Campaigning in the conservative Upstate, Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson said Wednesday the United States military would be the “strongest military force that the world has ever known” if he’s elected president.
The retired neurosurgeon made that broad pronouncement during a forum at Wofford College on foreign policy and other issues.
The forum gave Carson a chance to talk about foreign policy issues – one topic the retired neurosurgeon has struggled with on the campaign trail – a problem his campaign has noted.
Carson also is slipping farther behind front-runner Donald Trump, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll, where Carson dropped to 16 percent from 23 percent in late October.
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Some audience members also had concerns about Carson’s defense chops.
Jack and Virginia Borders of Augusta said they liked Carson’s emphasis on pro-life and family values, but were concerned his health care background did not prepare him to defend the country.
“It’s a weakness. There’s no question,” said Jack Borders, a surgeon who studied at Johns Hopkins University when Carson was there as a surgeon. “What does he have in mind?” Borders asked, looking at a Carson campaign leaflet. “He’s got, ‘Defeat ISIS.’ What the (heck) does that mean?”
Carson said one way he would fight the Islamic State terrorist group – which has used the Internet to reach “disaffected people” in the United States and abroad – is through social media and cyber-warfare.
“We need to counter them with our own messages on the Internet, and we need to use cyber-attacks, if necessary, to break down their communications strategy. Some people say, ‘That’s dirty.’ It’s OK. You can fight dirty people with dirty tactics,” he said.
Carson said the United States needs to be “much more aggressive” in the fight against ISIS in Syria, but proceeded to lay out a strategy that reflected the current approach: cut off terrorists’ financial resources and access to oil and work with ground troops in the region.
Carson said the United States needs to “take advantage of boots on the ground that are already there, mainly the Kurds.”
Having recently visited refugee camps in Jordan, Carson explained why he does not think the United States should accept Syrian refugees, going through pictures of his visit displayed on two jumbo-screens hanging in the arena.
The camps were under capacity and had a “brand new hospital” with “very nice facilities and no patients” because they did not have the money to operate the hospital. Carson said refugees he spoke to told him they wanted to return to Syria at some point.
“They did not say bring us over there (the United States) in droves. What they said is support the program that the Jordanians have.”
While President Barack Obama has asked the United States to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees, Carson exaggerated that number. “ISIS has already said that if we bring tens of thousands of people here, they’re going to infiltrate them with radical Islamic jihadists.”
Ben Carson in the polls
Carson still holds second place in national polls, but slipped to 16 percent support in a poll out this week from 23 percent in late October. Here’s where the top contenders stand in South Carolina, according to an average of polls:
Donald Trump – 29 percent
Ben Carson – 22.7 percent
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio – 13.3 percent
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz – 12.3 percent
Jeb Bush – 6.7 percent
SOURCE: Real Clear Politics