Columns

Ernst: Trump Tweets Haven't 'Worsened the Situation at All' with North Korea

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) speaks during a town hall meeting Sept. 21, 2017, in Charles City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

WASHINGTON – Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) criticized President Obama for his assessment of ISIS and called on the U.S. to destroy the caliphate, which has reportedly spread into Latina America and Southeast Asia.

“We have to find a way to wrap our arms around this and not just contain,” Ernst, the Senate’s first female combat veteran, said recently at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. “I hated when (the previous administration) used the word ‘contain’ ISIS. We don’t want to contain ISIS. Let’s make no bones about it. We want to destroy ISIS.”

In November 2015, Obama claimed in an interview that ISIS had been “contained” just a day before an attack in Paris that killed 130 people, with ISIS taking responsibility. The former president also once described ISIS as a “JV team” compared to al-Qaeda.

At the same time, Ernst, who served as a company commander in Kuwait and Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, defended President Trump’s “rocket man” rhetoric in dealing with North Korea. Trump and North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un have repeatedly traded threats in recent months, as North Korea has ramped up its missile programs in its pursuit of attaching a nuclear warhead to an intercontinental ballistic missile. Ernst said that Trump has been speaking “to the truth of the situation,” ensuring that Kim knows that if North Korea attacks the U.S. it will be met with full force.

“I can’t speak for the president, but I don’t see that his words have worsened the situation at all,” Ernst said. “If anything, it has put North Korea on alert that if they keep moving ahead with their intentions of putting a nuclear warhead onto an ICBM, that if they should use that technology, then we’re going to go after them.”

Ernst discussed the UN Security Council’s latest sanctions levied against North Korea, which international leaders hailed as the toughest sanctions yet against the reclusive communist nation. She said it could be months before the world see the impacts of the sanctions.

There have been reports that North Korean officials have been trying to tap into relationships with Republicans to better understand the Trump administration and its intentions. Ernst was asked if lawmakers would embrace those relationships.

“You try and encourage that and start developing relationships so you can exploit those relationships, or you simply cut them off,” she said. “What value would we get? We have to go through the pros and cons of either ignore it or encourage it and use it to our advantage, and that’s up for other departments.”

Ernst, who was elected in 2014, noted a distinct difference between the national security briefing team for this administration and the last. She praised the classified briefings the Senate has heard from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford (who also served under Obama), Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

“In the first six months of this administration, I have seen more engagement and interaction in the previous two years that I have been in the Senate, so they stay engaged with us,” she said. “They answer our questions directly, and it’s Republicans and Democrats in these briefings.”

Ernst, who grew up on a farm in Iowa, discussed how she and 20 other female senators have the “flexibility to get things done” in the upper chamber. She noted that she and Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) work well together, and she also praised the work she’s done with unlikely collaborator Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). While she and Gillibrand disagree on 95 percent of issues, she said, they work hard together on that last five percent.