How Washington pivoted from finger-wagging to appeasement.Two important American visitors showed up in Budapest on Wednesday. One was Stephen K. Bannon, the former White House adviser who is an admirer of Hungary’s strongman, Viktor Orban; he addressed a conference on “Europe’s Future ” organized by Mária Schmidt, an Orban counselor with Bannon-esque ideas about maintaining a Christian culture in Europe. Bannon had called Orban “a man of principles” as well as “a real patriot and a real hero” earlier this year... Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs A. Wess Mitchell, the highest-ranking American official responsible for U.S. relations with Hungary. Mitchell came to usher in a new era of accommodation between the Trump administration and the Orban government... this administration believes that offering high-level contacts and withholding criticism will improve an authoritarian regime’s behavior. For those who know Hungary’s politics, this is appeasement — the victory of hope over centuries of experience... Orban’s odyssey began in 1998 when, during his first term as prime minister, he started to flirt with nationalistic, anti-American and anti-Semitic sentiments to try to win reelection in 2002... When Istvan Csurka, the head of an anti-Semitic party, blamed the United States for the 9/11 attacks (it got what it deserved, he said), the premier declined to dissociate himself from Csurka, despite a White House request to do so... He has since managed to change the Hungarian constitution five times to reduce judicial independence, restrict press freedoms and modify the electoral system to ensure that no viable opposition could ever form against him and his coalition... he still embraces anti-Semitism as a political tool, praising a Nazi-allied wartime leader of Hungary and using stereotypes to cast Jewish emigre George Soros as an outside puppeteer... the pro-government weekly Figyelo recently issued an enemies list of about 200 prominent opposition individuals. Most were local civil society advocates
.. Two Hungarian newspapers, Magyar Nemzet and Budapest Beacon , shut down this spring as advertisers vanished because of their opposition to the Hungarian government, leaving only one print opposition daily.
.. on May 15, when John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, received Jeno Megyesy, Orban’s chief adviser on the United States. (Megyesy was also the official point of contact for then-Trump aide Carter Page’s meetings in Budapest during the campaign.
.. Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto is scheduled to meet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; although Szijjarto has visited Washington an eye-popping seven times in the past 18 months
.. What, if anything, is the United States getting from Hungary for this appeasement? The $12 billion Russian-financed and secretly signed Russian Paks II nuclear plant in southern Hungary is one reflection of Orban’s Russian orientation.
.. Hungary spends only 1 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, among the lowest levels for NATO members, despite Trump’s insistence that nations step up their payments.
.. the policy of appeasement signifies abandonment
.. But the hour is late. Orban’s vision has gained considerable appeal throughout Europe.
.. In 2014, when he declared the end of the age of liberalism, he was seen as a pariah; today he is the leader of a xenophobic, authoritarian and often anti-American trend that haunts Poland, Austria and Turkey.
.. His hostility to migration, particularly what he calls the “Islamic multitude” that “leads to the disintegration of nations,” is widely shared.
.. He is admired for having built the first wall in Europe — on the Hungarian-Serbian border — to stem the flow of migrants in 2015. (Paradoxically, Hungary used to be admired for tearing down the barrier between itself and Austria, precipitating the fall of the Berlin Wall.)
It wasn’t always like this. In his 36 years as a diplomat and politician, Mr. Netanyahu has been reprimanded by the Reagan administration, nearly barred from entering the White House, and banned from the State Department during George H. W. Bush’s administration because of his criticism of its policies. He has been at loggerheads with President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama, both of whom could barely conceal their disdain for him. Now he has an administration that shares his positions almost instinctively.
The simplest explanation for this reversal of fortune is that the Trump administration is dominated by the two types of ideologues with whom Mr. Netanyahu has always gotten along best: foreign policy hawks like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the national security adviser, John Bolton, and Christian evangelicals like Vice President Mike Pence. And presiding over it all is Mr. Trump, a man who has known and admired Mr. Netanyahu since they first met in New York in the 1980s.
.. On May 9, the morning after the announcement on the Iran deal, Mr. Netanyahu was in Moscow as guest of honor at Russia’s Victory Day, standing beside President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Putin still supports the Iran deal, and is in tacit alliance with Iran, Israel’s deadly adversary. And yet the Russian president presented the Israeli prime minister as his country’s close ally. He has also allowed Israel to attack Iranian bases and weapons depots in Syria, and even to bomb Russian-built antiaircraft batteries.
.. Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump are not alone. Mr. Netanyahu has recently been feted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, President Xi Jinping of China, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, as well as a host of leaders of smaller countries — including those with far-right governments like Hungary, Poland and Austria. No less significantly, he has maintained close contacts with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt and behind the scenes with the Arab leaders of the Persian Gulf.
Mr. Netanyahu is the toast of the new wave of right-wing, populist and autocrat-like (if not outright autocratic) leaders. They see in him a kindred spirit, even a mentor. He is the leader of a small country who has taken on American presidents and outlasted them. He has successfully defied the Western liberal human rights agenda, focusing instead on trade and security. Israel’s success as a regional economic and military power is proof in their eyes that the illiberal approach can prevail.
He has spent more time than any of them on the geopolitical stage, winning election after election. In many ways, Mr. Netanyahu is the precursor to this new age of “strongmen” who have come to power in different parts of the world. It is the age of Bibi.
.. He has identified a trend: The world is tiring of the Palestinian issue.
.. Mr. Netanyahu has hastened this trend by expanding Israeli diplomacy with Asian and African countries, which have shown little interest in the Israel-Palestine conflict, but are eager to acquire Israeli technology, both civilian and military.
.. Mr. Netanyahu believes he has won the argument. He has proved that the world, not even the Arab nations, doesn’t really care about the Palestinian issue. That Israel can continue enjoying economic growth, regional military dominance and improving foreign relations despite its military control over the lives of millions of stateless Palestinians.
Hofer’s campaign manager then told the media that “Mr. Van der Bellen appears slow; in fact, he displays a certain exhaustion.” By June, the right-wing blog “Politically Incorrect” published a letter allegedly submitted to Austrian authorities asserting that Van der Bellen was stricken with dementia and cancer. So severe was his case — the fake letter attested — that Van der Bellen required a legal guardian.
.. The health issue was only one of several false rumors and reports — including allegations of Van der Bellen family ties to the Nazis — that his campaign has struggled to put down.
.. Trump-like slogans, meanwhile, have popped up on the Internet, including a hashtag for “Make Austria Great Again” and an Internet meme showing the country’s borders at the height of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
.. Should Hofer win, he would take over a ceremonial but constitutionally ambiguous job as president that he has contentiously vowed to vest with real power... Austria’s Identitarian activists — a far-right movement supporting ethno-European nationalism. While he has distanced himself from the movement, his party leadership has also cultivated it — sharing, for instance, stories sympathetic to the group on social media... “We want to disrupt the firewall of multicultural societies,” he said. “You did it in the U.S. with Trump. Now we want it here.”