ATLANTA — Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson on Tuesday announced a 16-members foreign policy team that “will help Dr. Carson chart a course for renewed American global leadership in the 21st century” — the campaign’s latest attempt to silence critics who have questioned his grasp of national security issues in the wake of the Paris attacks and the shooting in San Bernardino, Calif.
“I’m honored that these distinguished individuals have agreed to join my campaign,” Carson said in a statement. “They bring with them great breadth and depth of experience in international affairs. I look forward to relying on their good counsel to offer solutions to the grave national security challenges this country faces.”
Among those advisers listed were George Birnbaum, the former chief of staff to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and retired general Bob Dees.
“I’m very sensitive to, you know, the narrative that Carson doesn’t know anything about foreign policy,” Carson told an audience of more than 1,000 supporters here in Atlanta during a speech at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre on Tuesday.
He has good reason.
Carson’s foreign policy chops have seen intense scrutiny since the terrorist attacks in Paris last month thrust national defense into the center of the 2016 campaign. A series of missteps on the campaign trail has deepened questions about whether or not the retired neurosurgeon has the foreign police expertise necessary to be president.
Recent polls have seen Carson drop to third or fourth place nationally as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz have surged. Cruz in particular appears to have siphoned many of the social conservative voters in early-voting Iowa, which had buoyed Carson's candidacy. Carson has also seen double-digit losses among white Christian evangelicals.
That’s a far cry from last month when several polls indicated he could pose a challenge to business mogul Donald Trump’s status as the Republican front-runner.
Notably absent from the list was adviser Duane Clarridge, a former CIA agent, who last month raised eyebrows when he gave a damning review of Carson’s understanding of foreign affairs during an interview with the New York Times. “Nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East,” Clarridge said. The campaign distanced itself from Clarridge, saying he was not a part of Carson's daily briefings.
In addition to announcing his foreign policy team, Carson on Monday announced that he would visit three African countries — Nigeria, Kenya and Zambia — at the end of the month to learn more about their struggles and the security threats they face. That trip comes after a short “fact-finding” journey to two refugee camps in Jordan following Thanksgiving.
He has taken a hard-line position against allowing Syrian refugees to enter the United States, pointing to his conversations with refugees in Jordan who he says want to return to Syria one day. After the San Bernardino shooting, Carson said the debate over allowing refugees to enter the country should be over.
“We really shouldn’t even be entertaining it… the vetting process didn’t work, that should end the conversation right there,” Carson told the crowd in Atlanta.
“When you get on an airplane, you’ll notice that there’s an announcement. It says, ‘In case of an emergency, oxygen masks will drop down. Put yours on first and then administer help to your neighbor,’” Carson said later. “"We have to put our oxygen mask on first.”
Carson was introduced onstage by businessman Herman Cain, whose 2012 presidential bid briefly electrified the GOP base despite Cain’s lack of political experience and a weak national campaign infrastructure.
Cain said that Republicans lost in the 2012 election because “3 million conservatives stayed home because there was something they didn’t like about the candidate.”
“Stay informed — because stupid people are ruining America,” he told the crowd, which met his remarks with cheers and laughs. ”I am inspired; God blessed me with a voice and a big mouth and I'm going to use it to try to wake people up and convert some of the stupid people. That's why I am proud to introduce my friend tonight, Dr. Ben Carson.”
Carson also announced Tuesday morning that he would appoint a "chief organization architect" if elected president to review the federal bureaucracy.
While in Atlanta, Carson also attended a roundtable event with veterans earlier in the day before touring the Martin Luther King. Jr. Center. Both events were closed to the media.