Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Iowa called Russian President Vladimir Putin an “evil thug” and said the U.S. shouldn’t have taken consequences off the table to deter Putin from invading Ukraine.
Pompeo, who served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency before becoming secretary of state under former President Donald Trump, spoke at a fundraiser Friday for the Republican Party of Iowa at Rhythm City Casino Resort in Davenport.
He was joined on stage by former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who served as U. S. ambassador to China in the Trump administration from 2017-2020.
The pair addressed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, U.S. policy toward China and the 2022 election with Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann in an interview-style discussion.
Both Pompeo and Branstad criticized President Joe Biden’s response to global threats, including to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as slow and weak.
“This fear that taking action to defend a friend and an ally is provocative is a mistaken understanding of how you actually deter these bad guys,” Pompeo said in an interview prior to the fundraiser. “The only thing Vladimir Putin understands is power and risk.”
Earlier this week, the U.S. rejected an offer by Poland to transfer its MiG-29 fighter jets to a U.S. base in Germany in an effort to restock Ukraine’s air defense. The Pentagon officials this week said the proposal raised “serious concerns” for the entire NATO alliance and ran a “high risk” of escalating the war.
Some Republican senators, including Iowa’s Joni Ernst, have called on the Biden administration to change course.
Pompeo, in an interview ahead of his remarks, said the United States “should absolutely support the effort to get aircraft and aircraft defense systems and weapons into the hands of Ukrainians and allow them to take this fight to Vladimir Putin.”
“What I’d do today is I’d be making sure we provided the Ukrainians with everything they need,” Pompeo said. “They’ve shown their willingness to fight. They’ve been surprisingly good, I think, to Vladimir Putin. I don’t think he expected this. And so we ought to provide them the resources (and) the tools on every flight intelligence, hardware, ammunition — all the things they need to defend their own nation.”
He did not say whether he supported U.S. troops in Ukraine, but said “we’re a long ways from that making sense.”
Pompeo has been criticized for recent comments he’s made about Putin that have been construed as praise for the Russian president. Pompeo described Putin as “very shrewd” and “very capable,” and said he had “enormous respect for him” while speaking to the Center for the National Interest.
“I’ve talked about Vladimir Putin being very capable, but I think that’s true,” Pompeo said Friday. “We should then prepare for a capable adversary. I was taught when I was a cadet at West Point, know your enemy. I know who Vladimir Putin is. He is an evil thug in charge of 1,000 nuclear weapons and a military of some scale.”
Branstad added that China and Russia only respond to showings of strength.
“As long as we keep showing weakness it just encourages them to go further. I think it’s important that we restore America’s rank,” Branstad said.
Will Pompeo run for president in 2024?
Pompeo has made frequent trips to the Hawkeye State, the first on the presidential-nominating calendar, earning speculation that he’ll make a bid for the Oval Office.
“I’m going to be in the fight for conservative values till the good Lord takes me from this place,” Pompeo said when asked whether he’d make a bid for the Republican presidential nomination. “What I’ll be doing in ’23 or ’24? I don’t know. But between here and there, I’m in places like Iowa,.”
The National Democratic Committee is considering a change to the presidential nomination calendar that could bump Iowa from its first-in-the-nation perch.
In remarks to reporters after Friday’s event, Kaufmann, who leads the RNC’s Presidential Nominating Process Committee, said he believed the Republican Party was likely to still keep Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status. The panel backed a report that would keep Iowa as the state to kick-off the presidential nominating process.
Former President Trump has hinted at running again for the Oval Office in 2024.
The Iowa GOP held a Republican caucus in 2020 as other state GOPs canceled theirs to endorse the incumbent president.
If Trump ends up running, Kaufmann said he would “make sure that the welcome sign is out for everybody.”
“And I have to do that or my words ring empty when I say that everything needs to start in Iowa,” Kaufmann said.
Stay up-to-date on the latest in local and national government and political topics with our newsletter.