Whittlesey: Heads Up, President Trump, Secretary Tillerson: Beware ‘Project Overreach’

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The State Department recently announced it was committing $700,000 to what might be called Project Overreach – an American government initiative to “help” the Hungarians get the “right” news.

Department mandarins, it seems, have determined that Hungarians need access to “objective media” about what is happening in and to their country. As Ronald Reagan once said, “there you go again.” My view: It’s a really bad idea, an egregious misuse of U.S. taxpayer dollars, and also, understandably, deeply offensive to Hungarians.

Why? For starters, Hungary is both a good NATO ally and a robust democracy with free and healthy debates about policy. Hungarians are hardly shy about discussing their country’s future across all kinds of existing media channels. Is it the place of the U.S. government to intervene in the domestic affairs – the domestic politics – of another sovereign state? Today, as yet unproven allegations of that kind of aggressive diplomacy on the part of Russia have certain American elites in hysterics. Why, then, should we not expect the people of Hungary to be annoyed?

When I first learned of this Hungarian project – as an experienced, politically appointed ambassador of President Reagan –my political radar lit up. I knew the Hungarians had a relatively recent experience of truly brutal oppression under foreign, Soviet, domination, and that they were consequently alert to signs of outside “interference” in their hard-won democracy.

The American “tell-it-like-WE-want-it-told” initiative was launched in early November from the recesses of the seemingly Orwellian State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL). It was explained – and justified – in a DRL announcement (titled DRLA-DRLAQM-18-032) as an attempt to “increase citizens’ access to objective [emphasis added] information about domestic and global issues in Hungary.” The goal is “to support media operating outside the capital in Hungary to produce fact-based [emphasis added] reporting and increase their audience and economic sustainability.” Putin might suppress a laugh. President Trump would no doubt be quite angry.

Apparently, State Department officials at DRL – holdovers from the previous Administration (the Assistant Secretary position remains vacant, according to their website) – think that individuals close to Prime Minister Viktor Orban have gained control of the media. A spokesman for the Hungarian Prime Minister, not without a hint of sarcasm, pointed out that if more American diplomats spoke Hungarian they would know how many articles critical of the government are published every day in Hungary. In any case, the duly-elected Hungarian government, a U.S. friend, has raised sharp objections to this intrusion into Hungary’s internal affairs.

It isn’t hard to put two and two together to understand the real issue. Acting State Department officials – overwhelmingly globalist in outlook – don’t like Prime Minister Orban’s views and policies. He is not following the story line established, and funded by, the likes of George Soros. For example, Mr. Orban’s government has established tight borders to control inflows of immigrants. He unapologetically invokes Hungary’s Christian heritage and proposes to protect it.

Hungarians are quite familiar with the consequences of open borders. The country struggled under Muslim Turkish occupation for 150 years (1541-1699). But the resulting historic memories are irrelevant to the globalists, who minimize the importance of national sovereignty and borders, not to mention traditional Christianity. The fact that the present leadership’s views on values and culture enjoy massive support with the Hungarian people is only a sign of backwardness to high-flying globalists. The truth – that the current Hungarian government came to power the old-fashioned way, through free and open elections – doesn’t matter.

Our bureaucrats might consider saving U.S. taxpayers $700,000 and letting the Hungarians decide what to read and whom to listen to. Or, if they are really concerned about concentrated power and limited range of opinion in European media, shouldn’t they be launching similar initiatives in Britain, France, and Germany, where state-run and state-owned media dominate the airwaves?

The best path now would be for the U.S. government to begin practicing more what it preaches about foreign meddling and for the Secretary of State to take steps to immediately nullify this attempt by the Obama-era-run Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor to foment trouble in Hungary on the eve of national parliamentary elections scheduled for April 2018.

President Trump, Secretary Tillerson, another suggestion: perhaps instead of filling the “Assistant Secretary and Principal Deputy” position at DRL, might you consider reviewing the activities and even need for DRL in light of this “Supporting Objective Media in Hungary” embarrassment?

Ambassador Faith Whittlesey served twice (1981-83 and 1985-88) as U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and also served as a member of the White House senior staff and director of the White House office of public liaison (1983-85) during the Reagan administration.


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