Ambassador Eleni Kounalakis on her years in Hungary, Part II

As I indicated yesterday, Eleni Kounalakis’s book on her stay in Budapest as ambassador of the United States is rich enough to spend more than one or even two short posts.

Before her departure to Hungary, the State Department explained to her that the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan was one of President Obama’s top foreign policy priorities. At the time of our story, Hungary had 400 men and women serving in Afghanistan. Kounalakis’s task was to make sure that those troops, unlike some other international forces, don’t leave Afghanistan. That meant courting Csaba Hende.

Of the twenty-one chapters, four deal in one way or another with the Hungarian military. Her first chapter describes a boar hunt near the Ukrainian border to which she was invited by the Hungarian military brass after she told them that she knows how to handle a gun. It turned out that the military attaché of the embassy was very keen on her joining the guys because such an outing would strengthen the good relationship between the military establishments of the two countries. It was the same military attaché who urged her to take part in swimming across Lake Balaton, an affair also organized by the military. It seems that she was ready to do almost anything to ensure that the Hungarian troops would stay in Afghanistan.

Kounalakis describes Csaba Hende, the new minister of defense, as “a smart, affable man” who was rumored “to be out of his depth in the military realm.” (p. 119) Most people would be less charitable and would describe Hende as a bungling country bumpkin. In fact, in the chapters in which Hende figures there are many examples of his utter unsuitability to be a cabinet minister. In December 2010 the American ambassador was still outraged at one of Hende’s inappropriate remarks, yet in a relatively short period of time she described him as a close friend. That friendship is especially curious since it is clear from the text that Hende doesn’t speak a word of English and that their conversations were conducted through an interpreter.

Kounalakis misunderstood Hende’s role in the government. She assumed that he had some say about whether the Hungarian troops stay or leave Afghanistan. She believed that it was her excellent diplomatic skills and her friendship with Hende that resulted in the Hungarian government’s decision to remain part of the international force. We know, and I think Kounalakis should also have known, that no decision is made in Orbán’s Hungary, even about the smallest matter, without the prime minister’s personal approval. What Hende thought was, in the final analysis, irrelevant, so courting him was probably a waste of time.

At their very first meeting Hende indicated to Kounalakis that Camp Pannonia, where some of the Hungarians served, near the town of Pol-e Khumri, had become a very dangerous place. He was worried about his soldiers’ safety. “Something must be done.” (p. 121) The ambassador almost dropped her coffee cup because she was not expecting a change of policy on Afghanistan after the election. Kounalakis took Hende’s words at face value, but if you read her description of comments made later, the Orbán team most likely even before the election decided to threaten troop withdrawal in order to receive more financial help and military equipment.

A few days later the military attaché came with the surprising news that “Minister Hende had invited me to join him on a three-day trip to visit Hungarian troops in Sarajevo and Kosovo.” She decided to accept the invitation because such a trip “would give [her] the opportunity to advance another U.S. foreign policy objective,” this time in the Balkans. (pp. 122-123) During the flight back from Kosovo Hende brought up the topic of the Hungarian troops in Afghanistan again. This time, according to Kounalakis, he was more forceful. He told her that if someone is killed, “the blood will be on [his] hands,” a concern that Kounalakis understood since she felt “the gravity of the dilemma.” The U.S. military attaché in Budapest was less sympathetic. Yes, he told the ambassador, it is a dangerous place. It is a war zone, and it is important that the Hungarians remain there.

Eleni Kounalakis at a joint training seesion of Hungarian troops and the Ohio National Guard, April 2011

Eleni Kounalakis at a  joint training session of Hungarian troops and the Ohio National Guard

A few months later Hende invited her to go with him to Afghanistan. Another opportunity for Hende to extract more money and equipment from the Americans. Kounalakis describes a rather uncomfortable encounter between General David Petraeus and Hende in which the Hungarian minister again explained his worries about his soldiers at Camp Pannonia. It is unsafe, and it prevents them from doing their assigned task, reconstruction work. During the discussion he repeated that “at a minimum, the Hungarians soldiers needed more equipment, especially more secure transport vehicles.” Hende was asked to make a list of equipment his troops needed, and he received a promise that the requests would be “seriously considered.” (pp. 134-135)

It was during this trip that Kounalakis herself was finally convinced that the Hungarian troops needed more equipment. Although earlier there were serious disagreements between Hende and the American ambassador, one morning after a nearby bombing by coalition forces,

It was clear that something had changed. The tension between Csaba and me had diffused, and everyone felt it. I think he finally understood that it would be hard for him to walk away from his country’s commitments, and I think he saw that I finally understood that his troops were exposed at Camp Pannonia and needed more equipment to protect themselves.

