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Why Is the U.S. Interfering in Hungary's Election?

January 22, 2018
In The News

Given the outcry over alleged Russian interference in the last U.S. presidential election it's a wonder more people on Capitol Hill are not up in arms over efforts by the United States government to underwrite active measures to influence the outcome of the upcoming parliamentary elections in Hungary.

Hungary is a reliable U.S. ally and member of NATO with a flourishing multiparty system. It's no more than the American system is but the elections there are by most standards free and fair. Control of the government has passed from the right to the left and back again with Prime Minister Viktor Orban's center-right Fidesz party expected to retain its majority in the upcoming April 8 parliamentary elections.

There are people who don't like Orban, particularly for his refusal to follow the dictates emanating from Brussels and his refusal to allow unrestricted immigration into his country by those fleeing unrest in the Middle East even on what is supposed to be a temporary basis. He's a nationalist who believes borders matter, something that puts him on the same side of the issue as President Donald Trump.

What it's also done is put him on the opposite side of George Soros, the 87-year-old Hungarian-born billionaire who advocates for open borders and other progressive notions backed up at least by the $18 billion in personal wealth he recently transferred to his network of Open Society organizations.

Soros has his fans inside the U.S. government as well – which may be why on November 7 of last year the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor announced a $700,000 taxpayer-funded opportunity for those wishing to establish "objective media" in Hungary or, in simpler terms, to influence the outcome of the upcoming election.

There are a few congressmen who have taken note. Led by Maryland Republican Rep. Andy Harris, they sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on January 11 both quoting from and asking him to cancel the notice of funding opportunity and departmental plans to spend American dollars "influencing regional media in Hungary to enhance 'objective reporting' on projects that should 'aim to have impact that leads to democratic reforms.'"

"Instead of collaborating with our ally," they wrote, "the State Department's actions still seem to focus on influencing the domestic social and public policy choices of Hungary, creating an impression (and perhaps even the reality) of undue interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign allied country."

This is the kind of thing that Tillerson or the president's national security adviser, Gen. H.R. McMaster, could quash with a phone call and almost certainly should. Hungary is by no means a one-party state like Zimbabwe or Iran or Syria or China or any of the dozens of countries one might name ruled by tin-pot dictators, torturing theocrats and otherwise brutal regimes in which freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of worship, freedom to engage in commerce and freedom to travel are all but nonexistent. A case can be made for efforts in countries like that to promote democracy and to offer an alternative voice that competes with the party line. Hungary, to all appearances, is a vibrant democratic state seeking to preserve its identity and its autonomy, no more, no less.

The members of Congress who signed the letter along with Harris include California Republican Dana Rohrabacher, who heads up the House Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats. If Tillerson doesn't rescind the proposal for Hungary, then Rohrabacher would be well advised to call him up to Capitol Hill to testify as to why. While he's at it he should probably also ask what other efforts are being undertaken by the bureaucrats at Foggy Bottom to undermine other American allies, interfere with elections in democratic counties and, at the bureaucratic level, advance policies more in line with what the last administration was promoting in countries that are democratic instead of democratic reforms in countries where democratic institutions do not yet exist.

Turnabout is not fair play. No matter what the Russians may have tried to do to American in 2016 the United States should not be inserting itself into the electoral affairs of other democratic nations. Under the Trump policy of pragmatic realism, our role is to lead by example. Step one in that regard is to let voters make their own choices without our butting in and without funding the efforts of others to do so in what once used to be referred to as "free countries" of which, in case no one at the State Department got the memo, Hungary has been one since shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall.