Ben Carson on foreign policy learning curve

Ben Carson on NATO Article 5 Nevada press conference_00000617
Ben Carson on NATO Article 5 Nevada press conference_00000617

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Story highlights

  • Ben Carson moved to distance himself Tuesday from a report suggesting that top advisers are frustrated with his approach to foreign policy
  • According to the New York Times, Duane R. Clarridge, a campaign adviser, says the retired pediatric neurosurgeon is struggling to grasp the complexities of world affairs
  • Carson's campaign says Clarridge has not been regularly involved in prep sessions

(CNN)Ben Carson said Tuesday that he is on a learning curve when it comes to foreign policy.

Appearing on "PBS NewsHour," the retired pediatric neurosurgeon said that he knows a lot more now than he did a year ago, "and a year from now, I'll know a lot more than I know now."
"In medicine we have something called continuing medical education. You have to get those credits in order to be recertified," he said. "I think that applies to every aspect of our lives, particularly in a rapidly changing world."
    Carson's comments come as a report in The New York Times, suggested that two of Carson's aides think that he struggling to grasp the nuances and complexities of foreign policy.
    "Nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East," said Duane Clarridge, an expert on national security and has known Carson for two years.
    Clarridge's criticism comes as the political debate has shifted to national security in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris and the downing of a Russian plane.
    Yet Carson said that Clarridge, who is well-known among conservatives, was not in his inner circle.
    "He's not my adviser. He is not my adviser. He is a person who has come in on a couple of our sessions to offer his opinions about what was going on," he said. "To call himself my adviser would be a great stretch, and he has no idea who else I'm sitting down and talking to."
    Carson aides say the candidate has a circle of roughly a dozen or so foreign policy advisers, including Robert Dees and Bud McFarlane and that Clarridge has not regularly been involved in prep sessions.
    "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. He is coming to the end of a long career of serving our country," said Doug Watts, Carson's communications adviser. "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."
    As a frontrunner, Carson is facing increased scrutiny and at times has seemed out of his depth on foreign policy -- Carson business manager Armstrong Williams said on Bloomberg News that he was on a "learning curve" an assessment that Carson agreed with.
    In a 'Fox News Sunday' interview, Carson was unable to name the foreign leader he would call first as he developed an ISIS strategy. Aides said that often Carson can be dismissive of questions he thinks are irrelevant and needed to understand that viewers and voters could see such dismissiveness as lacking knowledge.
    Carson said on PBS that he wasn't interested in the question who he would call first and dismissed it as a search for a soundbite that people could pick over later.
    "When Chris Wallace kept asking who would you call first, I wasn't interested in answering because I've learned if I said Egypt first, Jordan first, etc, the next thing would be why not this one first," he said. "What I was talking about is we have to have a broad plan, a coalition."
    In the last GOP debate, Carson suggested that China was active in Syria. His campaign later released a statement that blamed the press for misinterpreting him and said that China didn't have a military presence in Syria, but had sold weapons and supplies in Syria.
    "He is learning, he is in school and he wants to know it just as well as the experts," said Williams. "He is knee-deep in it."