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Ernst: Generals 'hamstrung' by politics

U.S. needs to take leadership position in guidance and support, as well as military affairs, Senator says

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Sen. Joni Ernst, who has been touted as someone Donald Trump would turn to for military advice if he was elected president, agreed with the GOP nominee that America needs to re-establish its leadership position on the world stage.

However, the Iowa Republican doesn’t share his admiration for Russian Vladimir Putin.

“No, absolutely not,” Ernst said with a laugh Thursday when asked if the former KGB agent was a role model for Americans.

There’s a need for America to take a strong leadership position in the world, not just in military affairs, but in providing guidance and support to allies, Ernst said on her weekly conference call with reporters.

The question isn’t whether the next president has to be Putin-like, Ernst said, but “where is American leadership and where do we go from this point?”

A key to that leadership is the advice the next president gets from his or her military advisers.

Ernst didn’t go so far as to say, as Trump did in an NBC forum Wednesday, that under President Barack Obama “the generals have been reduced to rubble … embarrassing for our country.”

Despite “some tremendous leaders in the military,” Ernst shares Trump’s concerns about the quality of advice Obama is getting and how he is applying it.

“I hate to say it, but I do think that a number of generals have been hamstrung by the politics of the situation we are in right now,” said Ernst, who retired as a lieutenant colonel after 23 years in the Iowa Army National Guard.

She dinged the president for not putting together “a comprehensive strategic plan to handle global war on terrorism or ISIS.

“That’s what our president as commander-in-chief will have to do,” she said.

On other topics, Ernst said:

— Differences over the construction of the Bakken pipeline should be resolved by the states involved, not Congress.

Although the Army Corps of Engineers is involved in the permitting process, Ernst said she would “hate to see it come to a point where the federal government felt it had to intervene.”

— Regarding Trump’s answer to a question on military sexual assault, Ernst said the focus should be on preventing those “heinous acts.”

“Sexual assault is never OK. It is never OK in the military. It’s never OK on campuses. Never. I feel very strongly about that.”

— She doubts the Russians have any interest — or anything to gain — from hacking her smartphone or email.

“I don’t know why the Russians would be looking at me,” she said. “People are not sending classified information to my private Hotmail address.”

There are plenty of Iowans, including reporters, who email her personal account. She forwards those messages to her staff so they can be documented, especially those that involve case management.

— Sunday will be a “somber reminder” of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Flight 93.

“America will never forget those who were lost,” she said, her voice breaking. “Our prayers are with their loved ones who continue to feel the deepest pain in their absence.”

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