The Corner


Pompeo Seeks to Counteract Russian, Chinese Influence in Central Europe 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference with Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto in Budapest, Hungary, February 11, 2019. (Tamas Kaszas/Reuters)

Budapest — Years of American disengagement from central Europe have contributed to a growing Chinese and Russian presence in the region that the U.S. intends to counter, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday at the outset of a weeklong diplomatic trip.

“I think [Hungary is] welcoming U.S. engagement,” Pompeo told reporters in an impromptu press conference at the U.S. embassy. “I think for a long time we shunned them in a way that drove them to fill the vacuum with folks who didn’t share our values.” No American president has visited Hungary since 2006, and Barack Obama’s administration grew frustrated with the Viktor Orbán–led Fidesz government. Under President Trump, Pompeo said, that would change and the U.S. would “compete for positive influence in the region.”

The week-long trip will take Pompeo to Budapest, Warsaw, and Bratislava, as well as briefly to Brussels and Reykjavik.

If the Trump administration is determined to upgrade relations with the “Visegrad” countries — Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic — it comes at a delicate time. On January 27, the Wall Street Journal reported that “Orban strongly objects to U.S. pressure aimed at curbing the influence of Moscow and Beijing in Europe.” Days later, Hungarian investigative outlet Direkt36 reported that a leaked diplomatic cable showed American official A. Wess Mitchell warning: “Support is starting to dissipate for those who believe in U.S.-Hungarian relations.”

But Pompeo cast his effort to “renew and deepen the special bond” between the U.S. and central Europe as an exercise in mutual interests. “We must not let Putin drive wedges between friends in NATO,” said Pompeo at a joint press conference with Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto. “Hungarians know all too well from their history that an authoritarian Russia will never be a friend to the freedom and sovereignty of smaller nations.” In November, Hungary denied extradition of two Russian arms dealers to the United States, earning a rebuke from the State Department.

Pompeo was perhaps most pointed when it came to China. “Russia’s not the only power that wants to erode freedom in this region,” he said. Chinese telecom company Huawei has expanded its presence in Europe, signing a memorandum of understanding with Hungary last year to build critical 5G infrastructure. At the embassy, Pompeo warned that the U.S. would be forced to reevaluate its partnerships with countries if they continued to do business with Huawei, citing security concerns. (Poland arrested a Huawei employee for espionage last month.) He also referenced the PRC’s belt-and-road initiative — an infrastructure push across Eurasia that has left some participating nations deeply in debt. “Beijing’s handshake sometimes comes with strings,” he said.

Under Obama, relations soured between the U.S. and Hungary when Viktor Orbán took power in 2010. Critics charge Orbán with presiding over a dangerous mix of authoritarian backsliding and corruption, and nonpartisan group Freedom House, citing a putative crackdown on NGOs and the press, recently downgraded Hungary from “free” to “partly free” in its yearly report. But Pompeo said that any problems Hungarian democracy might be experiencing could be solved by American absence, and, before a scheduled dinner with Orbán on Monday night, met with the heads of assorted NGOs. He vowed to discuss the state of civil liberties in Hungary with Orbán.

Szijjarto, the Hungarian official, repeatedly pushed back on the notion that Hungary was in hock to Russia or China — at least any more than its European counterparts. But he struck a friendly note in comparing Orbán’s positions on issues such as immigration and national identity to those of Trump.

Still, Pompeo’s message for Hungary was simple: “The Russians and the Chinese . . . do not remotely share the American ideals that we care so deeply about.”

Most Popular

PC Culture

Hate-Crime Hoaxes Reflect America’s Sickness

On January 29, tabloid news site TMZ broke the shocking story that Jussie Smollett, a gay black entertainer and progressive activist, had been viciously attacked in Chicago. Two racist white men had fractured his rib, poured bleach on him, and tied a noose around his neck. As they were leaving, they shouted ... Read More

White Progressives Are Polarizing America

To understand how far left (and how quickly) the Democratic party has moved, let’s cycle back a very short 20 years. If 1998 Bill Clinton ran in the Democratic primary today, he’d be instantaneously labeled a far-right bigot. His support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Defense of Marriage Act, ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Strange Paradoxes of Our Age

Modern prophets often say one thing and do another. Worse, they often advocate in the abstract as a way of justifying their doing the opposite in the concrete. The result is that contemporary culture abounds with the inexplicable — mostly because modern progressivism makes all sorts of race, class, and ... Read More

One Last Grift for Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, the antique Brooklyn socialist who represents Vermont in the Senate, is not quite ready to retire to his lakeside dacha and so once again is running for the presidential nomination of a party to which he does not belong with an agenda about which he cannot be quite entirely ... Read More
PC Culture

Fake Newspeople

This week, the story of the Jussie Smollett hoax gripped the national media. The story, for those who missed it, went something like this: The Empire actor, who is both black and gay, stated that on a freezing January night in Chicago, in the middle of the polar vortex, he went to a local Subway store to buy a ... Read More
Film & TV

A Sublime Christian Masterpiece of a Film

‘There are two ways through life -- the way of nature and the way of grace,” remarks the saintly mother at the outset of The Tree of Life, one of the most awe-inspiring films of the 21st century. She continues: Grace doesn’t try please itself. It accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked, accepts insults ... Read More