In naming Heather Nauert to be the next United States ambassador to the United Nations, the Trump White House has signaled that its demeaning and marginalizing of the organization is now almost complete. Nauert, as State Department spokeswoman since April 2017, has been a faithful steward of scripted Trump policies, and is expected to be no more than that at the UN.
Nauert, a former anchor on Fox and Friends, a favorite show of the president, has no foreign, diplomatic, or political credentials and maybe a shaky grasp of geopolitics. In June on the eve of a D-Day commemoration, when she was uncharacteristically unscripted, her remarks seemed to suggest that she was unsure about which side Germany was on in World War II.
She has shown none of Nikki Haley’s independent streak, which allowed Haley, a former popular governor of South Carolina, to occasionally question White House dogma.
Nauert’s nomination requires Senate confirmation, which is not yet assured. She is expected to face tough questioning, including from Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, who was one of the first to say that she is unqualified for the job.
Stephen Schlesinger, who writes and comments widely on the UN and the Americans assigned as envoys there, said that her appointment can only further damage American credibility in the UN and around the world.
“Nauert is a classic Trumpian appointment,” he said. “She has no foreign-policy experience but she handles herself well with the media and she looks attractive on television. The administration hands her statements to read and she faithfully reads them to the world. That about completes her preparation for America’s second most important foreign policy post.”
In a larger sense, beyond the downgrading of the assignment, Nauert’s appointment to the UN indicates a policy victory for Trump’s national-security adviser, John Bolton, a career-long adversary of international organizations and agreements, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who, in a speech in Brussels on December 4 to the German Marshall Foundation, derided internationalism and multilateral institutions in general.
Should Nauert be confirmed—or anyone else sent to the UN by Trump if she isn’t—the parameters of American participation will be very clearly marked.
In Brussels, Pompeo echoed the theme of absolute sovereignty that Trump laid out to the General Assembly in September. Crudely put, Trump not only rejected internationalism but also promised not to interfere in the policies and practices of other nations. That would please the nationalist governments of Hungary, India, and the Philippines, to name just a few.
“The old liberal world order failed us in some places, and sometimes it failed you and the rest of the world,” Pompeo said. “Multilateralism has too often become viewed as an end unto itself. The more treaties we sign, the safer we supposedly are. The more bureaucrats we have, the better the job gets done.”
“Was that ever really true?” he asked. He called the global system “poisoned fruit” that opened the US to exploitation. “President Trump is determined to reverse that,” he said.
One example: Three days later, the US mission to the UN published an anonymous policy paper rejecting point by point the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration, which was adopted on December 10 by a substantial majority of UN members. The Trump administration, not surprisingly, had opted out of the compact. Diplomats report that behind the scenes, however, Washington is working to undermine the pact and encourage other governments to reject it.
The three-and-a-half page US statement says that the compact, which calls for safeguarding a range of migrants’ rights, adopts “goals and objectives that are inconsistent and incompatible with US law, policy and the interests of the American people.”
At the same time the United States remains an outlier in a review conference, COP24, now in progress in Katowice, Poland, to assess the progress being made on the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change. A report by the Institute for International and European Affairs, based in Dublin, says that what is now widely called “the Trump Effect” has cost the Green Climate fund $2 billion in lost US pledges. Trump, who has vowed to withdraw the United States from the agreement, is nonetheless opposing rules requiring rich countries to report on their efforts to increase financial commitments, fueling distrust among developing nations.
“Meanwhile, the EU, China, and India, which have room to take on more ambitious commitments in 2020, are unlikely to play their cards in the absence of a similar commitment from the US,” Joseph Curtin of the IIEA, the author of the report, concluded. “In this manner, the Trump Effect could grind the Paris ‘ambition mechanism’ to a halt.”
Dennis Jett, professor of International Affairs at Penn State University and a former career American foreign-service officer with expertise in Africa and Latin America, serving among other posts as ambassador in Mozambique and Peru, suggests looking deeper into Heather Nauert’s performance as State Department spokeswoman, the job that apparently won her the UN job.
The author of American Ambassadors—The Past, Present, and Future of America’s Diplomats, Jett has tracked the work of State Department spokespeople and how they present US policy abroad. “In the past there have been political operatives who have been pretty inept, but Nauert is without doubt the worst,” he wrote in an e-mail interview. “That’s because she is a shallow Fox News newsreader whose response to questions is almost always to refer the journalist to somewhere else.”
“Occasionally in the past, the spokesperson was a journalist [as Nauert is] but most often it was an upper-mid level foreign service officer who was always first rate —like Chuck Redman and Victoria Nuland.”
“The spokesperson was always important in the past because he/she was exactly that—the person who spoke to the world on behalf of the State Department and more generally for the United States. In the department, a great deal of effort was put into crafting carefully worded press guidance every day that expressed the US position on foreign policy issues, meant to convey what was happening while avoiding misstatements,” Jett said.
“Nauert is an embarrassment, clearly clueless on a whole host of topics, but it is not all her fault,” he said. “Government people all over Washington have no clue what the policy is and keep the TV on to learn what the latest tweet from the president says it is. So the resulting foreign policy is incoherent and inconsistent to the delight of our enemies and the utter confusion of our dwindling number of friends.”