WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Republican Presidential candidate Nikki Haley asserts the war in Ukraine is about freedom and “one we have to win.”
The former South Carolina governor discussed national security and foreign policy with U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) Friday morning in suburban Des Moines at an event sponsored by the Bastion Institute. Ernst, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, asked Haley several national security-related questions before an audience of Iowa voters.
Haley recycled and reiterated many of the foreign policy talking points she has introduced during her first few weeks on the campaign trail, a good portion of that time spent the first-in-the-nation caucus state.
Her comments on Ukraine, however, were of particular note because polls show Americans’ support for U.S. military aid to Ukraine waning. An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll last month found 48 percent of Americans support sending weapons to Ukraine, a significant drop from 60 percent in May, just a few months after Russia invaded the European nation.
Ernst asked Haley how she views America’s role in Russia’s war in Ukraine and the Biden administration’s handling of the conflict. The GOP candidate said the war is bigger than Ukraine, it’s about freedom, and it’s a war “we” have to win.
“I don’t think we need to put money in Ukraine. I don’t think we need to put troops on the ground. But I do think we need to get with our allies and make sure they have the equipment they need,” Haley said.
Former President Donald Trump, Haley’s former boss and opponent in the Republican presidential nomination chase, has been a vocal critic of U.S. involvement in Ukraine, which has included more than $100 billion in military and humanitarian aid thus far. So has presumptive Republican presidential candidate, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. DeSantis, too, is touring Iowa, with Friday stops planned in Davenport and Des Moines.
Earlier this week, Trump suggested that if he were president, he may have “made a deal” with Putin, ending the war by ceding portions of Ukraine to Russia.
Trump told Sean Hannity on his radio show that doing so would have been a worst-case scenario, adding it probably would not have happened because Putin would not have invaded Ukraine had Trump been in the White House.
“And, under Trump, you know what they took over? They took nothing, Russia. First time, first president in a long time. He [Putin] understood. He would have never done it,” the former president said.
Haley told her Iowa audience what Trump told Hannity’s viewers: “We wouldn’t have been in this position if President Obama had done what he was supposed to when Russia invaded Crimea.”
Celeste Wallander, a senior Russia adviser to the Obama in 2014, told GOP and Democratic members of the Senate Armed Services Committee last year that the Obama administration’s response to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine was “too slow and too incremental.” Wallander is now Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs in the Biden administration.
Haley, who served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under Trump, said the U.N. is a “farce,” but America needs to continue to engage with the world organization for one important reason.
“There’s really only one reason why the United States stays, and that’s because we get the veto,” she said. Five nations — the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China have the power to veto U.N. votes.”If we got out, China and Russia would just have their way with everything.”
On China, Haley said the communist nation is the United States’ No. 1 threat. She said the United Nations has failed to hold China accountable for the pandemic, a topic of growing concern as more evidence suggests COVID-19 may have originated from a lab leak in Wuhan.
“This isn’t just about the U.S. We should make this a global conversation calling out China,” Haley said.
Ernst asked Haley what are the three steps the United States must take to secure the southern border and address the fentanyl crisis.
Build the wall, Haley said to applause.
“The second thing is we need to go back to a Remain in Mexico policy. We need to stop catch and release. When it comes to the (drug) cartels, the Mexican President said yesterday we don’t want the U.S. to do anything. Well, you know what you tell the Mexican President, ‘Either you do it, or we do it, but we are not going to let all of this lawlessness continue to happen.’”
Earlier this week at a campaign stop in Council Bluffs, Haley floated the idea of changing the retirement age and capping benefits for wealthier Americans as a way to fix the financially troubled Social Security and Medicare systems. She has not offered specifics, and did not mention her proposal at Friday’s event.
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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.
Photo “Nikki Haley” by Nikki Haley.