Nikki Haley, the popular, politically savvy, self-confident Republican governor of South Carolina, swept with ease through her Senate confirmation hearing on January 24 to become President Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations. Though she had virtually no international or foreign-policy experience, she explained that she didn’t lack a program, or credentials of sorts. She told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the United Nations “could benefit from a fresh set of eyes.”
“I love to fix things,” she said. “And I see a UN that can absolutely be fixed.”
There was a proviso: The United States would do the fixing. On the day she arrived on the job at the UN Secretariat, her first (now legendary) public announcement was that she would be “taking names” of nations and people who opposed her own country. She later tailored that to say that she would respect those who respected her.
Haley seemed at her confirmation hearing to believe she would have a significant, authoritative role to play in determining, for example, whether there was any “value” in the much-abused UN Human Rights Council, or competence in many peacekeeping operations, though she has said she is against a “slash and burn” approach to the UN. She also told senators that she believed Russia was guilty of war crimes in Aleppo and said sanctions on Moscow should remain because of its interventions in Ukraine, when others in the incoming administration may have been less uncompromising. Decisions of that magnitude are not an ambassador’s to make.
But, in line with Trump, she would never, she said, abstain on a Security Council resolution criticizing Israel, allowing it to pass as the Obama administration had done in December when it withheld a veto condemning Israel’s settlement policies in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, letting the vote to be adopted 14-0.
In a crowning moment in her testimony, Haley admitted that, while she hadn’t discussed her assignment in any depth with Trump, she knew that she could also play an active role in the Washington mix as a member of the president’s cabinet and National Security Council. “My job is to come back to the National Security Council and let them know what I know, which is I want to bring back faith to the UN, to show that we can be a strong voice in the UN,” she said. “That’s going to happen from my actions, and things that I do, and that’s how I will show him that the UN matters.”
It hasn’t quite worked out that way.
A strongly worded decision did emerge from the State Department on March 20, however, and it seems symbolic of what is to be expected of Haley in New York: to be a reliable defender and advocate for Israel above all else. On March 20, the United States announced it would boycott a special session on Israel in the Human Rights Council until the end of the deliberations, and then join in to vote No on all its resolutions. Washington does not have veto power on that council, so its plan was to try to line up as many other negative votes as possible.