Dr. Ben Carson is a conservative star on the rise, but at least one of his policy ideas might cause the Republican leadership to do a double-take. In an interview with The Daily Caller, Carson said he opposed the invasions of both Iraq and Afghanistan.
The famed neurosurgeon and rising conservative voice said he sent a letter to President George W. Bush sometime after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and before the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003.
“I actually wrote President Bush a letter before the war started and I said, you know, what I would do is I would use the bully pulpit at this moment of great national unity and, very much in a Kennedy-esque type fashion, say within 10 years we’re going to become petroleum independent,” Carson told TheDC.
“And that would’ve been much more effective than going to war because, first of all, the moderate Arab states would’ve been terrified. And they would’ve handed over Osama Bin Laden and anybody else we wanted on a silver platter to keep us from doing that.”
“Most importantly,” he added, “the terrorists will be defunded, and that’s the way you get to them.”
The reluctance to attack Iraq might qualify as a mainstream position these days, at least outside of the Republican Party. More surprising, however, is Carson’s claim that he would not have gone to war in Afghanistan — an action that was generally viewed as an act of self-defense at the time. And on other issues, Carson is also carving out independent positions.
Carson has become a conservative favorite since his February speech critiquing some of President Obama’s health care and tax policies at the National Prayer Breakfast — with the commander-in-chief listening to him on the dais — though he has said he is an independent. Shortly after the February speech, Carson appeared as an honored guest on a special episode of Fox News’ “Hannity” and last weekend he gave a rousing address at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Some have even suggested the sixty-one year old who rose from nothing to become one of America’s most celebrated doctors and a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient should run for president in 2016. Carson, who announced over the weekend that he is retiring from his medical practice later this year, has said he would do so only if God compels him.
Despite the enthusiasm in certain conservative quarters, Carson has not articulated his position on a host of issues that matter to Republican voters, primarily because he has yet to be asked about them.
Carson told TheDC in an phone interview Tuesday that had he been president after the Sept. 11 attacks, he would have avoided an invasion of Afghanistan, given the country’s history.
“I personally would not have [gone to war in Afghanistan] because, you know, you’ve got to look at the history of Afghanistan,” he said. “You’ve got 300 tribal leaders throughout the country who have never been united in anything so who are you going to negotiate with? How are you going to achieve peace in a situation like that?”
Carson says he would have used an unspecified type of covert action to go after al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein instead.
“I would’ve used everything at our disposal, but not necessarily made public what I was doing,” he said.
“I would have certain goals, one of which was to get rid of Saddam. And I think there are a lot of ways that can be done. And then there are ways that you can infiltrate societies and take advantage of knowledge that is gained. One of our big problems, I think, is we go around broadcasting everything that we’re going to do. And we give our enemies a tremendous advantage when we do that. There’s absolutely no reason that we should be doing that.”
Don’t mistake Carson for an isolationist, however.
“As the pinnacle nation in the world, we play a critical role in the direction of the world,” he said. “I think we have to be active.”
Carson maintains this independent strain on domestic topics as well. On the topic of gay marriage, Carson said he doesn’t believe “anyone from any group has the right to redefine a major pillar of society.” But, he added, “any two consenting adults have the right to formalize a relationship between them.”
Carson says he believes in socio-economic affirmative action — what he calls “compassionate action” — not affirmative action “attached to any ethnicity.”
“You know we’ve always pulled for the underdog, but I don’t think the underdog has a particular ethnicity attached to it,” he said.
“If we’re talking about applying to Yale University and, you know, my son is applying and, you know, the son of coal miner who got killed in a mine, who’s been working since he was 12 to help support for the family, is applying, and they have similar academic records, I’m going to give the edge to the coal miner’s son because he’s had a much harder road, and that’s the way the program should work. It should not be attached to any ethnicity.”
On the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, Carson says he would “of course allow [illegal immigrants] to have a pathway to citizenship. That’s the only humane and reasonable thing to do.”
He also said the U.S. should “just look to our north” to figure out how to reform America’s immigration system.
“How does Canada do it and why don’t they have the same problems that we do?” he asked, rhetorically. “Because they have a very well formulated guest worker program. People come, seasonal workers come, as needed, and a lot are needed. They can come and they can go. They pay taxes. They’re registered. It seems like a perfectly reasonable solution. I’m not exactly sure why we have to make it a big political issue.”
On CNN Sunday, Carson said he was not a Republican but an independent. He explained to TheDC that he used to be a Democrat.
“I was a very strident Democrat, but then I felt that the party was leaving me behind,” he said.
“Because they used to believe a lot of the same things that I believe in terms of personal responsibility and they seem to have left that behind and that’s where I had to part company because, you know, I think that when you take the downtrodden and you kind of pat them on the head and say, ‘There, there you poor little thing, I’m going to give you this and this and this,’ I don’t think you’re doing them any favors. I think you’re actually keeping them in that subservient position. And I strongly disagree with that approach.”
Carson placed his exodus from the Democratic camp “toward the end of [Ronald] Reagan’s second term,” but conceded that he “thought there were some very good things about [Bill] Clinton.”
“He had the ability to be flexible,” Carson said.
Carson declined to say if he voted for Clinton.
“I don’t want to say whether I voted for him or not,” he said.
Carson is a devout Christian — a Seventh-Day Adventist, to be exact. Asked what books or philosophers outside the Bible have influenced his worldview, he said, “I don’t know that I would give a lot of credence, honestly, to anything outside of the Bible because I find myself in disagreement with just about everything at one level or another.”
He did, however, point to historical figures he found “inspiring,”
“Now in terms of people who have been inspiring, I would have to say that from our point of view, George Washington,” he said.
“I thought that both [Abraham] Lincoln and [Stephen] Douglas were extremely articulate in the way that they framed their arguments, particularly around slavery. And I am also a fan of [Alexis] De Tocqueville’s two volume set, only because he was very objective in the way he described what he saw.”
“And he concluded … the whole thing by saying,” Carson added, “‘America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.'”