Why Ben Carson is visiting Jordan

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson is responding to criticism of his foreign policy with a trip to Jordan, where he toured a refugee camp Saturday.

Khatol Aziz/Muslim Public Affairs Council/ AP
Rabiah Ahmed from the Muslim Public Affairs Council invites Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson to meet with members of the American Muslim community. Carson, who has been criticized on his foreign policy including statements about Muslims, visited Jordan Nov. 26.

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson doesn't have a lot of foreign policy experience, and he is responding with a post-Thanksgiving trip to the Middle East.

Mr. Carson's foreign policy views have at times appeared underdeveloped or insensitive. Last week Carson compared ISIS to "rabid dogs" and that the US needed to balance national security threats from ISIS and compassion when it comes to allowing Syrian refugees into the country, according to Politico.

"For instance, you know, if there is a rabid dog running around your neighborhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog, and you’re probably gonna put your children out of the way," Carson said, according to Politico. "Doesn’t mean that you hate all dogs by any stretch of the imagination."

"By the same token, we have to have in place screening mechanisms that allow us to determine who the mad dogs are, quite frankly," he said. "Who are the people who wanna come in here and hurt us and wanna destroy us?"

On Saturday, Carson was in Jordan to see for himself a UN camp for Syrian war refugees.

This is not the first time Carson surprised political pundits with a campaign move. Igor Bobic for the Huffington Post voiced displeasure over his decision to "suspend" his campaign to a take a book tour for several weeks in October. Although releasing a book before or during a political campaign is not uncommon, few have detoured from the standard campaign states to promote the book. But in Carson's case, it worked. His poll numbers went up throughout the tour, Reuters reported.

Carson is polling second among Republicans but experienced a dip in opinion in mid-November, according to Reuters.

While an overseas trip at this point is a little unorthodox, Carson is not the first presidential candidate to test-drive foreign policy skills with a trip abroad. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker each flew to London earlier this year, among other foreign trips, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has visited Israel. Both Republican and Democratic candidates in previous elections have done the same, Philip Rucker and Anne Gearan reported for the Washington Post.

The trips abroad can serve as a signal to voters that candidates are equipped to become diplomat-in-chief, particularly for state governors with little previous foreign experience, or non-politician candidates such as Carson. That said, none of these globe-trotting candidates have emerged as foreign policy gurus in the race.

Carson's choice of destination is a bit unusual, as most candidates travel to Europe or Israel. However, Jordan, as one of America's close allies in the Middle East and a key host for Syrian refugees, seems logical if his goal was to gather first-hand stories and form "an opinion of how to actually solve the problem," as he told The New York Times. 

On Saturday Carson toured the Azraq camp in northern Jordan under heavy Jordanian security, with journalists barred, reported the Associated Press. Carson's campaign also limited access, not providing his itinerary.

During the two-day trip, Carson may also visit a center for women and girls. He took Beanie Babies and soccer balls to distribute to children, Trip Gabriel reported for The New York Times. 

Carson's campaign has released only a short statement after UN camp visit, saying that with international help, neighboring Arab nations - not the US - should continue to host the Syrian refugees, Omar Akour reported for the AP.

"Syrians have a reputation as very hard working, determined people, which should only enhance the overall economic health of the neighboring Arab countries that accept and integrate them into the general population," he said in the statement, according to the AP. "There is much beauty in Syria and I suspect that many displaced Syrians will return there when peace is restored." 

Millions of Syrian refugees have fled to Jordan and Lebanon since 2011, where they live in both United Nations camps and cities, but the countries' own infrastructures are struggling as the conflict drags on.

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