Pompeo, Ernst criticize Biden ‘weakness’ on Russia-Ukraine dispute

By: - February 23, 2022 9:01 pm

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and former Ambassador Terry Branstad (left to right) spoke on a panel on Feb. 23, 2022. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Sen. Joni Ernst and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday the U.S. has not showed enough strength to deter Russia from invading Ukraine – a “weakness” they say has infected foreign policy issues through President Joe Biden’s tenure.

“We needed to really force the issue on sanctions when it came to Russia. We needed to show strength. We needed to show power,” Ernst said. “That’s what President Putin understands – that’s the only thing that he really understands.”

Ernst and Pompeo criticized Biden for not imposing sanctions against Russia sooner. Pompeo said “failed American leadership” was a major factor leading up to the invasion.

“Vladimir Putin didn’t change. He’s the same guy: he’s evil, he’s an autocrat … What changed was America’s failure to demonstrate resolve,” Pompeo said.

Ernst said Afghanistan also hastened the Russian invasion, as it showed America was “very weak and insecure.” Ernst has been an outspoken critic of the way the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan in the summer of 2021.

Biden imposed new sanctions on Russia on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. He barred investment in the breakaway regions in Ukraine, cut Russia and its political elites off from Western money, and sanctioned the Russian company building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Asked what the Biden administration should do differently on sanctions, Ernst and Pompeo said again that the situation should have been handled sooner.

“Once Russia invades Ukraine, we won’t be able to get them out,” Ernst said. “Having those sanctions in place means very little unless we move very aggressively.”

The Bastion Institute, a newly formed organization with a focus on American foreign policy, put on the panel as its first-ever event.

Pompeo has made several visits to Iowa in recent months, and more are on the calendar: the former secretary of state will return to Iowa in March for a GOP fundraiser.

China: Panel takes on COVID origins, Olympics

The Republican panel also had harsh words for China, but maintained the same theme: the importance of American strength, and Biden’s failure to display it.

“I think both the Chinese and the Russians really only respect strength,” said Terry Branstad, former ambassador to China.

Branstad said Pompeo and President Donald Trump did demonstrate that strength through tariffs, whereas Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal showed weakness to China.

“They’re going to be watching very closely what happens (in Ukraine), and how America leads the response of NATO and the other European nations,” Branstad said. 

Ernst focused on the origins of COVID in China. She has led several proposals in Congress to investigate the initial Wuhan outbreak and stem federal funding to Chinese labs.

“We’ve got to understand how this happened, and I don’t know that we will ever have the answers that we are seeking, because China just will not be forthcoming,” Ernst said.

Pompeo received a round of applause for his invective against the 2022 Olympics. He said the International Olympics Committee was a “fully owned subsidiary of the Chinese Communist Party.”

“We should have never put these young, amazing athletes in this position,” Pompeo said.

What does it mean for Iowans?

Ernst visited constituents in Shelby and Adams counties before Wednesday’s panel. She said Iowans were concerned that the borders of Ukraine were taking precedence over the U.S. borders. 

“They were wondering, ‘Why does Ukraine matter?’” Ernst said.

But Ernst said Ukraine was “very important.”

“It’s important that Iowans understand it’s going to affect the economy of the United States. It’s impacting our energy prices here in the United States,” she said. “There are so many repercussions that come with Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

Pompeo emphasized China also had a direct impact on Iowans, pointing to partnerships with universities and intellectual property theft. Pompeo accused China of “foisting a virus on the world.”

“What happens in Beijing, sadly, does not stay in Beijing,” Pompeo said. “Their intentions are global. They are hegemonic. They want to fundamentally rewrite the shape of how the world works.”

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.