Dec. 28, 2015, 11:02 AM
Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson still isn't fully backing away from what many considered a blunder in a series of fall foreign-policy missteps, suggesting that "people in the CIA" told him that there is Chinese military involvement in the conflict in Syria.
Carson addressed his comments about China and Syria in a wide-ranging interview with The Washington Post.
During a November debate, the retired neurosurgeon said that having US special operations forces in Syria is better than not having them there, and then noted that Syria is a "very complex place."
"You know, the Chinese are there, as well as the Russians, and you have all kinds of factions there," he said.
In response to a question from The Post about whether his policies have affected his standing in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, Carson said, "In terms of missteps, I think that people simply can't sometimes understand what I'm talking about."
"As far as the China thing was concerned, I probably shouldn't have said that," Carson told The Post. "I said that on the basis of what some people in the CIA tell me. And of course, subsequent information came out that there is some Chinese [involvement in Syria]."
Carson is likely referring to a memo released by his campaign that laid out China's "longstanding and well-documented security ties to Syria." The statement suggested that, at the debate, Carson was referring to Chinese weapons — rather than troops or advisers — in Syria.
"They made it seem like I'm saying there are a bunch of Chinese boots on the ground," Carson told The Post. "Well, everybody knows that Chinese have physical characteristics that would make them pretty easy to identify in a setting like that. Give me a break. But they just jump on. That kind of stuff is frustrating."
Despite Carson's assurances that he wasn't referring to boots on the ground, top Carson adviser Armstrong Williams told Business Insider at the time that intelligence sources and military operatives in the Middle East told Carson that "Chinese military advisers are on the ground in Syria operating with Russia special-operations personnel."
In November, foreign-policy experts were skeptical of Carson's claims, even taking his campaign's explanation of the weapons involved in Syria into account.
"I'm deeply skeptical," Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group and author of the book "Superpower," told Business Insider in an email. "And of course, that's not what Carson was talking about in the debate — he was talking about direct China intervention."
"The broader point is that Ben Carson has no business talking about foreign policy," Bremmer continued. "It's impossible to imagine him making sense of all these issues over the course of a campaign cycle."