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Viktor Orban: The West’s Lone Anti-War Prophet

Hungarian PM is the only leader capable of seeing the Russia-Ukraine conflict through the lens of Realpolitik -- which is why he's pushing for peace
Screen Shot 2023-02-08 at 8.20.23 AM

Mario Fantini was at that controversial meeting with Hungarian PM Viktor Orban the other day, and wrote about it here. Excerpt:

Orbán's frank discussion of the war in Ukraine, for example, reflected a deep, nuanced, and historically informed understanding of Russian behavior, motivations, and tactics. He noted that being isolated by the West is not necessarily unwelcome by the Russians, and that Moscow takes the long view on all pressing geopolitical matters. This is something that the West seems to have trouble doing in its own dealings with both Russia and the Islamic world—civilizations that think in terms of millennia, not months or even mere years.

By comparison, many Western leaders seem like strategic neophytes. They are so wedded to preconceived tactics or short-term approaches that they have locked themselves into a dangerous, predetermined path. The West, Orbán said, now seems to be hurtling down this path without an ability to adjust its course, despite changing circumstances. The West is not "nimble," to use a term favored by business schools.

"War," Orbán said, "creates new realities" with which good leaders must then grapple. But if a leader dispenses with strategic frameworks and instead merely asserts that he is on the "right side of history," for example, he has succumbed to what Daniel Bell called "the trap of ideology." That is why "competing interpretations are needed," Orbán said. (Here, I thought at the time, was a master class in realpolitik.)

Orbán's comments reminded me of something Henry Kissinger said in a 2012 interview: "The American tendency is to wait for a problem to arise and then to overwhelm it with resources or with some pragmatic answers. But what you need is a framework of decisions [emphasis mine] that help you understand where you're trying to go."

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Read it all. It will help you push through the fog of misinformation and propaganda about Orban and Hungary that pervades Western media and academic discourse about the subject. We move ever closer to a wider and more catastrophic war with Russia, and Orban is the only Western leader talking sense. It is extremely frustrating to watch the Machine (Kingsnorth's phrase) churn out pro-war propaganda, and behave as if there were no valid opinion other than continuing to deepen America's involvement in this proxy war with a nuclear superpower. It wasn't even this bad with the Iraq War -- another conflict that official Washington led our country into, that proved disastrous. The stakes weren't remotely as high then as they are with Russia today. Why is Viktor Orban the only Western leader to see this -- or at least the only one with the courage to say what he sees? In that meeting, he said that the Germans know perfectly well that this war is not in their interest, but they don't dare stand up to Washington.

Meanwhile, here is a Politico piece supposedly about what the death of a Marxist philosopher in Hungary reveals about Viktor Orban. It's so lazily paint-by-numbers that it could have been written by ChatGPT. Notice the reflexive description of Orban as "far right"; never mind that the real far-right party, Jobbik, with its deep anti-Semitic past (which might not be so far in the past), was a formal part of the anti-Orban opposition coalition in last year's election. Never hear that in the Western media, do you? And also notice the unstated assumption that there can be no reason for preferring Orban to what the Hungarian Eurocrats offer; the only reason anybody does is that they're a hick, or they've been bamboozled by propaganda. Sound familiar, Trump voters?

Paul Kingsnorth and I were talking yesterday about how Covid revealed the willingness of the governments to lie to manipulate the population, and the eagerness of the media and other institutions to collaborate. Are you sure this isn't happening with this war with Russia? Really? I keep hearing from people in the West who have been cancelled or otherwise marginalized, not because they support Russia (they don't), but because they question the wisdom of marching towards a wider war, versus trying to find a negotiated settlement before this thing spirals out of control.

Here's a good analysis by Christopher Caldwell, writing in the NYT -- one of the rare counter-narrative pieces one sees these days in the mainstream media. He points out that Ukraine is losing the war, and can't win this kind of war, because it favors resource-heavy Russia. That's why the US is trying to pour weapons into the country to make it a different kind of war. More:

But the Biden strategy has a bad name: escalation. Beyond a certain point, the United States is no longer “helping” or “advising” or “supplying” the Ukrainians, the way it did, say, the Afghan mujahedeen during the Cold War. It is replacing Ukraine as Russia’s main battlefield adversary. It is hard to say when that point will be reached or whether it has been already. With whom is Russia at war — Ukraine or the United States? Russia started the war between Russia and Ukraine. Who started the war between Russia and the United States?