The corner that we turned was significant, not just for our countries’ cooperation in Afghanistan but for everything we would accomplish together for the next three years. Despite–or perhaps because of–our confrontation, mutual respect and understanding had been forged between us. Not more than a few weeks later, a large shipment of new transport vehicles was delivered to Camp Pannonia. Within a short period of time, the reconstruction team received all of the equipment they needed. (p. 141-142)

Considering that only a few days before the following conversation took place between Kounalakis and Hende, this change of heart was truly remarkable. Kounalakis kept talking about the importance of reconstruction work in a developing country when

[Hende] responded, very smugly, “You know, Madam Ambassador, we Hungarians have a saying for what your country is trying to do here: it’s like taking a fish stew and trying to turn it into an aquarium.”

It was the final straw. It was an outrageous, disrespectful thing to say about the United States and all of our troops and officers who were serving in this dangerous place. I looked him in the eye, and I raised my voice.

“The cost to my country, in lives and treasure, is enormous. Success or failure will impact the future of my country, our security and yours, and determine the future for our nations’ children, yours and mine included. You can be as critical as you want, but you cannot discount our effort out of hand that way, as if nothing is at stake!”

The minister’s young interpreter looked mortified, but Csaba himself had staked his ground and refused to back down. Not wanting to give further vent to my anger, I stood up and left the room. (p. 138)

Kounalakis visited Afghanistan once more, this time at the invitation of Admiral James Stavridis, the supreme allied commander of NATO. Once there she proposed to the admiral that “maybe we could persuade [the Hungarians] to take another rotation.” Stavridis was doubtful, but Kounalakis was pretty certain that they would agree, adding that “the only thing is, they probably won’t have the money to fund such an effort.” Once back in Budapest she approached Hende, and “the Hungarians responded with incredible speed and surprising flexibility.” (pp. 269-270) Indeed, why not? Kounalakis is certain that it was her excellent personal relationship with the Hungarian minister of defense that was responsible for this happy turn of events from the American point of view.

On May 10, 2013, John Kerry, secretary of state, wrote a letter to Kounalakis praising her for her exceptional service as ambassador of the United States to Hungary. The very first item on the list of her accomplishments was her “efforts [that] convinced the Hungarian government to maintain its Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan until its mission was completed.” (p. 185)

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Member

I guess suspicion and caution before certainty is not part of US diplomatic behavior.

i-doubt
Guest

Besides Kounalakis, Kerry and Obama, too, are seemingly completely incompetent to deal with tyrants and liars.

Let us wake up, and end the incoherence of the American leaders.

How many millions were stolen on the equipment deals??????

For example, the mullahs of Iran, and Putins of Russia are very interested on garage sales of certain technology,

András Göllner
Guest
What a sad reality show. Thanks for exposing it to the public Éva. In some respects, this is how history is being made in the american zone. The lives of millions are deeply affected by the the nature of the relationship between people like Eleni and Csaba. What’s even sadder is that Eleni wrote it all down and found someone to publish it. I guess she sees herself as the equivalent of a George F. Kennan, and Csaba Hende and his ragtag dragoon of 400 Hungarian kiwis. as the pivot for US policy in Afghanistan. It’s now round two, as Hungary sends in a fresh contingent of 150 hussars to Iraq to vacuum up the dust and pick up the toothpicks after Isis troops withdraw from some hotly contested enclave in the middle of nowhere. Csaba is no doubt pumping Coleen Bell for money as I write this, to cover not only the costs of this heroic national initiative but his entertainment expenses as he travels the great cities of the world with his secretary. No doubt, he is also pushing for a halt to the State Department’s nit picking about Orban’s illiberal, pro-Russian musings. If Colleen Bell has her… Read more »
István
Guest
Andras I am only about 25% through the. Ambassador’s book so as yet I do not feel it is appropriate for me to fully comment on Eva’s rapid assessments the book. But I am denoting some general reservation on Eva’s part about the Ambassador’s interest in military matters, I am unclear as to why. I am on the other hand, having come from a U.S. military background, somewhat thrilled to see a politically appointed Ambassador who did not have a background in the military being so positive about our armed forces and the development of Hungary’s military. But as an American Hungarian I have to take exception to your comment Andras: “Meanwhile half of Hungary’s population is desperately trying to emigrate and get the hell out of the night mare that Orbán has created, thanks in part to the such astute Ambassadors as Ms Kounalakis.” I do not see that the U.S. had any role in the election of Orban, nor should we have any role in his removal. If you read her book you will see that Orban assumed because the Ambassador was a democrat she was supportive of the MSZP at their very first meeting. Orban actually launched… Read more »
Guest

