The Obama administration’s strategy against ISIS “is not working, ” Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, told a gathering of conservative lawmakers and policy wonks, and in 2016, conservatives must develop one that allows the U.S. military to engage the terrorist army “no matter where they are.”
“This administration has been so intent on containing it, on degrading ISIS capabilities, but we can’t just do that,” Ernst said Wednesday at Heritage Action’s Conservative Policy Summit in Washington, D.C. “That’s not working. ISIS continues to spread.”
To address the growing threat, Ernst said, she is working with fellow members of the Senate Armed Forces Committee to draft a new Authorization for Use of Military Force that would allow U.S. troops to engage the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, in Africa or Afghanistan or wherever the terrorists are discovered.
“We have to defeat it,” the Iowa Republican said, “but we know the U.S. can’t do this on our own.”
The strongest American ally Ernst pointed to in the fight against ISIS is the Kurdish Peshmerga. Ernst, who served in the region with the Iowa Army National Guard, said:
They are in Iraq and they are proven fighters. They also provide a safe haven in Kurdistan for 2 million refugees. If more countries would do that throughout the Middle East, we would see less of a refugee crisis coming westward.
For that reason, Ernst—the first female combat veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate—said she is working on a bill “that would directly arm the Kurdish Peshmerga.”
The problem right now, she said, is that weapons are not making their way directly into the hands of Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers.
In addition to bolstering the fight against ISIS, Ernst said conservatives also must address the issue of “debt and waste” in the Department of Defense.
“I am very, very passionate about our military and making sure that we are well funded … but we have to look inward too at the waste that we have throughout the department,” Ernst said.
To demonstrate the scale of the waste, Ernst shared a personal story about her time serving in Kuwait. At one point, she said, the tents in which troops slept began to leak. To solve the problem, Ernst said, she and her colleagues went out in the local community and purchased blue tarps for $100 each.
When her commander found out, “[he] said you can’t do that because that is covered by a contract,” Ernst said.
“In comes the contractor with all their hired people and they put the exact brand of blue tarps on our tents. The cost to the U.S. government was $1,000 per tarp.”
Ernst said her story, which clearly rattled members in the audience, is only a small example of the “millions” in waste that occurs each year. “We find these examples time and time again,” the freshman senator said.
Another priority, Ernst said, should be ensuring the U.S. military isn’t too “top heavy,” and that lower-ranking service members are provided “every advantage possible.”
“In the military, we have to remember we have to care for that man on our left and that man on our right,” she said. “We are all part of a team.”