'It was a triumph for Hungary’s populist prime minister, Viktor Orbán. A university founded in 1991 by one of his chief antagonists, George Soros, decided this week to quit Hungary next year, forced out by a row over its legal status.
But it was a failure for the US ambassador, an 80-year-old jewellery magnate and longstanding personal friend of Donald Trump, who had made it his mission to protect the US-accredited university.
When David Cornstein arrived in Budapest this summer, he came with a message of full support for Orbán’s far-right populist government, in an abrupt departure from previous US policy.
Despite concerns about corruption, rule of law and media freedom, as well as divisive rhetoric on immigration and refugees, Cornstein declared: “The government here has the support of the American government. I think they have the support of the secretary of state. I know they have the support of the American ambassador.”
He was one of a new crop of Trump-appointed ambassadors who have appeared willing to depart from diplomatic protocols to support nationalist, populist governments and politicians who may have similarities with the US president.
However, so far the approach has led to few foreign policy gains, and has caused much damage among traditional allies as well as resentment within the state department. Cornstein’s overtures to the government in Budapest seemingly had little effect in protecting the Central European University (CEU).
Some 1,000km north of Budapest, another US ambassador rapidly discovered the perils of politicising diplomacy.
Richard Grenell, Trump’s envoy to Berlin, declared his intention to “empower other conservatives throughout Europe”. He also raised eyebrows by inviting representatives of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party to his 4 July celebrations.
The political class was not amused. The former SPD leader and chancellor candidate Martin Schulz said: “Grenell is behaving not like a diplomat but like a far-right colonial officer … Ambassadors are representatives of their nations not of political movements.” Fellow SPD politician Johannes Kahrs tweeted that if the quotes were right Grenell “should leave the country”'
Read more: Trump's European diplomats tied in knots over rise of populism
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