Ukraine crisis becomes new campaign issue as small town troops deploy to Europe
Like about 250 Iowa National Guard companies from Mason City and Iowa City are preparing to deploy to Poland, retired Admiral Mike Franken, a national security-minded candidate for the U.S. Senate seat in Iowa, made a pause in the election campaign to discuss Russia’s threat to Ukraine and why faraway Ukraine matters to small town America.
The vivacious veteran looked past the immediate Russian threat to Ukraine, saying, “I’m not sure Russia’s main focus has changed in any appreciable way. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s perspective is that if America is diminished in the eyes of the world, then Russia is strengthened.
“Well, the United States is not diminished. The world knows that our commitment to sound foreign policy goals has never been stronger,” the lanky, grizzled Iowan continued, “and we lead as best we can…these brave Iowans going to Europe are proof that America is back, and our best days are ahead of us.
For Franken, Russia is in a dilemma. “Look, Vladimir Putin started with a weak hand by massing over 180,000 troops around Ukraine,” Franken said. “That means he has around 90,000 troops available to attack a nation of 40 million people. That’s big, but it’s a paltry force compared to the Ukrainian defenders who have seen this play out before.
“He’s got a showy hand, playing in front of international audiences, but based on dubious justification in the first place,” laughed the former three-star admiral, “Putin’s got little more than bluster, and I would expect what his military commanders tell him that. The logic behind an invasion is woefully flawed, even in the eyes of the Russians. It’s not going to go well.
For Franken, Putin’s effort to bribe Ukraine is the last gasp of an exhausted society – an economy overly dependent on resource extraction that faces demographic depletion within a decade. “The only way for Russia to look good right now is to try to make the United States worse.”
Global issues matter in Iowa:
Franken is proud that the Iowans in the 1133rd Transport company and the 209and Medical Company Area Support is heading to Europe. ” It is important ! Iowa and Iowa businesses have longstanding ties to Ukraine,” Franken said, “and we should all be out there helping and building relationships.
“Small-town Iowa has already done global outreach,” Franken joked, as the admiral explained how, in 1977, seed company Pioneer Hi-Bred was the first company in Iowa to establish contacts with Ukraine, concluding an agreement to evaluate Pioneer seeds in what was then the Soviet Union. This agreement became a joint venture in 1989 to develop seed corn in the city of Rivne in western Ukraine and establish a silage plant in Cherkasy Oblast in central Ukraine.
The ties were so strong that in 1992, less than a year after an independent Ukraine emerged from the ruins of the Soviet Union, Ukraine’s first president, Leonid Kravchuk, led a delegation away from the lights of Washington and New York to small-town Iowa, visiting a Pioneering settlement and farm near the university town of Grinnell. And in 1996, Cherkasy Oblast, through longstanding collaboration with Iowa businesses, officially became a sister state to Iowa.
“Ukraine is a lot like the Iowa of a few decades ago. Think of agriculture and industry, rural vistas and bustling cities, the four seasons and great rivers. It’s also a place that values education and achievement,” Franken noted.
“Like Iowa, Ukraine is a diverse economy that mixes industry and agriculture with great potential,” Franken said, pointing to Iowa’s frigid skyline. “Politicians and business leaders in Iowa may want to point out that this is why Putin wants Ukraine under Moscow’s heavy hand. Putin has tried to fight Ukraine by weakening the nation by using cyber warfare and social engineering. Kind of like what outside forces have done in America,” Franken said, shaking his head sadly, “To turn a nation against itself.
Iowa’s support goes beyond Iowa National Guard deployments. The Admiral noted that the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant, near the small town of 363 residents of Middletown, is helping to manufacture the weapons Ukraine needs right now to defend itself. “Ukraine acquires Javelin anti-armour weapons. And we make the warhead right here in America’s breadbasket.
Iowa and Ukraine also understand the value of education. “Ukraine ranks 13and out of 144 countries in higher education. Just like the young students of Iowa, the scholars of Kiev are not limited to their homeland. Ukraine has more than two thousand students enrolled in American institutions and, like Iowa, they help Ukraine negotiate the global economy.
Franken wasted no time in making his campaign pitch, saying, “What I can bring to the US Senate is an understanding of the interconnectedness of economies. I understand how autocrats like Russian President Vladimir Putin use asymmetrical means to weaken nations like Ukraine, and I’m not going to be bound by a party who thinks Putin is a nice, friendly guy that we should emulate.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that the United States needs leaders who can help small town America fight and defeat this kind of new war,” Franken said. “That’s why it’s so important to send young Iowans out there to see the world. I am so proud of the Iowa National Guard and what they are ready to do in Europe.
“We need leaders who must be ready to use all the tools at our disposal,” Franken remarked. “It’s no surprise that just as Putin started advancing his army, he imposed a 6-month quota on fertilizer exports. This will increase fertilizer prices in Europe, and possibly with implications in Iowa, but we need to do more than just investigate. We need to take action and do things like lower tariffs, diversify our fertilizer industry, and get critical pieces of industry like barge shipping fixed and ready to support America. America can outdo anyone.
Then an energetic Franken, speaking to a reporter during a brief break between fundraising phone calls, sighed. “I love the awareness that comes with fundraising, but it’s much more rewarding to talk about why Iowa is so important to U.S. national security and how diplomacy affects things. here, with us. Putin and his friends may not think that kind of message can get out in places like Iowa,” Franken said, “but it does,” flashing a grim smile as he reflected on the campaign trail. .