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Exactly right! Did you know that we are moving into direct war with Russia? Do you know how dangerous that is? Russia has nuclear weapons. You sure it's a good idea to risk nuclear war over Ukraine, a country that is right on Russia's border, and has been affiliated with greater Russia, one way or another, since time out of mind? You don't have to approve one bit of what Russia has done with this invasion to recognize that it is not in America's national interest to provoke a war with Russia over Ukraine. Why isn't Congress debating this? Why are so many of our leaders, Democrat and Republican, such pushovers for war -- especially after the catastrophes of the past twenty years of US warmaking?

More Caldwell:

The role of the United States is considerably more active than merely responding to Ukrainian “requests” for this or that. Having itself designed the weaponry in most cases, the United States may have a better sense of which tech solutions are appropriate to local battlefield challenges.

Abrams tanks require experienced technicians for training and repair. Will these technicians be brought onto the battlefield from the United States? Then we will have a situation analogous to the introduction of “advisers” into Vietnam in the early 1960s. “This is not an offensive threat to Russia,” President Biden said of the Abrams tank shipments last month. He’s entitled to his opinion, but it is probably not shared by the Russian leadership.

If that's true, then the Russians are certainly right. Americans, we have been down this road before. It ends horribly for us. One last bit from Caldwell:

Russians say the war is about preventing the installation of an enemy military stronghold on the Black Sea, strong enough to close off what has for centuries been Russia’s main access to the outside world. Without Ukraine, Russia can be turned into a vassal state. That NATO intends to bring about the subjugation, breakup or even extinction of Russia may be true or false — but it will not sound implausible to a Russian.

Many Americans cannot resist describing Mr. Putin as a “barbarian” and his invasion of Ukraine as a “war of aggression.” For their part Russians say this is a war in which Russia is fighting for its survival and against the United States in an unfair global order in which the United States enjoys unearned privileges.

Caldwell ends by saying that this is not a war over "values," but an old-fashioned war of "territory and power." He's right. Our American habit of having to see every international conflict through a moralistic lens blinds us to certain realities here -- realities that a veteran anti-Communist like Viktor Orban sees clearly. If we insist on seeing every potential to avert war by negotiation as Munich 1938 ("Peace in our time"), then we are unavoidably marching to war. If we insist on lying to ourselves that ramping up weapons deliveries and more to Ukraine is not about making war on Russia, but rather the fulfillment of our moral duty, we are going to find ourselves in an elective shooting war with a nuclear rival -- one that it cannot afford to lose, under any circumstance, because this is on its own border.

Orban knows this, and he's trying to stop it before it takes us all down. Naturally, the war party in Washington, and its lackeys in western European capitals, and in the liberal media -- the pro-war liberal media -- are trying to shut him up and take him down. Why do you suppose that is? Don't fall for it. Even a passionately anti-Orban liberal Hungarian I met two weekends ago said through gritted teeth that he hates the prime minister, but unfortunately, Orban is right about the war.

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Bogdán Emil
Bogdán Emil
nationalinterest.org/feature/three-seas-initiative-counter-chinese-influence-europe-206181

Here is an article about the Three Seas Initiative, meant to help unify the region consisting of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria into a more solid Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), mostly consisting of former USSR satellites seeking a place at the Western table in the shadow of the Franco-German axis. Orbán Viktor has said half-jokingly or half-seriously that Brexit was a mistake, and an overall negative when it comes to Hungarian interests, because the Brits represented a federalist-minded counterweight to the Franco-German vision of a more centralized and almost United States of Europe. But even before Brexit, the eventual rise of this “no man’s land” between the Germans and the Russians has been foretold, by the V4 grouping first of all. This new TSI effort is even more comprehensive. The natural leader of the Central and East European motley crew at first glance is Poland, but expect a major role for Budapest in the region, always.

