When Nikki Haley, now the United States ambassador to the United Nations, was questioned by senators at her confirmation hearing in January about how she would deal with Donald Trump’s dismissive view of internationalism, she said confidently, “I will show him that the UN matters.”
She also said that she would show the world that “when we say something, we’re going to follow through and do that.” And UN reform? She dipped into folksiness, saying, “I love to fix things, and I see a UN that can absolutely be fixed.” She vowed, however, to stay true to her principles, occasionally tempering or breaking with pronouncements by Trump, whom she had freely criticized during the 2016 presidential campaign.
On September 19, Donald Trump is due to make his first speech to the UN General Assembly as president of the United States. It appears that he and Haley are now a seamless team of modern-day America-firsters, haranguing allies and enemies alike. At the UN, this kind of American policy is neither popular nor always productive. Haley’s actions and attitudes in the UN begin to seem more and more like efforts to undermine the organization and its credibility rather than reform it.
A little-noticed factor in the Trump-Haley relationship may be her ability at the UN to conduct diplomatic negotiations, which may be turn out to be her greatest strength in the job. The Security Council discussions over the last week on increasing sanctions on North Korea, after a powerful nuclear-weapons test and continuing missile launches, demonstrated how well she, as a former state governor, understands “the art of the deal,” with all the give and take involved. The United States came into the debate with a much stronger proposed resolution than the one that was ultimately adopted on September 11, after China succeeded in getting it watered down because of its own concerns about the potential reactions of Kim Jong-un. But that made it possible for both China and Russia to join the consensus, and Haley got a unanimous 15-0 “yes” vote against North Korea, an outcome that sent a message of unity to Kim.
The ambassador of France, François Delattre, while saying he supported the United States in its determination to add punishment to existing sanctions on the North Korean leader, also remarked, when questioned by a reporter about the role of China (and to some extent Russia) in the final outcome: “By definition this is a compromise, in order to get everybody on board.”
Stephen Schlesinger, a leading historian and analyst of the UN from its creation, differentiates Haley’s approach to negotiating from her underlying attitudes toward the UN.
“My understanding is that she is considered to be personally a pleasant, friendly sort of person with a politician’s keen ability at diplomatic socializing to achieve her goals,” Schlesinger wrote in an e-mail. “But on substantive issues, she is a Trumpster, one who cloaks herself in diplomatic disguise…[as] one who seemingly provides a coherent foreign policy vision. But all of this disguises her deeply conservative, even reactionary views on US policy abroad. Whether she actually believes in Trump’s policies may be another matter. She seems to be hinting at times that she may be endorsing Trump’s UN budget cuts with some reluctance and thus she may be a more moderate person. But that may also be part of her shrewd political positioning.”