000-strong marine battalion had reached the Red Sea en route for the Mediterranean off Syria. According to DEBKAfile, Beijing has already deployed a number of warships opposite Syria in secret. If the latest report is confirmed, this will be the largest Chinese deployment in the Middle East in its naval history.”
The second source Carson’s campaign provided to Washington Post fact checkers seems to use the Iranian government as a source and claims that Chinese air, ground and naval forces are in Syria conducting joint military exercises, i.e., actually in Syria:
Syrian, Iranian media reports say air, ground and naval forces to conduct “Middle East’s largest ever military exercise.”
Iranian media outlets reported on Tuesday that Iran, Russia, China and Syria are to conduct joint military exercises in Syria next month.
The semi-official Fars News outlet, which has ties to the Iranian government, cited “certain unofficial sources” in its report but did not say what those sources were.
The report appears to have originated on Arabic language Syrian media outlet ShamLife, which said the war-games were scheduled in less than a month’s time.
“I have several sources that I’ve got material from, I’m surprised my sources are better than theirs,” Carson said at a town hall in South Carolina on Friday.
Indeed. Iranian government conspiracy theories and a blog post are totes better than the White House intel.
Ms. Jones is the editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.