Dr. Ben Carson goes in depth on national scurity issues with Hugh Hewitt. Says roots of conflict with Islamic State has roots in dispute between Jacob and Esau; stumbles on NATO status of Baltic States.
HH: I begin today, this segment and next, with Dr. Ben Carson. Dr. Carson, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
BC: Thank you, always good to be with you.
HH: Well, the last time I saw you, I wasn’t actually talking to you, because I was on the set of Meet the Press when Chuck Todd was quizzing you. Then I received an email from your PAC saying you’re collecting money, and today I see you in the New York Times. They’ve got a big story, How Do You Solve A Problem Like Ben Carson. So I guess it’s rollout time for Ben Carson’s presidential campaign.
BC: Well, you know, we certainly are keeping our ear to the ground and carefully watching, and you know, I’ve been very gratified by the response of grassroots people making donations. And we’ll see where that goes.
HH: Now Dr. Carson, I don’t do ambush interviews, but I do believe that the most important job of the president is national security and Defense related. Are you prepared to talk about some of those issues with me today?
HH: First question I always ask every candidate, have you had a chance to read the Lawrence Wright book called The Looming Tower, which is sort of the history of al Qaeda and where it comes from?
BC: I’ve not read that particular one, but I have had a chance to look at a lot of material on not only al Qaeda, but the radical Islamic movement in general, the kinds of things that motivate and drive them.
HH: What do you consider to be their tap root? What is the origin of their rage, in your view?
BC: Well, first of all, you have to recognize they go back thousands and thousands of years, really back to the battle between Jacob and Esau. But it has been a land issue for a very long period of time. Possession is very important to them. And one of the things that we’re doing, I think, incorrectly right now is not recognizing that they are expanding their territory. Not only the land that they’ve taken in Iraq, but what they’ve taken in Syria, they’re creating an Islamic state. And we can bomb it all we want. But unless we actually can take the land back, we’re really not doing them any damage.
HH: Dr. Carson, but you know, Muhammad lives in 632AD, so it’s a 1,300, 1,400 year old religion. How do you go back to Jacob and Esau, which are BC?
BC: I’m just saying that the conflict has been ongoing for thousands of years. This is not anything new, is what I’m saying.
HH: So it’s not specific to the Islamic faith or the Salafist offshoot to the Islamic faith?
BC: Well, the Islamic faith emanated from Esau.
HH: Okay, I would date it to 632, but you’ve got a Biblical connection here that some people may share with you, but I think scholars might dispute. I gather that. Let me ask you, though, in the current manifestation of the Islamic State, what is driving them to act as they are acting? Is it a particular variant of the Koran? What is it that you think animates their barbarianism?
BC: Well, I believe first of all that they believe that they are the possessors of right. And because of that, anything that is in disagreement with them is wrong and needs to be destroyed. And whatever mechanism they use to destroy it is okay. And that includes some of the things that appear to be very barbaric acts – chopping off people’s heads, burning them. It doesn’t matter, because they are infidels.
HH: Now do you rate the threat that the Islamic State and their adherents, and we don’t know if the Tunisian attack is Islamic State today or not. There are some suspicions is it, but we don’t know for sure. Do you rate the threat posed by them equal to the threat posed by Iran or other nation-state actors like North Korea, Russia or the People’s Republic of China?
BC: Well, I think right now, our biggest enemies are the group motivated by, that have sprung out of the Sunni radicals. That would be ISIS. And you know, there are a number of sponsored terrorist groups that emanate from the Shiia, which are based primarily in Iran. Right now, they’re fighting each other in Iraq, admittedly. But in the long run, I think they would gladly unite against us in their attempt to destroy the United States, our way of life, and Israel. And we have to be extraordinarily careful about any alliances with them.
HH: Now you’re unique in positing the prospect of a Shiia-Sunni alliance, although they have had some operational tactical alliances during the course of the Iraq war. But they are at each other’s throats right now, aren’t they?
BC: They are. There’s no question they’re at each other’s throats, and it’s tempting for us to say you know, the enemy of our enemy is our friend. But I do not believe that for one second. I believe that they believe that we are evil, and they want us destroyed.
HH: Are there any circumstances under which you can imagine trusting the mullahs of Tehran with nuclear weapons?