Re: ‘Let us wake up, and end the incoherence of the American leaders’

You know taking into count the ‘fish stew- aquarium’ metaphor we can kind of see that Csaba et al is having a nice free meal. Csaba looks like he’s out fishing and using fresh ‘American chum’ to feed the Magyar shark.

Now I do hope ‘chum’ diplomacy is an aberration and won’t be on the menu for the U.S-Magyar future folks. To say it’s unhealthy is really an understatement.

Sackhoes Contributor
Guest

If Hungary lived up to it’s obligation to NATO and spent it’s full, expected share of her budget on the military, she would not have to go begging for funds to maintain it’s troops. The US is foolish to allow Hungary to neglect it’s NATO duties and should place Hungary on the “inactive” list or else, kick her out of NATO. To be fair, a number of other NATO partners also should be sent the same message.

Wondercat
Guest

Persons have friends, nations have interests. A shame that someone charged with an ambassador’s duties forgot this. — And, as far as re-constituting the aquarium is concerned: Csaba was right.

Tamas Kovacs
Guest
I have to agree with Andras Göllner, above. I as a Hungarian now surely don’t want to read Kounalakis’ book as I probably couldn’t bear to read these delusional “achievements”, they are so irritating and ridiculous. If Csaba Hende — who I agree with Prof. Balogh is as they say diplomatically not the sharpest tool in the drawer and is totally without any influence in the government (which is really only Orban himself) — can apparently play the US like a harp then I guess the US is in trouble. Of course the US has all the money and power so its bureaucracy will never admit to fundamental problems, but I tell you seriously Csaba Hende could not fool a Hungarian elementary school kid. I guess if the embassy bureaucrats just took the time to read this free blog they could’ve saved a lot of money and gotten way more results. It annoys me to no end that the any adult person, let alone such a well-educated “important” one can be so easily fooled by idiots like Hende and Orban. Oh my god, what the Russians, who are a thousands of times more cunning than Hende, Orban, Martonyi and the… Read more »
buddy
Guest

“It annoys me to no end that the any adult person, let alone such a well-educated “important” one can be so easily fooled by idiots like Hende and Orban.”

Well here’s a question for you: Which country voted those “idiots” into power? And re-elected them?

The truth is, there are still many, many adult Hungarians who are still “fooled by idiots like Hende and Orban” to this day.

Yet people like you feel better about yourself if you blame the United States for all of your problems. Easy target I suppose, but you need to understand that it’s the responsibility of Hungarians, and not any foreign person or country, to get rid of Orbán and his minions.

Member

buddy and others, who are amazed the U.S. Ambassador’s naivety. She is NOT a professional diplomat, she was quick trained for Singapore and not for Hungary. Nevertheless, one does not write a book about his/her job to list only failures and not successes.

It seems the US did not loose anything in Hungary, while Ms. Kounalakis was stationed there. At any rate, Mr. Goodfriend more than made up for the lull in foreign policy, regarding the mafia don viktor and his band of thieves and criminals, called the Hungarian Government.

It seems, the viktor is constantly on the defense, since the Presidential Proclamation 7750 was invoked.

Szijjarto was not received officially here by our Secretary of State to submit his credentials and I doubt, the two of them will ever meet officially to discuss anything about USA-Hungary relationship. Nobody even wanted to have photo opportunity with him at the State Department.

