Davenport, Iowa — Ben Carson is sick of taking flak for lacking foreign-policy expertise, and now he’s pushing back.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, national security has taken center stage in the Republican presidential race, and Carson has fallen from his perch atop the Iowa polls amid growing questions about his grasp of foreign affairs. On Sunday, he went on offense against those questions, arguing that he’d dealt with life-and-death issues his entire career, and accusing political leaders — including President Obama — of aping his ideas for combating ISIS even as they dismissed him as a neophyte.
“The thing I’ve said for multiple months [is], if we take the fight to them over there, we’re less likely to have to fight them here. I’m frankly a little frustrated,” Carson said at a Sunday afternoon event in Wilton. “[When] I say things like that, nobody ever pays any attention, and they say, ‘Carson doesn’t know anything about foreign affairs.’ And yet everybody picks up on all the stuff I say, including President Obama, and start using it themselves.”
He took that criticism one step further after a later event here in Davenport.
“In [Obama’s] case, he was talking in a press conference about taking their land and making them look like losers. Almost the exact words that I used. And I don’t mind them using my words. I don’t mind people talking about all the things that I’ve been talking about. But, you know, don’t act like I haven’t said these things and that I don’t have the knowledge, and because it comes out of somebody else’s mouth, ‘Oh it’s a wonderful thing.’ The hypocrisy just bothers me,” Carson told reporters when asked to elaborate on his earlier comments.
#share#Foreign policy has been a sticking point for Carson over the past couple of weeks. In the fourth Republican presidential debate on November 10, Carson made the dubious claim that Chinese forces were fighting in Syria. Earlier this week, his campaign had to push back on a New York Times report quoting a one-time adviser who said Carson was struggling to understand foreign policy. The report came in the wake of the savage Paris attacks, which stoked fears of an attack on the U.S. and gave foreign policy a renewed importance in the Republican race.
RELATED: What Ben Carson Doesn’t Know
Carson has seen his poll numbers begin to slide in Iowa, a state where he has a strong organization and where his inspirational, faith-focused message finds a natural audience. For a time, he was the front-runner here. But a CBS/YouGov poll of Hawkeye State Republicans conducted in the week after the Paris attacks found Carson fading to third place behind Ted Cruz. Though he is the candidate voters would most like to invite to Thanksgiving dinner, only 43 percent of registered Republicans in the poll said they believed Carson was ready to be commander in chief on Day One, compared with 67 percent who said they believed the same of Cruz.
CBS reported Sunday that advisers to Carson were floating the possibility of a trip to a foreign country in the leadup to the Iowa caucuses, as a way to shore up his foreign-policy credentials while making news. Carson declined to provide specifics to the press.
In his remarks at two Sunday afternoon events and in a gaggle with reporters, Carson hit repeatedly on the subject of ISIS, calling for the United States to “use every option available to us to wipe them out.” He also said preemptive measures needed to be taken to prevent ISIS from building up in countries where it was not yet a force.
#related#“A big part of their propaganda move is to talk about how they’ve established a caliphate. And if you take that from them, they won’t have the caliphate. It’s as simple as that,” Carson said, elaborating on the idea he claimed Obama had stolen from him. “As you take land from them, you make it very clear that they are losing that land.”
Carson said he was unconcerned by the polls that show him fading, blaming it on the “barrage of attacks” from the media, and saying he would continue doing what he’s doing. His ultimate argument was one of competence.
“I can guarantee you there is no one running that has [had] more 2 a.m. calls than I have,” he said, “and had to solve problems very quickly on the telephone that save people’s lives.”
— Alexis Levinson is senior political reporter for National Review.