BC: No. No, because I don’t believe that they operate under the same guidelines as the rest of civilization in the sense that we were able to have some security, because people were afraid of mutual destruction. And I don’t believe that the threat of destruction to them carries the same weight as it does for other parts of civilization. In fact, in their philosophy, you know, becoming a martyr and dying could be a good thing.
HH: So do you rate, then, Iran as a greater threat than, say, Russia and China?
BC: I think currently, it is a greater threat, because I believe if they are able to acquire nuclear weapons, there’s a greater chance that they will utilize them, or that they will fall into the hands of other terrorists who might in fact use them.
HH: What would you like to see the President order John Kerry to do? Should we break off negotiations in Geneva and recalibrate our sanctions regime? Or should we continue to try and negotiate a halt to the program as it currently exists?
BC: I have nothing against negotiations, but they need to be very serious negotiations. And the demands need to be met quickly. So if we want to inspect, we should be able to inspect not based on their wants and desires, but based on what we have demanded. And if they’re not willing to comply with those, then why are we playing games with them?
HH: Yesterday, Vladimir Putin gave an interview in which he indicated he was willing to activate his nuclear alert status over Crimea. What do you assess Putin as, in terms of rational actor or a megalomaniac or what?
BC: Well, I think he’s a very rational actor, because he is sensing weakness. He’s sensing weakness in us and our allies in Europe, and he’s a bully. And I think he has bold ambitions, wants to reconstitute and empire. You know, when he invaded Georgia in 2008, you know, it was thought that you know, this was going to accomplish a limited, military action, and then he would withdraw. He never withdrew. And then he’s taken Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. And I think the only thing that really is stopping him is finances right now. And we should understand that, and we should do everything we can to create more economic problems for him. But then in the meantime, we should recognize what his goals are. And we should be establishing relationships with all the former components of the Soviet Union. We should be strengthening NATO. We should be getting them aligned with NATO. I mean, we need to be proactive. Why should we just wait until he does stuff and then say oh, he’s a horrible person and talk about sanctions again. That doesn’t make any sense.
HH: The Baltic states are very nervous, and we have troops in the Baltic states. Ought NATO to be willing to go to war if Putin attempts in the Baltic states anything like he’s attempted in Ukraine?
BC: I think they would be willing to go to war if they knew that they were backed up by us. I think part of the problem throughout the world right now is that our allies cannot be 100% certain that we’re behind them.
HH: And so should we have that sort of commitment, that if Putin makes a move on the Baltic states, we’d go to war?
BC: Well, if we have them involved in NATO. We need to convince them to get involved in NATO and strengthen NATO.
HH: Well, the Baltics, they are in NATO. So that’s, we’ll come back after the break and continue that conversation. And Poland’s in NATO, and we’ll talk about what that means with Dr. Ben Carson doing foreign affairs on the Hugh Hewitt Show.
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HH: I’d like to turn to the Defense budget, Dr. Carson. Have you had a chance, yet, to review the House GOP budget or the Senate GOP budget that were introduced this week?
BC: No, I haven’t had a chance to, I’ve certainly heard what’s in it, but I haven’t actually read them.
HH: And are you up to day, yet? Have you stayed up on the specifics of America’s Defense posture and its nuclear triad and our current state of preparedness, etc?
HH: So what is, what are we going to do about upgrading our nuclear triad, specifically our submarine fleet which ages out by 2029?
BC: Well, not only the submarine fleet, but the entire Navy, as you probably know, is at a state that is the smallest that it’s been since 1917. We are now in the process of not cutting out fat, but cutting into the muscle and cutting into the bone. And the question is, is that going to continue? And the answer is yes, if we continue with the current rash of sequestering. So I believe that Congress is going to have to intervene, because I think the President is perfectly happen to continue with the cutting into the flesh and the bone of our military strength.
HH: So how high should the budget go? And they’re playing some games in order to avoid the sequester cap by having an Overseas Contingency Operations fund combine with the Defense cap. But how high should total Defense spending go, putting aside the categories we’ve put it in? Do you have a number in your mind, Dr. Carson?
