Ben Carson is taking off for Israel on Saturday for a "fact-finding mission" that could be a precursor for a 2016 presidential bid.
"As I consider a run, Israel is an extremely important place to have a good pulse on," Carson said on Newsmax TV
"We've all read a lot about it, we've all heard a lot about it, but if you haven't actually been there, experienced the culture, talked to the people, you're always going to have a little bit of a distorted impression."
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Carson said the United States' frosty relationship with Israel has serious ramifications with other allies and is symptomatic of our inability to lead on the world stage.
"I don't get the impression that Israel feels that we are their solid ally anymore," Carson told hosts Ed Berliner and J.D. Hayworth. "One of the reasons that is so problematic is because if we can't support them, what are our other allies thinking?
"We have to really think about these ramifications and at some point, we have to lead. We have to have actual foreign policy that is proactive, that is not just reactive to what's going on. Look at the things that Putin is doing. Are we doing anything to stop him? Of course not."
But the trip is one many other potential candidates make while looking to shore up their foreign policy credentials and reaffirm support for Israel, reports The Washington Times
Carson, who became popular following a fiery speech aimed at President Barack Obama, gets high marks among conservatives for his stance on national issues, but has never held public office. Polls put the retired neurosurgeon at or near the top of the list of potential GOP nominees.
Loyalty to the U.S.-Israel relationship has become a test for Republicans, and several other potential GOP presidential nomination candidates, including Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky, along with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, have all traveled to the key Middle Eastern ally. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is planning a nine-day trip there later this month.
Obama also traveled to Israel in 2008, when he was running for his first term in office.
Such trips are giving the potential candidates the opportunity to contrast with the likely Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who as a former secretary of state will bring a resume filled with foreign relations experience, said GOP strategist Keith Appell.
"These trips give Republican candidates an opportunity to not only raise their stature level to be even with Hillary Clinton, but also contrast their vision with her spectacular failures on the international stage," Appell told The Times.
This is Carson's first trip to Israel and will last through Dec. 20. His activities will include a flyover of the Gaza border in a helicopter and a tour of a military base, The Washington Post
However, an update to The Post's story notes that Carson's tour is not expected to include visits with government officials, as Carson points out that Israel is heading into a "contentious and short election period."
Further, he emphasized to The Post that his trip is "a private fact-finding mission rather than an official visit."
Terry Giles, a Texas lawyer who would chair a Carson presidential run; businessman Logan Delaney, who would serve as the financial officer; and Armstrong Williams, who currently serves as Carson’s business manager, are going along on the trip.
Carson told The Times that there are many who will see the trip as a precursor to a campaign, and if he's considering running, "Israel would be an excellent place to go to and get the kind of perspective that I was just talking about."
Carson plans to announce his decision on running by May. Earlier this year, he formed the USA First PAC, which supported Republican candidates in the midterms, including Iowa's Joni Ernst and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, both of whom won their elections.
He also last month changed his party registration from independent to Republican, saying it was a "pragmatic move" to make.
A Public Policy Polling survey
released Wednesday put Carson and Clinton on top of their parties' potential nomination contests in the state of North Carolina — and showed the two in a dead heat, at 44 percent each, in a head-to-head contest.
Among Republicans, Carson got 19 percent of the vote, followed by 15 percent for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and 14 percent each for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Clinton had 52 percent support among Democrats, with Vice President Joe Biden in second place with 18 percent and Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 7 percent.
Biden, if he runs, will bring several years of foreign policy experience to the race, as he has served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He traveled to Israel earlier this year.
Warren also traveled to Israel last month, but has been resisting liberals' calls for her to run for the Oval Office, reports The Post.
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