National Security

Ernst Slams Obama’s Non-Strategy Against ISIL

Iowa Senate candidate seeks to promote her foreign policy creds

Militants from the al Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) celebrate the group's declaration of an Islamic state, in Fallujah
On Monday, June 30, 2014, ISIS militants celebrate the group's declaration of an Islamic state, in Fallujah / AP

Republican Joni Ernst is blasting the Obama administration for lacking a strategy to defeat Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria as she seeks to promote her foreign policy credentials in the close Iowa Senate race.

Ernst, an Iraq War veteran and current lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard, told Radio Iowa on Thursday that there was "no excuse" for President Obama not to have a strategy to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS). The jihadist group now controls large swaths of Iraq and Syria, and current and former U.S. intelligence officials say radicalized Americans who travel overseas to fight for ISIL could eventually return to launch attacks.

Obama received criticism from some lawmakers and foreign policy experts last week when he said "we don’t have a strategy yet" to combat ISIL. He also sent mixed signals this week about whether U.S. officials aim to "degrade and destroy" the militants or simply make the threat "manageable."

"Right now the president has said he does not have a strategy in that region," Ernst said in the interview. "That is very disheartening for all of us that have served in that region. There is absolutely no excuse for not having a strategy in that region. If he would listen to his military advisers, they could better guide him on these particular issues."

She added that the administration has not provided Congress with enough information about the threat posed by ISIL, such as how more U.S. airstrikes or deployments of special operations forces would fit into a broader strategy against it. The Daily Beast reported on Friday that White House officials have largely avoided working with Congress to craft a strategy—even as lawmakers in both parties call for more robust action against ISIL.

"We need to know what the strategy is before we can engage overseas," Ernst said.

Ernst has joined a growing number of Republican candidates who are attacking the administration for not taking a strong stance on a myriad of world crises. Her opponent, Rep. Bruce Braley (D., Iowa), has mostly shied away from discussing foreign policy on the campaign trail.

His campaign did not respond to a request for comment on whether he supports Obama’s authorization of limited airstrikes against ISIL so far, or whether he would like to see a more detailed strategy.

Republicans previously assailed Braley for voting against the Department of Defense’s annual spending bill in July 2012, which included a pay raise for troops. The four-term congressman defended his decision at the time by stating that "we have accomplished the objectives of our mission in Afghanistan" and that "al Qaeda has been marginalized."

News reports have cast doubt on both of those statements. The Taliban continues to attack government buildings in Afghanistan with suicide bombs and rockets, and the State Department has warned that ISIL—an al Qaeda offshoot—could seize nuclear and radioactive materials as it gains more territory in Iraq and Syria.

Recent polls indicate that Americans are increasingly unnerved by the state of world affairs. A 54 percent majority of respondents to a USA Today/Pew Research Center Poll last month said Obama is "not tough enough" on foreign policy issues, while significantly more Americans said the United States "does too little" to solve global problems compared to previous surveys.

Ernst and Braley are currently in a dead heat in the Iowa Senate race, according to the Real Clear Politics poll average. The contest could be crucial to Republicans’ efforts to retake the Senate majority this fall.