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

by | Dec 17, 2017


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.

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