By James Krotz
On Tuesday, the United States Senate confirmed “The Bold and the Beautiful” producer and Democratic fundraiser Colleen Bell to the post of United States Ambassador to Hungary. The vote was passed by a slim margin along partisan lines, 52-42. The White House has expressed complete confidence in Bell’s ability to maintain relations with Hungary. However, one of the most vocal and influential Senate Republicans, John McCain (R-AZ) expressed his concern that Bell is inexperienced and unfit for the post. During her confirmation hearing with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, McCain plied Bell with basic questions, and discovered that she speaks no Hungarian, is not of Hungarian descent, and has no prior knowledge of U.S.-Hungarian relations.
This highly political appointment comes at a crucial crossroads in U.S.-Hungarian relations. Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, of the right-wing Fidesz party, is rapidly centralizing power, appointing his cronies to key bureaucratic posts, and cracking down on dissenters, hardly behavior appropriate for a NATO ally and EU member. In a speech this summer, Orban declared liberal democracies to be dying, and praised illiberal democracies in Russia, China and Turkey. What is most striking of all, however, is Orban’s praise of Russian action in Ukraine, which was condemned by the West. Should the unthinkable happen and Hungary break ranks from NATO, it would severely limit the position of the United States in Eastern Europe.
Bell could surprise us, as political appointees have in the past. She may rely on her subordinates, trained State Department officials with vast amounts of in-country knowledge and experience. However, is it worth the risk? Only time will tell.