He warned that Europe and America have divergent interests in the war
This week, American conservatives are flocking to Dallas for the CPAC Texas conference. Besides a headline appearance from Donald Trump, one of the event’s star attractions will be Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, who casts a surprisingly large shadow in American conservative circles despite being “an autocrat astride a country whose GDP is more meagre than that of Kansas”, in the derogatory words of the Washington Post.
Orbán’s presence in Dallas has come under particular scrutiny following a controversial speech in Romania at the end of July, where he said Hungarians do not want to become a “mixed race”. The speech caused an international media maelstrom: “Viktor Orbán Will Still Speak at CPAC Despite ‘Nazi’ Speech Backlash”, thundered Bloomberg’s headline.
Amid the tumult, one thing’s for sure: Orbán’s “race-mixing” speech has generated ample publicity for his big appearance in Texas. The international media don’t seem to realise that this was probably his intention all along.
Why? Because Orbán will see his visit to America as a golden opportunity to bring Republicans around to his point of view on a far more pressing issue: the war in Ukraine. International headlines about his Romania speech focused on the race angle, but the (much longer) section intended for domestic consumption was all about the war: specifically, Orbán’s belief that the West has bet on a losing horse in Ukraine and that the best possible outcome would be an immediate, enforceable peace.
Orbán doesn’t expect such a view to prevail in America under the Biden administration, claiming that only after US presidential elections in 2024 can “the first real opportunity for peace” be anticipated. As such, Hungary needs “a different plan” for Democrat and Republican rule. Orbán can therefore be expected to use his time in America to cultivate anti-war sentiments among a potential future US administration — after meeting with the Hungarian leader on Tuesday, Donald Trump wrote that “few people know as much about what is going on in the world today”.
What Republicans may not have picked up on, though, is Orbán’s belief that the USA and Europe have divergent interests in Ukraine: that the war harms Europe economically but benefits America. During his Romania speech, Orbán described how the EU’s Russia sanctions have “only added” to America’s long-term strategy — also pursued under Trump — of using energy as a “foreign policy weapon”. “In the shadow of the current Russia-Ukraine war, they have started to strongly encourage their allies — that would be us — to buy shipments from the USA.” Describing the wider economic impacts of the war, Orbán said that “the European Union is doing badly” but “the big American companies are doing well… Exxon’s profits will double in 2022, Chevron’s will quadruple, and ConocoPhillips’ will increase sixfold.”
US conservatives will no doubt feel themselves gracious in granting such a large platform to the leader of such a small nation — but Orbán may, in truth, be running rings around them.