Hungary is in the EU jurisdiction, we can only deal with bi-lateral issues and perhaps make some suggestion to EU diplomats informally.

buddy
Guest

Actually what I’m saying is that it is Hungarians who are the naïve ones for voting for Orbán.

Member

budy: There are more than a half a dozen words, adjectives, I could describe why the majority of voting Hungarians selected the viktor. None of them sound positive.

Béla bácsi
Guest
Buddy, I think you misunderstand the points of Mr. Kovac perhaps because you want to misunderstand them, because maybe you want to obscure the problem. Nobody has advocated here that the US or Kounalakis should have “saved” Hungary from Orban (although as someone pointed out the German example, as the one instance out of a 100, this actually can work sometimes). This is decidedly not the issue here. What is the issue is the personal and professional failure of supposedly smart and respected, experienced, influential people. That’s all. You may expect the proverbial Mari néni (aunt Mary from Bivalyba**nád) to swallow the bullshit fed by Orban you even expect Buda-dwelling Christian families to do so, you also expect masses of ordinary people to vote for Fidesz if it promises to cut the all-important utility prices, but you don’t really expect important people who are assisted by the NSA and what have you to remain so clueless and then not even face in a memoir that cluelessness (still clinging to notions like Mr. Hende was a smart, affable man, even if I discount for diplomatic language etc.). I would seriously be worried if any of my business colleagues would assess Mr.… Read more »
Webber
Guest

Read the book, not the summary, then come to judgement of your own.
The words printed in it about Orban’s denunciation of democracy as “bullshit” are eloquent, and extremely telling (incl. in yesterday’s piece here). The former ambassador would not have included that quote in her book if it did not seem significant to her. What more should she say? Orban has been damned by those words.
The book will be quoted by historians in the future, if only for that quote, I am quite sure.

buddy
Guest

I don’t think she failed at her job. Her job was to adequately represent her country’s interests. How did she fail at this? She has to do this regardless of her opinion about Orbán, Hende, or anyone else in the Hungarian government. Do you care about what the Hungarian ambassador in DC thinks about Obama? Does it even matter?

Let me put it this way: what if she had had a different opinion (more pessimistic) about Orbán, Hende, et al? What would have been different during her tenure in Budapest? Give me a concrete example.

buddy
Guest

One more thing: you strongly imply that only dumb people in the villages voted for Fidesz. I’m afraid you are very wrong. Many smart people voted for Fidesz (and re-elected them). I know and have met many of them myself. Many are even relatives of mine.

What’s worse, many of these people would still vote for them if the election were today. Are these people failures too?

David
Guest

@buddy

Hungarian voters who enjoy low natural gas prices and/or can’t forgive the Socialists and/or who like the nationalist slogans which give them self-respect and the feeling of worth after decades of feeling worthless etc. are not the same category as professional diplomats having an entire apparatus to help them understand the situation.

You are comparing apples and oranges.

A dictator can be enormously and genuinely popular (at least for a while and I don’t mean the elections where voters ‘elect’ them with over 90% majority as evidence here) but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t expect American diplomats to still hold him a corrupt dictator.

buddy
Guest

Well I know one thing: Eleni Kounalakis is certainly not responsible for any of the destruction that Fidesz has wreaked on Hungary over the past five years. Nor for that matter is the US government or anyone in it responsible for this, as far as I know.

The Hungarian electorate, on the other hand…

Kirsten
Guest
In what respect is that apples and oranges? The diplomats take a democratically elected government as it is, there is a likelihood that it is a reflection of the society that they have been sent to. Hungary is still an internationally accepted legal entity. If you just object and carp about the country or people, what exactly is then the purpose of a diplomatic mission? Those people with their preferences for low utility prices, they could if they so wished change the government just by voting and by becoming more politically versed. Expectations that “the others could do something, we small people can not as we care only for what those in power are willing to provide us with and in any case we cannot change anything” is exactly the basis of an authoritarian regime. Viktor Orban believes that this is the preference of the Hungarians and your observation that the “small people” care only about utility prices and leave politics to others (the American diplomat, EU) supports Orban’s claim. And also, it is a book of memoirs of a person that probably also had some “interest” in writing it, not “the truth” with all its connotations of superiority in… Read more »
David
Guest
@buddy @Kirsten Buddy, nobody talked about the destruction Fidesz accomplished or the responsibility thereof, none of the comments above have to do with these. Why do you keep bringing in off topic arguments? The issue is the ability of professionals aided by a giant apparatus to read a vily, corrupt political mafia. Voters often vote for a politician even if they know the politician is a crook. Many Fidesz voters knew well that Orban was corrupt but they liked him anyway or better than the dumb and corrupt and loser Socialists. Admittedly many voters believed that Orban was a good guy worthy of their love even. Voting (by the voters, citizens) in may view is a totally different relationship with politicians than diplomacy. For me this is a no brainer. In fact I find the comparison of Hungarian voters to the American bureaucracy totally misguided. I actually think it is quite ridiculous to say that look, Hungarians voted for Orban because they (at least many of them) believed what he said, so it’s totally normal that the American ambassador also believed him and his minions. I may be wrong but it always seemed to me that at this blog commenters… Read more »
buddy
Guest

