BERLIN — The United States should consider sending thousands more U.S. troops, along with NATO forces, to Eastern Europe to match the strength Russian President Vladimir Putin is amassing in the region, Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush said Wednesday.
Capping the two-day German leg of a European trip aimed at bolstering the former Florida governor's foreign policy credentials, Bush said Putin is "a bully" who can only be contained by a show of robust force.
"I'm not talking about being bellicose, but saying, here are the consequences of your actions," Bush told reporters before departing his Berlin hotel for a meeting with the German foreign minister. "And that would deter the kind of bad outcome that we don't want to see."
Bush said in a speech to a prominent European economic conference in Berlin on Tuesday that U.S. President Barack Obama's administration had rightly has sent American forces to train along the border of Poland and the Baltic nations, which border Russia.
The deployment, on a rotating basis, is a response to Russian-backed separatists who have taken over a large segment of Ukraine, a former Soviet republic. Troops from several nations, including the U.S., Canada and others, are part of the temporary force, which also includes hundreds of armored personnel carriers and tanks.
But leaders in Estonia, which Bush will visit on Friday, along with fellow Baltic nations Lithuania and Latvia, have asked the U.S. to send more — and more permanent — U.S. forces to the region.
Bush said the U.S. and the NATO military alliance ought to consider matching Russian forces, performing exercises on the opposite side of the border. The U.S. needs "to be consistently clear" that NATO rules requiring the defense of fellow treaty nations be strictly upheld. He credited Obama with reiterating that point at the recently Group of Seven conference in Germany.
"They're deploying tens of thousands of people in the region, I mean, literally next door to our allies and our response is far less meaningful," Bush told reporters, referring to Russian moves in the region. "From the outside, without having any kind of classified information, it appears we could have a more robust presence."
When asked if he would support basing U.S. troops permanently along the Russian border, Bush said, "I don't know."
"I'm here to listen and learn and get a better sense of all this. I don't come to offer five-point plans," he said.
Bush also stopped short of calling for a U.S. naval presence in the area, though Great Britain has recently deployed a warship to the region.
Bush is in Europe this week meeting with business and government leaders in Germany, Poland and Estonia, stressing his view that the U.S. role in the region has softened under Obama, and that a Bush administration would bring renewed involvement in European affairs.
Bush traveled later Wednesday to Poland, visiting with his wife, Columba, the Auschwitz death camp run by the Nazi regime in World War II, and heading to Warsaw, where he was to meet with the country's outgoing president and president-elect. He wraps up the trip in Estonia and will return to the U.S. on Saturday.
Bush plans to announce his candidacy Monday in Miami, and couldn't escape questions about politics at home — particularly his team's internal politics.
On Monday, Bush named Danny Diaz, an aide to the past three GOP presidential nominees, as the manager of his upcoming campaign. David Kochel, who had been running the early goings of Bush's emerging organization, will be senior strategist, with a special emphasis on early-voting states.
But Bush dismissed the notion of turmoil. Sally Bradshaw, his longtime top political aide, and California-based consultant Mike Murphy, who will run a super PAC supporting Bush's candidacy, remain at the top of his operation.
"This is an adjustment based on the skills of people that I got to know over the last three months," Bush said.
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