BC: Well, I would put I this way. We need to look around the world and see what our needs are. It’s not necessarily the kind of thing that you can say $600 billion dollars is going to take care of this, or $700 billion, you know, that it may well. But you first of all have to ask yourself what your goals are, what are you trying to accomplish, and how critical those things are. And we look at, you know, things that are Level A critical, things that we absolutely must do. Those cannot be compromised. And we look at Level B, things we’d like to do, and Level C, things we may or may not do sometime in the future. Level A things, we must take care of, so I would be willing to sit down with the budgetary analysts to figure out what that amount has to be to accomplish those things.
HH: Have you given thought, yet, to the minimum size of the fleet, for example, 11 carrier groups, and 18 Ohio-Class submarines, and that kind of thing? Have you gotten to that level of detail, yet?
BC: No, I would say we need to be able to respond in at least three areas of the world simultaneously. If we don’t have what we need to be able to do that, I think we’re in great jeopardy.
HH: Now as this campaign develops, there will be a lot of important questions which are detailed. For example, should we buy more F-18 Superhornets, because the F-35’s aren’t in production at the level that we want? Are those fair game to ask Ben Carson, who’s a neurosurgeon and new to the national defense? Or are those off limits?
BC: They’re fair questions to ask. But they have to be willing to hear the answer. And the answer to that kind of thing is the job of the commander-in-chief is not to micromanage the military budget or micromanage the way that things are done. It is to set out the goals and to produce those for the people who really are the experts in those areas to carry out. I think one of the big problems that we’re having right now, both in terms of morale and in terms of being able to accomplish things is that we have people who really have no idea what they’re doing trying to control the military.
HH: But Dr. Carson, one of the things I know that’s going to come up, and again, I don’t do ambush interviews, but when it appeared you didn’t know that the Baltic states were a part of NATO, or where you date the…
BC: Well, when you were saying Baltic state, I thought you were continuing our conversation about the former components of the Soviet Union. Obviously, there’s only three Baltic states.
HH: Right, and they’re all part of NATO.
HH: And so what I worry about as a Republican, as a conservative, is that because you’ve been being a great neurosurgeon all these years, you haven’t been deep into geopolitics, and that the same kind of questions that tripped up Sarah Palin early in her campaign are going to trip you up when, for example, the gotcha question, does she believe in the Bush doctrine when it depends on how you define the Bush doctrine. And so how are you going to navigate that, because I mean, you’ve only, have you been doing geopolitics? Do you read this stuff? Do you immerse yourself in it?
BC: I ‘ve read a lot in the last six months, no question about that. There’s a lot of material to learn. There’s no question about that. But again, I have to go back to something that I feel is a fundamental problem, and that is we spend too much time trying to get into these little details that are easily within the purview of the experts that you have available to you. And I think where we get lost is not being able to define what our real mission is, and not being able to strategize in terms of how do we defeat our enemies, how do we support our allies? I could spend, you know, the next six years learning all the details of all the SALT treaties and every other treaty that’s ever been done and completely miss the boat.
HH: Well, that’s possible, and I want to be respectful in posing this. But I mean, you wouldn’t expect me to become a neurosurgeon in a couple of years. And I wouldn’t expect you to be able to access and understand and collate the information necessary to be a global strategist in a couple of years. Is it fair for people to worry that you just haven’t been in the world strategy long enough to be competent to imagine you in the Oval Office deciding these things? I mean, we’ve tried an amateur for the last six years and look what it got us.
BC: Well, if you go to, let’s say, a very well-run hospital, you’re going to have a president of the hospital or chief administrator. He probably doesn’t know a whole lot about cardiac surgery, probably doesn’t know a whole lot about neurosurgery or pediatric infectious disease. But he knows how to put together a structure where the strength of all those departments work effectively. And as far as having an amateur in the Oval Office in the last six years, I would take issue with that. I would say that this man has been able to accomplish a great deal. It’s maybe not the things that you and I want accomplished, but in terms of fundamentally changing this nation and putting it on a different footing? I think he’s done quite a masterful job.
HH: Last question, Dr. Carson, is it, you’re a man of faith. Is it responsible for you to take the attention and the time that, and this is the New York Times question, that you will get away from candidates who are much more plausible candidates for the presidency, and thus divert attention into sidebars over the course of the next year? Or are you called by God to do this?
BC: Well, I think we’ll see what the people have to say, basically. We will give them an opportunity to listen to the answers, listen to the rationale, and understand whether there is room for somebody who isn’t soaked in the political bath.
HH: Dr. Ben Carson, always a pleasure, great to talk to you.
End of interview.