“The issue is the ability of professionals aided by a giant apparatus to read a vily, corrupt political mafia.”

Ok, so she wasn’t able to “read a vily[sic], corrupt political mafia.” So what? It really doesn’t matter what the US Ambassador thinks, because she has no real power and her opinion isn’t able to change anything that happens here.

The reason I bring up the voters is, of course, because they have real power to change events that happen here. So does the EU. And that’s what matters – those who have power to influence events here.

Incidentally, I distinctly remember Ambassador Kounalakis releasing several statements at the end of her term here (the last year and a a half or so) that were quite critical of the Hungarian government. She was apparently not fooled by them anymore. Did it change anything? No, it did not.

Stop worrying about whatever the US Ambassador thought about our government, whether she was “fooled” or not, etc. It has no real significance one way or another.

Guest
Re: ‘The truth is, there are still many, many adult Hungarians who are still “fooled by idiots like Hende and Orban” to this day’ As we know, Jobbik kind of sent a vanguard over here where the Statue of Liberty is because they figure they will be in power soon and need to gauge the ‘lay of the land’ among the community since they want to be on top of their ‘interests’ and of course bring them over to their cause. Now it’s so ironic that the place where they came to speak was where I used to go to Christmas parties as a child a few years after the Russians blew into Magyarorszag uninvited and destroyed the place physically and psychologically. The memory kind of still sears. No doubt that’s why I always have a deep aversion to bears or bulls running around in china shops…;-)…. What a bad joke after all the years. It is incredible to me seeing that this vanguard of undemocratic psychology comes back decades later to proselytize here for a ‘patriotic’ cause which at bottom runs on a dismal and autocratic course. Amazing how things morph on in democracies as the decades recede. I… Read more »
Kirsten
Guest

“Csaba Hende could not fool a Hungarian elementary school kid.”

Wow, but why then Orban for five years already…?

This Hungarian wisdom that is so frequently mentioned when it comes to non-Hungarians “naively” watching Hungarian madness and thinking “probably this is national habit so show some respect”, so this wisdom amounts to nothing more than “everybody is a scoundrel” and “nothing can be done about it”. Nothing else. So please do not continue to pretend better knowledge as to how to deal with Orban and his band as long as the only thing on offer is “everything is doomed anyway so how can you be so naive to try at least something”. And I forgot, because also the non-Hungarians have not yet created paradise in Hungary (probably a noble title for everybody), they need to be frequently reminded how inadequate their efforts are (how nasty of them!).

petofi
Guest

Non-Hungarians should realize that Orban represents the peak of achievement (and the type of behaviour) that the average Hungarian aspires too. Orban’s popularity is rooted in the fact that a great majority of the citizenry are in awe of his nerve and duplicity in pursuit of profit without effort, or real work. While being sheared, they can only think of how nice it would be when their turn will come and they’ll be doing the shearing…

The problem concerns the norms that the society adheres to since the end of the second world war, if not earlier.

