Neurosurgeon and prospective Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson stumbled on key foreign policy questions during an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Wednesday, appearing to not realize the Baltic States are members of NATO and dating the founding of Islam to well before the birth of Christ.
“I don’t do ‘ambush’ interviews,” Hewitt began, first asking Carson if he felt prepared to tackle some questions on foreign affairs. The neurosurgeon seemed keen, but quickly got into trouble.
When asked about the origins of the rage felt by Islamic fundamentalists against the West, Carson said “You have to recognize that they go back thousands and thousands of years — really back to the battle between Jacob and Esau.”
“Dr. Carson,” Hewitt said, “you know, Mohammed lives in 632 A.D. So it’s a 13, a 1,400-year-old religion. How do you go back to Jacob and Esau, which is B.C.?”
“I’m just saying that the conflict has been ongoing for thousands of years,” Carson replied haltingly. “This is not anything new, is what I’m saying.”
“So it’s not specific to the Islamic faith, or to the Salafist offshoot of the Islamic faith?” Hewitt pressed.
“Well the Islamic faith emanated from Esau,” Carson said. Biblical tradition claims that Esau is one of the sons of Isaac and the ancestor of all Arabs — but even with that understanding, he was born thousands of years before Islam was first founded.
Carson also said he believes that, despite being locked in a brutal regional war, Sunni and Shi’a Islamic radicals could “unite” against the United States. It was an assertion Hewitt called “unique,” and one that many foreign policy experts would likely dismiss entirely.
Hewitt later turned to the threat of Vladmir Putin, asked the doctor how to best combat an aggressive and expansionist Russia — particularly in the vulnerable Baltic States. “We need to convince them to get involved in NATO, and strengthen NATO,” he said.
“Well, the Balts, they are in NATO,” Hewitt said.
“When you were saying ‘Baltic states,’ I thought you were continuing our conversation about the former components of the Soviet Union,” Carson tried to explain. “Obviously they are only three Baltic states.”
“Yeah, and they’re all part of NATO,” Hewitt said, adding that he was concerned that the same questions that tripped up Sarah Palin in 2008 could trip up Ben Carson in 2016. “How are you going to navigate that?” Hewitt asked. “Have you been doing geopolitics? Do you read this stuff? Do you immerse yourself in it?”
“I’ve, uh, read a lot in the last six months,” Carson chuckled. “There’s a lot of stuff to learn, there’s no question about that.”