WATERLOO | U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, learned a lot after meeting with leaders in six Middle Eastern countries as part of a congressional delegation trip last week. But she had one major take away above all others.

“One thing that was very telling as we went to these countries, many of these presidents asked us directly, ‘What is your strategy? What is your strategy here?’” Ernst told The Courier edit board on Friday morning. “That is probably the most telling point that came out of that trip is that we are not communicating our strategy to the other countries in that region.”

She added, “It’s because we don’t have a strategy.”

Ernst spent a week during a congressional recess last week visiting ambassadors and leaders in Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Turkey.

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Iraq War veteran, Ernst was aware of much of the extent of the unrest and the myriad issues facing the region. But she said visiting the countries showed her the situations were more complex and concerning than she had realized.

Asked if Democratic President Barack Obama is respected abroad, Ernst said simply, “People are asking what our strategy is.”

Ernst said she sees the president as having “a very hands-off approach when it comes to any sort of action anywhere around the globe,” and she believes that more can be done in the region to improve the various issues.

Ernst didn’t advocate for any particular strategy but she said the administration should have one that includes input from the military leaders and the State Department. She praised both for their efforts to build rapport and gather intelligence in the region but said their efforts have been hampered as fewer troops are stationed on the ground.

She noted that Obama announced the decision to keep 9,800 United States soldiers in Afghanistan through much of next year while they congressional delegation was on their trip. Ernst said leaders there were appreciative of the decision.

“The ambassador there was so thankful, so thankful that we will be keeping our troop presence. President (Ashraf) Ghani and Dr. (Abdullah) Abdullah, his right-hand man, they were both extremely grateful for the United States and staying there,” Ernst said, noting there had been a recent uptick in Taliban activity in Afghanistan.

She added that the current mission to train, advise and assist in Afghanistan, as well as Iraq, needs more time to develop leaders in those countries that will be able to take action without an American leadership presence.

During the hourlong meeting, Ernst also said the United States needs to do more to support in Israel, in part by opposing the Iran nuclear deal, and should try to foster discussions between Israel and Palestine.

She said the administration could do more to work with Turkey that has recently started to worry about the threats from the terrorist group ISIS and Russia’s growing involvement in the region.

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