Webber
Guest
To Hungarians above who are upset with the American Ambassador, please recall: Recognizing Orban for what he is takes time for governments of other countries, partly because it is easier and more pleasant to imagine that he is just an irritant and nothing more. There is nothing new in this. Think of N. Chamberlain – Germany then was incomparably more important to Britain than Hungary is now to Washington. Hungary is small and scarcely relevant to the United States. If it were not in NATO, I doubt Hungary would get even half the attention it now gets from Washington. Perhaps it should be written off altogether – that’s not for you to decide, though. It’s up to Americans. Those who wish the United States would act more forcefully apparently believe the US is or should be a sort of benign Soviet Union. Sorry, it isn’t so. It is not the United States’ job to “correct” things in Hungary (of course, if Hungary started killing minorities en masse, or hosting Al Kaida, we might have a different conversation – thankfully nothing like this is going on). Hungarians elected this government, twice. If blame is to be apportioned anywhere outside of Hungary… Read more »
buddy
Guest

Yes, this is all very true. Well, the sentence “The misfortune is yours” is not how I would prefer to phrase this sentiment, but otherwise I think this is totally correct.

Webber
Guest

That sentence does not preclude sympathy. Those Hungarians who dislike life under Orban’s regime but don’t blame others for that have all of mine.

Nádas
Guest

Financial incentives offered by the Bush administration are the only reason that Hungary – and many other members of the “Coalition” – got involved in either Afghanistan or Iraq or both.
However incompetent Hende may be, he was certainly right in his assessment of US objectives and methods (“like taking a fish stew and trying to turn it into an aquarium”). At least in this exchange, it’s Kounalakis who comes off looking like an ill-informed country bumpkin.

csukcs
Guest

Fiends of Hungary

Dana Rohrbacher, best buddy of Putin’s now works for Orban.

http://index.hu/kulfold/2015/05/14/putyin_ivocimboraja_a_fidesz_uj_washingtoni_lobbistaja/

Don
Guest

OT:

Yesterdays it came to light that long-time Fidesz campaign guru, the American Arthur J. Finkelstein set up a 50-50 joint venture with Arpad Habony (personal guru of Viktor Orban) in the UK.

Why would any American do that, invest together with such a shady character?

My only idea is that Orban might have let it be known to Finkelstein that in order to keep this rich Fidesz-account Finkelstein has to set up a company with Habony (who will naturally pocket half of the money which Fidesz, Századvég or whoever essentially from taxpayers’ money pays for Finkelstein’s advice), but Finkelstein said that he only invests in a UK-registered company (because he probably fears from the Hungarian legal system wouldn’t be impartial if there was a dispute and in any annual report Finkelstein may prepare it just wouldn’t look good to have Hungarian investments).

Webber
Guest

Why would any American do that? (short answer in final sentence; long answer starts immediately below)
In addition to helping Orban, Finkelstein has worked for politicians in Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Israel, Kosovo, and the Ukraine.
He generally works for r-wing people. For instance, he has worked on Netanyahu’s campaign. He also happens to be gay (not relevant – just as the fact that he is Jewish is not relevant – bu it may well be shocking to some Orban supporters).
Why does he do what he does?
Money, of course. He is paid extraordinarily well.
In some ways he resembles the politician played by Al Pacino in Angels in America.
Being American does not mean that a person is in any way superior to anyone else of any other nationality.

Don
Guest

Yes, but why would Finkelstein need to set up a separate company and why exactly with Habony? Finkelstein has his US company (actually he invested in the UK entity via a legal entity) and Fidesz could simply mandate that company. Why the middle-man? It may be irrelevant, but it just occurred to me.

bence
Guest

Or it may have been Finklestein who wanted to distance himself a bit from Századvég which is a known money laundering operation.

Webber
Guest

Take your pick of theories:
1. Habony wanted someone to help make the business look legit, and Finkelstein was willing for a fee.
2. This is a way for the government to pay Habony and yet still say it is not (Szazadveg is getting too much attention), and Orban asked Finkelstein to join in the operation (for a fee – and since it’s not illegal, why not?).
3. Finkelstein and Habony personally have a very close relationship (fill in details as you like).
4., 5., 6.,… – add your own theories.
It doesn’t matter much. Whatever the answer is, part of it is that Finkelstein is getting something out of the deal.

István
Guest

Don the answer is to make money, it’s simple actually. It is the same reason other Americans invest in the Danube Fund, or why American grain firms operate in Hungary. Making money is what the entire blow up with Goodfriend was about, recall it was the Hungarian IRS that was shanking down a U.S. based firm.

Réti Pál
Guest

“swimming across Lake Balaton, an affair also organized by the military”. Not yet, dear Eleni.

