The war was lost but Hungary became independent. Yet even Mihály Károlyi, who was after all the head of the Party of Independence, admitted in his memoirs written in the early 1920s that they were somewhat shortsighted when they rejoiced over the collapse of the dual monarchy and greeted the severance of ties with Austria with great enthusiasm. Even before Austria became a republic, Hungary considered itself to be an independent state; in early November the Hungarian government began establishing its own foreign ministry.
The rejoicing didn't last long. Foreign armies immediately began occupying territories belonging to the Kingdom and later the Republic of Hungary. Initially without but later with the permission of the Great Powers, more and more territories were occupied by the Czech, Romanian, and Serbian armies. Prime Minister Károlyi was in an unenviable position. He had no direct access to the policy makers of the Entente and could complain only to low-level diplomatic and military officials residing in Vienna and later in Budapest. His complaints about the illegal occupations were not received sympathetically. Further and further demands were made and the Hungarian government obliged.
Lately Károlyi has been savagely attacked by the extreme right, which blames him for the severe territorial losses suffered in the Treaty of Trianon. If Károlyi can be criticized for anything, it was his trust in the Wilsonian principle of self-determination of nations. He mistakenly thought that the implementation of this principle would be done through a series of plebiscites. Theoretically such a solution sounded attractive, but implementing it would have posed almost insurmountable difficulties. Moreover when Woodrow Wilson came up with his idea about this new world order he himself most likely had no idea about how such a reorganization of the former Austro-Hungarian Monarchy would be implemented. Perhaps he didn't realize the very complicated ethnic patterns in the region.
Károlyi thought that as long as Hungary followed the "instructions" of the Great Powers, "justice" would prevail. Trying to stop the invading armies would have been difficult in the first place. Hungarian army units were made up of different nationalities, and it was unlikely that Romanian units would fight against the invading Romanians or Serbs against Serbs. Moreover, everybody was sick and tired of war, was happy to have survived, and had only one desire–to go home. Getting these people back in the army to fight again would have been a very difficult task though not impossible as we will see later.
The Károlyi period (October 31, 1918 to March 21, 1919) was spent in futile diplomatic efforts at stopping the onslaught, and therefore there wasn't very much time to come up with coherent ideas concerning a future foreign policy orientation. Károlyi himself was attracted to an understanding with Czechoslovakia because he considered the Czech politicians to be committed to democracy. However, he also sent out feelers to the Italians. There were people in his cabinet who suggested an understanding with the Serbs, mostly because there were territorial conflicts between Romania and Serbia by that time.
After the fall of the Republic and the establishment of the Hungarian Soviet Republic the idea of saving the country's territorial integrity remained alive. Béla Kun and his fellow communists thought that the solution to Hungary's problem lay in world revolution. Nation states would disappear and internationalism would triumph. Moreover, perhaps Soviet Russia would be able to come to Hungary's aid militarily. The communist leadership immediately began building the Hungarian Red Army. The military leadership came from old military personnel who for patriotic reasons were ready to lead even a Red Army. In early May 1919 the Hungarian Red Army began an offensive against the Czech forces. By the end of May Hungarians occupied Losonc (Lučenec) and Rimaszombat (Rimavská Sobota) and in June the Red Army occupied Kassa (Košice) and Selmecbánya (Banská Štiavnica).
At this point the Czech politicians asked for military help from the Great Powers, but instead the Entente leaders sent a communique to Budapest in which they offered a deal: if Hungary withdraws from the north, they will force the Romanian forces that had already reached the Tisza River to withdraw. Kun agreed; the Hungarians withdrew but the Romanians didn't.
The Soviet regime was quite popular when it showed a willingness to fight, but its support dwindled after the military withdrawal from the north. The final blow was that, although an attempt was made to fight the Romanian forces, it wasn't as successful as the campaign against the Czechoslovak forces. The Romanians crossed the Tisza River and began their march toward the Hungarian capital. Béla Kun and his fellow communist leaders fled to Austria. By August 1, 1919, the communist experiment in Hungary was over.
The rest of 1919 is so complicated a story that I will not even try to say anything about it. It was a time when the Entente Powers refused to recognize a government that was not a coalition of all political forces. And negotiations for such a government stalled for months. Budapest by that time was under Romanian occupation, and the Romanian government indirectly put out feelers for some kind of political understanding between Romania and Hungary. There was a small group of Hungarian politicians, mostly from Transylvania, who were in favor of rapprochement. After all, the greatest number of Hungarians lived in territories that would most likely end up on the Romanian side. Perhaps as many as two million. However, there was another group that wouldn't hear of any kind of negotiations with Romania or any of the neighbors. They were certain that Hungary's fate depended on the good will of the Great Powers. Every time there were secret negotiations with high-level Romanian diplomats sent to Budapest for the purpose of coming to some kind of understanding with the Hungarian government, the anti-Romanian forces ran to the local representatives of the Great Powers in Budapest. Especially the American military representative, General Harry Hill Bandholtz, who despised the Romanians.
Another group of people, including Márton Lovászi, foreign minister for a short while, was in favor of a Yugoslav orientation. In fact he even sent a representative to Belgrade to negotiate. In these new right-wing governments there was no one who would have opted for a rapprochement with Czechoslovakia. Actually, the feeling was mutual. Edvard Beneš didn't want anything to do with Hungary either and in fact as early as January 1920 was endeavoring to create a circle of hostile countries, later called the Little Entente, against Hungary. At this point neither Yugoslavia nor Romania was ready to join him. Beneš was moved to action by his discovery that the French had initiated secret negotiations with Hungary because certain people in the French foreign ministry came to the conclusion that the creation of Czechoslovakia was a mistake.
Thus there were two choices for Hungary: either try to make a deal with Romania or Yugoslavia or rely on the good will of one of the Great Powers. Since British foreign policy had pretty well decided that Great Britain wouldn't get involved in the region and the United States withdrew into splendid isolation, only France remained as a possible ally. But the French dalliance with Hungary was short lived and in the end Hungary remained abandoned and isolated. Hungary's most natural ally in my opinion would have been Romania, but the opportunity was missed.