Could it be that the formerly majestic spearheads of the West are failing, that the awe-inspiring giants are crumbling, inelegantly twisting toward the ground, and what hope remains lies in the Center, possibly and verily within that great chakra of the World, the Carpathian Basin? Who really knows the answer. For reading history reminds me constantly of the phoenix, of rebirth from the ashes. With that in mind, I finished reading The Final Pagan Generation by Edward J. Watts, per your recommendation. It was excellent. The adventures of Libanius, Themistius, Ausonius, and Praetextatus were edifying, and reminded me of days I spent in the employ of rare book dealers, poring over old letters, deciphering tricky handwriting mixed with misspellings and strange idioms, though nothing like these letters that Watts has been decoding. Naturally, my favorite part (along with the author’s, I suspect) was the gold ingots and hippodromes inside the mansions of the highest Roman elite, the most edible rich. However, although well-told and flavorful, the book doesn’t have enough Huns for my taste. This wounding absence is a tragedy about late Western Rome that must be endured, for the careers of the final pagan generation conclude before the Hunnish hordes themselves appear—but not before the Goths, driven by Huns, figure that they cannot withstand such furiously irrepressible savagery, and would much rather run away, and face eternal Rome herself, giving the whole Empire, East and West, a historic scare when they finally sack Adrianople in 384. Up until then, nothing like that could be imagined by any inhabitant of the Empire. However, soon after that, those bloodthirsty Germans would go on to sack Rome herself.

Note well: the Huns never did that. Note well: Attila spared Rome, mercifully heeding Pope Leo’s pleas. However, Rome and Constantinople did pay tribute to the Huns. Here is another story about all that, by Móra Ferenc.

THE HUNS SEARCH FOR A HOME

For many, many years the descendants of Hunor and Magyar lived in peace together in Scythia. They multiplied like meadow grass, and could barely fit from each other. If the Hun fisherman wanted to cast his net in the river, the Magyar fisherman yelled at him:

“This is my river, find yourself fish elsewhere!”

Other times it was the Hun shepherd who chased away the Magyar shepherd’s flock from the fields:

“This grass grows for my cattle, take yours somewhere else!”

So, one day the leaders of the Huns said to the leaders of the Magyars:

“The problem here, brothers, is that Scythia is too small by now for two such enormous people. Come on, let us go and find a new country together, where we can get along easier.”

“That will not work,” said the Magyars. “If we all settle in the same place again, we are not going to get on in it, either. But if you leave us here, and find yourselves a new home, then Scythia will be large enough for us Magyars.”

“You speak the truth,” said the Huns, and gathering up their tents, they said goodbye to the Magyar brothers. They made a promise, that if they find a land somewhere that has enough room for the Magyars as well, they will send word.

The Huns had a sacred bird called the turul bird. That is what flew in front of them, showing the way as they began the journey westward, seeking a new home.

The Huns rode through many kingdoms and conquered many peoples, until they reached the Danube in today’s Hungary. At that time the Romans were the rulers of this land, and great rulers they were. The Roman Emperor’s domains stretched from one end of the Earth to the other.

The Roman Emperor was not especially worried when he heard the Huns were coming.

“It looks like I will have one more nation in my service,” he boasted, and sent a message to the king of the Huns, commanding the tribute in gold.

And the king of the Huns replied:

“I am not paying the tribute in gold, I’m paying it in iron. I’m not sending it, either, but bringing it with me.”

And he did as he promised. An irresistible storm of Hun horsemen fell upon the armies of the Roman Emperor. They were impossible to withstand. The Roman ran, the Hun conquered, and after bloody battles, the king of the Huns stamped his feet on the ground:

“This soil will now belong to my kind, until the end of the world!”

And this Hun king, who acquired a new country for his people along the Danube and the Tisza rivers, was called Attila.
schedule 2 months ago
    JON FRAZIER
    JON FRAZIER
    When the Goths entered Roman territory as refugees they were mistreated (to say the least) by a corrupt and greedy Roman governor, and that is why they went on the warpath. Had things gone otherwise they could have become stalwart allies and shored up the borders of the Empire against further incursions.
    schedule 2 months ago
JON FRAZIER
JON FRAZIER
The problem with all this is... This war was decided on in Moscow. Orban needs to address himself to Vladimir Putin if he has any sort of influence with that man. The war will not end until Putin says it will.
schedule 2 months ago