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Carson fails to impress on foreign policy

Voters angry with traditional politics have been flocking to support of Ben Carson, the famous neurosurgeon with the benign grin and temperament who has oozed his way into the affections of millions of Americans as an outsider 2016 Republican presidential candidate.

He has garnered amazing backing as a sort of nonpolitical Willy Loman, running on a smile and a shoeshine. Without selling himself as the anti-Donald Trump, Dr. Carson has benefited from the sharp contrast he presents to Mr. Trump's bluster.

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But as foreign policy experience has taken on new significance in the campaign, the good doctor's prescriptions have seemed, under sharper scrutiny, to lack much depth, inviting the view that he has little familiarity with world affairs generally.

In stating untruths, such as his contention that the Chinese are involved in the Syrian civil war quagmire, Dr. Carson has compounded doubts about his world affairs chops. Hence his sudden and rather surreptitious visit to Syrian refugee camps in Jordan without open press coverage. He said he went to learn first-hand of the victims' plight and found they'd rather return to their homeland.

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Unfortunately, the conditions in Syria are what have driven its citizens by the millions into Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and various sanctuaries in the Middle East and Europe. So Dr. Carson says the thing for America is to do is to step up aid to such places so the refugees don't have to travel all the way to the U.S.

He could, of course, have reached that conclusion without flying halfway around the world. In doing so, he simply tapped into an old American politician's ploy of showing up to demonstrate his concern. For many years, other presidential candidates have routinely done the same and, in the television era, returned with the video to prove it.

There was a time when White House aspirants, ever in pursuit of the immigrant vote, would tour what was known as "the three I league" of Ireland, Italy and Israel, swearing love for each. But Realpolitik has ordained changes in the tour route since then.

Dr. Carson can be credited for going to where the action is and seeing for himself. Some knowledge is always better than none, unless the fact-finding is merely window-dressing for a political campaign suspiciously short of substance.

In the current journalistic search for clues to the foreign policy expertise of Donald Trump and Ben Carson, due note has been taken (and pointed out by the candidates themselves) of their visits to the Mexican border. There, each apparently has had it confirmed by border guards and sheriffs that it's one hell of a mess and a danger to our national security.

One wonders now whether Ben Carson is considering a trip to Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where in 1787 the Founding Fathers gathered to write the Constitution -- without Thomas Jefferson, who was occupied in Paris as the United States' minister to France.

The question arises because Dr. Carson publicly credited Jefferson with authorship of the Constitution, perhaps confusing his erudite penmanship in composing the Declaration of Independence 11 years earlier.

In a C-SPAN interview, he said Jefferson "tried to craft our Constitution in a way that would control people's natural tendencies and control the natural growth of this government." But in Dr. Carson's book, "A More Perfect Union," he acknowledged that Jefferson had been "missing in action," and in a later television interview said that "of course" he didn't craft the Constitution.

Later, in a Facebook entry, Dr. Carson said incorrectly that no elected official had signed the Declaration, when many did. He then said he meant no "federal" official, which was obvious inasmuch as there was no "federal" government then.

Dr. Carson's quick jaunt to Jordan is an acknowledgment that he is a candidate for the presidency with significant blanks to fill in, regarding his intellectual background and qualifications to lead this country and the free world.

Unfortunately, campaign globe-trotting is not the answer. He needs to put more persuasive substance into his ideas for a functioning government in Washington and for achieving peace at home and abroad.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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