Moving U.S. troops into the Baltic States to protect NATO interests is a positive step but falls short of what really needed to be done in the region, former Rep. Pete Hoekstra says.
On Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said the United States would send
about 600 soldiers to several nations on the Baltic Sea for training and exercises. The first company of paratroopers, members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, arrived in Poland on Wednesday with thee more company-sized units scheduled for deployment in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Kirby said the bilateral exercises are a symbol of force in the region in response to Russia's movement of an estimated 40,000 troops near its border with Ukraine, something that heightened the nervousness of the Baltic countries.
Onetime Michigan congressman Hoekstra, a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told J.D. Hayworth and John Bachman on "America's Forum" on Newsmax TV that this is "the right move," but said he would have liked to have seen a stronger show of force.
"I personally would have liked to have seen a larger number, a greater commitment from a military standpoint," Hoekstra said. "You've really put in place a tripwire. The best thing we could have done was five years ago put in the anti-missile defense systems in Eastern Europe, but that didn't happen, so now we fall back to these very temporary and very small moves. They're better than what the Obama administration has been doing. That's not saying a lot, but it says something."
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When pressed by Hayworth for thoughts on conservative commentator Pat Buchanan saying on Tuesday's "America's Forum" that refraining from military intervention
was the correct decision by President Barack Obama, Hoekstra agreed to a point.
"The question that was not asked of Pat was, well, what about the Baltics?" Hoekstra said.
"What about Poland? What about the former Czech Republic? What about Moldova? What about those countries? Does the U.S. have an interest in those? Does Russia have its eyes set on perhaps moving into those territories, or is it satisfied with Crimea and the Eastern Ukraine?
"I don't believe that Putin is satisfied with just Crimea and perhaps a slightly larger territory in Eastern Ukraine. He has his eyes set on moving into the Baltics and perhaps again extending Russia's influence into a greater Ukraine and going further. He's going to go as far as he can, so I might agree with Pat that, hey, if all we were talking about is Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine, there's maybe not much rationale for doing anything.
"But if we believe – and I've talked to the folks, some of the people we're representing and who live in the Baltics and parts of Eastern Europe – they're very concerned about Russia's interest. As small as this step is that the United States is taking, they're thrilled that we're taking it because they do feel threatened."
Hoekstra added that the situation unfolding in the Baltics did not manifest overnight but is rather the product of years of failed diplomacy.
"When these countries became independent in 1993, when they started to embrace market economies, when they started to embrace elections and those types of things, they were moving in the right direction," Hoekstra said.
"President Bush, by promising the deployment of the missile defenses, it was a continuation of those steps, but in reality what happened in 2004, '05, '06, and then in 2009 when President Obama pulled back on the missiles, what we've seen is really that process has stopped, which has given this opportunity to the Russians. These countries are still energy-dependent on Russia. They can still be intimidated by the Russian military regime, and they have not been fully integrated economically into the West.
"All of that over the last five to seven years is what has now provided this opportunity for Russia to go into that vacuum."
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