István
Guest
Here are some additional thoughts on the book as my reading of it progresses. Ambassador Kounalakis’s book provides some insight as to how MOL ended up being a player in oil exploration and extraction in Kurdistan in chapter 6. She discussed how US special envoy for Eurasian energy development visited Hungary several times while she was Ambassador. She also discussed how Hungary with NATO on greater cooperation Ukraine despite Russian opposition. Would Orban admit to that now? She also discussed in passing the U.S. goal of opposing intolerance of ethnic minorities in Hungary. Kounalakis has some relatively harsh comments about Jobbik in her book that Eva has not as yet mentioned. The Ambassador discussed the huge concerns of expressed by “Hungarian American scholars” who believe handing Orban a supermajority was “a death warrant for Hungarian democracy,” she indicated it was the job of an Ambassador to work with the elected government to further the interest of her nation. Could Eva be one of those scholars she referenced? So far I would say the book is providing insight to many things and clearly the Ambassdor was not completely charmed by Fidesz, nor was she overtly hostile to PM Orban. If I… Read more »
petofi
Guest

@Istvan

(Student, hands behind back, extracts one hand and raises it with two fingers pointed upward, as is mandated in Hungarian schools…”Teacher, Sir, may I leave to go to the washroom?”)

Istvan: Yes, but hurry up. The best is yet…

Member

All this reads a bit like the US sent a naive amateur to Hungary who not only did not know what she was getting into, but failed to grasp it until the very end. And now details her naivete this in a book.

There seems some advantage to having professional diplomats as emissaries, as opposed to party donors.

István
Guest
Chapter 8 contains some interesting perspective on what she calls Hungarian pessimism but really does not get into Hungarian cynicism. The chapter also reflects on comments made by George Soros in relation to Orban’s responses to the economic downturn of the economy which he characterized as “bad policy.” Her section on Orban’s promotion of a new Constitution was extremely weak and lacked any serious analysis what so ever. But I agree with the Ambassador that it was largely inappropriate for the Embassy to weigh in on the changes. Her discussion about the issues around the Treaty of Trianon and the idea of greater Hungary were extremely interesting. I wish she would have adopted a polite get over it position and would have expressed some personal disgust with Zoltan Kovacs comparison of the Holocaust and the impact of the treaty on Hungarians. She concludes chapter 8 with an extremely severe critique of Orban’s blaming foreign firms and the MSZP (the Bolshevik millionaires) for the economic problems of Hungary which Fidesz bares responsibility for once it assumed power. I would note that Eva has not discussed that critique as yet in her review of the book. Chapter 9 contains the discussion of… Read more »
Webber
Guest

István
The description of Hende’s money- or rather matériel-grubbing seems to verify the scuttlebutt I’ve heard and mentioned here in the past, to wit:
In these so-called Hungarian contributions to peace-keeping missions, Hungarian personnel cost the American taxpayer more than American soldiers do, and moreover actually tie down American troops, who are required to protect them because they can’t (or won’t) protect themselves. Their “contribution,” in short, is a detriment.

Istvan
Guest
There is areference to Hende’s overt sexism in chapter 9 when he was visiting female Italian soldiers. Chapter 10 discusses the Ambassador’s visit to Afghanistan. Her description of a rather hostile confrontation between US commanding General Petraeus and Hende is actually somewhat detailed and it shows that Hende was not held in high regard in military circles. This confrontation set the stage for Hende’s comment that Eva cited “it’s like taking a fish stew and trying to turn it into an aquarium.” My impression is that Hungarian political officials to a degree attempted to micro manage its ISAF forces which were under joint command and to put it simple Petraeus seemed pissed off by the political interference. I am very impressed that the Ambassador depicted this in her book. In chapter 12 the Ambassador slams the media law passed at the very end of 2010. She also has an extremely interesting discussion about US Attorney General Eric Holder avoiding confronting PM Orban about changes to the Constitution. Chapter 13 again has a number of critical comments on the adoption of the new Constitution. There are some extremely interesting passages relating to what Sec. Clinton would say about the Constitution and… Read more »
Ferenc
Guest

Ambassador Kounalakis was a personal acquaintance to me. She was professional by American standards. She is so AMERICAN, she will hardly grasp anything of the intricate and complex Hungarian political arena. She lived here, not with us.

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