Iowa state senator and US Senate candidate Joni Ernst captured national attention when her campaign’s first TV ad featured the candidate talking about castrating hogs (a subsequent ad featured Ernst at a gun range, implying that she’d shoot Obamacare to bits). But if the Sarah Palin-approved Republican wants to enter national politics, she may need to brush up on some of her facts. Ernst still thinks Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction when the US invaded Iraq, despite all evidence pointing to the contrary.
On Friday, Ernst sat down with the Des Moines Register‘s editorial board for a wide-ranging interview. Ernst served in the Iraq War in 2003, “running convoys through Kuwait and into southern Iraq” according to her campaign website. She defended that war during the interview, saying that the intelligence at the time offered compelling reason to displace Saddam. “Obviously the president thought there was actionable intelligence,” she said, “so as an Iraqi War veteran I stand beside that and I’ll stand beside every other soldier I served with in believing we were on a clearly defined mission to go into Iraq.” (Her response in the video above starts at the 23:20 mark.)
Why is Ernst so willing to support Bush’s decision to invade? She hints that she has inside knowledge that there were, indeed, still weapons of mass destruction when the war began. “We don’t know that there were weapons on the ground when we went in,” she said, “however, I do have reason to believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.” When a Register reporter quizzed her on what information she has, Ernst said, “My husband served in Saudi Arabia as the Army Central Command sergeant major for a year and that’s a hot-button topic in that area.”
Of course, US troops never managed to find any such weapons after the invasion. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld have all conceded that the initial intelligence was flawed.
When asked for clarification, a spokesperson for Ernst’s campaign narrowly walked back her comments over e-mail: “Her point was that we know for a fact that Iraq had chemical weapons in the past, and had even used them. We also know none were found while our troops were on the ground, despite the intelligence at the time. What happened to those weapons she doesn’t know.”
Ernst currently holds a slight lead in the polls in advance of the June 3 primary. If she managed to win the general election—Democrat Bruce Braley is the front-runner for the open seat—Ernst would be the first woman elected to federal office from Iowa.