A top adviser to Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson told Business Insider on Thursday that a New York Times report on Carson’s foreign-policy knowledge isn’t as explosive as it might seem.
Duane Clarridge, a former CIA agent whom the paper identified as a “top adviser to Mr. Carson on terrorism and national security,” told The Times that Carson has a hard time understanding the intricacies of the Middle East.
“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 Times.
But Armstrong Williams, Carson’s longtime business manager who frequently acts as a campaign surrogate, said Clarridge was a “good guy” who wasn’t aware of the extent of Carson’s prepping on foreign policy.
“Mr. Clarridge is a good man, he’s been a friend of Dr. Carson’s, he’s well-meaning,” Williams told Business Insider. “He’s just frustrated because he was unaware that Dr. Carson was talking to so many other advisers.”
Williams said that over the past two years, Clarridge has met with Carson twice face-to-face and spoken to him on the phone about four times. He also mentioned concern for Clarridge’s health.
“He’s just a good guy. He’s really a good guy,” Williams said of Clarridge. “I know that [the Carson campaign] mentioned in that press release ‘elderly,’ but that man is sharp as a tack.”
After The Times published its story, the Carson campaign released a statement distancing Carson from Clarridge.
“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,” Doug Watts, a Carson campaign spokesman, told Business Insider in an email.
“He is coming to the end of a long career of serving our country. 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.”
When asked whether he agreed with The Times’ characterization of Carson’s foreign-policy knowledge, Williams said: “That’s only from [Clarridge’s] perspective. He wanted more time. He’s unaware of the amount of time Carson spends with others on the issue of foreign policy. Almost 40% of his time.”
The breadth of Carson’s foreign-policy knowledge was heavily scrutinised last week when he said during the Republican presidential debate that China was involved in the Syrian conflict.
In response to a question about President Barack Obama’s decision to send 50 members of special operations forces to Syria and to keep 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan, the retired neurosurgeon said that having the US forces in Syria is better than not having them there. He then noted that Syria is 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.
Foreign-policy experts and journalists questioned this analysis. And the White House colorfully shot down Carson’s suggestion that China was involved in the Syrian conflict, a four-year civil war that has torn the country apart and allowed jihadist factions to grow as President Bashar Assad has struggled to hold on to power.
The Times did not immediately respond to a request for comment form Business Insider on the Carson campaign’s criticism of the story. Clarridge couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
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