It did not take very long after the appointment of John Bolton as Donald Trump’s national security adviser for the United Nations universe—diplomats, the Secretariat, organization outposts around the world and analysts in numerous countries—to wonder what will happen to Ambassador Nikki Haley. Her brief diplomatic career and ambitions for a larger political future could be in peril. Bolton’s presence and extraordinary power in the dysfunctional White House could derail both.
Haley, a former governor of South Carolina with no international experience, nonetheless has put her considerable political skills to work as a learn-on-the-job negotiator through a rough year on the Security Council, defending and often translating Trump’s impetuous foreign policy demands, tweeted without the backing of expert advice. She is certainly a conservative Republican with a Tea Party past who can be shrill and combative, but she has also cast herself in the role of explaining to the White House what needs to be “fixed” at the UN to serve US interests.
Bolton, with a long history as an America Firster in US foreign affairs, has never wanted to fix the UN. To insiders he has been regarded over many years as contemptuous of diplomacy and international engagement wherever he sees potential challenges to American sovereignty. His aim is destruction not repair: a “house-wrecker,” a former UN official called him, adding that if Haley tried to disagree with or hold her ground against Bolton on any important issue, he can, in his new and very powerful position, simply push her out.
John Feffer, director of Foreign Policy in Focus, lays out in very clear terms why Bolton, who has always been a threat to global institutions, is now even more dangerous than he was in 2005–6, when he was ambassador to the UN. It was a recess appointment made by George W. Bush because Bolton was too toxic to be confirmed by the Senate.
“Trump is a very powerful boat with no rudder” Feffer writes. “Unfortunately, Bolton is now his rudder. Which effectively means, when it comes to foreign policy, that it’s Bolton’s administration now. National security adviser is the perfect position for Bolton. He didn’t have to go through any messy confirmation hearings. He doesn’t have to perform any of the ceremonial tasks of a secretary of state.”
On some issues, Haley she has already walked close to the line in dealing with Trump, some analysts say, and could be an easy target for Bolton. She has said publicly that Russia could be guilty of war crimes in Syria, pulling ahead of Trump in this case. While a relentless critic of the UN Human Rights Council because of its anti-Israel record and its mixed bag of members, she has pulled back from actually walking out. When Bolton was ambassador, he tried to abort or at least greatly diminish the council at its creation in 2006. Failing that, he declared that the United States would not join, a decision reversed by Barack Obama.