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Nikki Haley held the post of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations for the first two years of the Donald Trump administration Prior to that, she was governor of South Carolina. She has long been considered a rising star in the Republican Party and is considered by some observers as a potential future presidential candidate.
Haley is known for having moderate positions on certain social issues and hardline stances on foreign policy. She is a staunch supporter of Israel and received the most enthusiastic ovation of the event when she spoke at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) shortly after assuming her ambassadorial position. A sharp critic of Donald Trump during his primary campaign, Haley got into a war of words with the future president after he said that South Carolina was “embarrassed” by her. She replied, “Bless your heart.” Despite never retracting her criticisms of Trump, he appointed her to the ambassadorial post, a position that keeps her close to policy-making circles, but outside the president’s inner circle.
In and Out Of Favor with the President
While her tenure in the Trump administration seemed to bolster her presidential ambitions, Haley was initially characterized as one of the more reasonable policymakers on Trump’s team—along with figures such as secretary of state Rex Tillerson, secretary of defense Jim Mattis, and national security adviser H.R. McMaster—and became increasingly isolated. She was notably absent from the ceremony marking the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, and from the delegation that accompanied Trump to his meeting with North Korea, despite her having played a key role in Trump’s dealings with the Korean issue.
Stephen Schlesinger of the Century Foundation noted, “[S]he has also begun to run afoul of Trump in public ways. For example, one of her top aides, Jon Lerner, was supposed to get a White House position as National Security Adviser to Vice-President Mike Pence, but he withdrew when Trump found out Lerner had worked for Sen. Marco Rubio during the campaign and may have been connected to opposition research against him. On another occasion, Haley announced on a Sunday news show that the administration was about to impose a new round of sanctions on Russia. The next day Trump dismissed the sanctions, placing Haley in the awkward position of looking out of step with her boss. Adding to Haley’s discomfort, there has been continuing uneasiness over her purported ambitions to run for the presidency. Trump once joked to a gathering of UN Security Council envoys that they should let him know if they don’t like Haley because she ‘can be easily replaced.’ This was supposed to be a funny though sly reminder about who exactly is the head man in this government—but it came across as a not-so-subtle warning to Haley not to get ahead of her skis on her job.”
Nonetheless, when Haley announced her resignation, she did so with Trump by her side, lavishing praise on her. “She’s done a fantastic job, and we have done a fantastic job together,” Trump said. “We have solved a lot of problems, and we’re in the process of solving a lot of problems. At the beginning, North Korea was a massive problem, and now we’re moving along. It’s moving along really nicely. … we’re all happy for you in one way, but we hate to lose you. Hopefully, you’ll be coming back at some point, but you want to just—maybe in a different capacity. You can have your pick.”
Haley, for her part, spun her tenure at the U.N. in highly positive terms. “Look at what has happened in two years with the United States on foreign policy,” she stated. “Now the United States is respected. Countries may not like what we do, but they respect what we do. They know that if we say we’re going to do something, we follow it through. And the president proved that. Whether it was with the chemical weapons in Syria, whether it’s with NATO, saying that other countries have to pay their share. I mean, whether it’s the trade deals, which have been amazing, they get that the president means business, and they follow through with that. But then if you look at just these two years at the UN, we have cut $1.3 billion in the UN’s budget. We’ve made it stronger, we’ve made it more efficient. South Sudan, we got an arms embargo, which was a long time coming. Three North Korean sanctions packages, which were the largest in a generation, done in a way that we could really work toward denuclearizing North Korea. The Iran deal, bringing attention to the world that every country needs to understand: You can’t overlook all of the bad things they’re doing. You have to see them for the threat that they are. I think you look at the anti-Israel bias and the strength and courage that the president showed in moving the embassy and showing the rest of the world we will put our embassy where we want to put our embassy. You know, all of those things have made a huge difference in the U.S. standing, but I can tell you that the U.S. is strong again. And the U.S. is strong in a way that should make all Americans very proud.”
Other observers were less impressed with Haley’s track record. Matt Duss, foreign policy advisor for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) tweeted, “Haley’s tenure was an unmitigated disaster for the cause of human rights and international law. The campaign, already well underway, to rebrand her as a sensible foreign policy centrist will make [Saudi Crown Prince] Mohammed Bin Salman’s PR tour look like amateur hour.”
Analyst Derek Davison took exception with Haley’s characterization of her performance. “Haley will be exiting the administration in time to avoid overseeing the worst effects of the disastrous foreign policy she’s helped Trump implement,” opined Davison. “By all rights, Haley’s lasting legacy as U.S. ambassador to the UN should be the damage she caused to the institution to which she was assigned. Haley arrived at the UN with a mandate from Trump and the rest of the ‘Make American Great Again’ crowd, who despise the UN as perhaps the most prominent symbol of the “globalism” they reject in favor of xenophobic nationalism, to cripple the UN’s effectiveness as an international institution. Toward that end she’s done a considerable amount of work, mostly around the Israel-Palestine issue.
“In short, Nikki Haley went to the UN intending to break as much of it as she could, and she leaves having accomplished her mission,” Davison continued. “Late last year she took credit for the UN having cut its budget by almost $300 million, at a time when the institution’s challenges—on climate change, on displacement, in Syria, in Yemen, and elsewhere—are perhaps as great as they’ve ever been. If those cuts leave the UN less able to combat those challenges, it could lead to outcomes for which Haley would prefer to avoid bearing any responsibility.”
By contrast, right-wing figures showered praise on Haley. Trump’s accolades were followed by similar statements from Vice President Mike Pence. And Republican members of Congress such as Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) and Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC).
Most notably, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted “Thank you Amb. Haley for standing for the truth and exposing hypocrisy at the UN. Just as the people of Israel are grateful for the rock solid support @POTUS Trump has provided Israel in the Oval Office, we are grateful for the rock solid support you’ve provided Israel at the UN.”
The associate editor of Commentary magazine—who generally supports Trump’s policies but, like many conservatives, is uncomfortable with Trump himself—declared, “On both foreign affairs and matters of conscience, Haley was a tie that bound the principled conservative movement with an American president who campaigned in large part against that movement’s policy preferences. Her departure helps to sever that bond. The consequences could be profound.”
A Combative Ambassador
Haley’s tenure as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was marked by her aggressive words and militant stances against Iran and North Korea and in favor of Israel. While Haley does not appear to share Trump’s complete disdain for multilateralism, she does share his mistrust of and hostility for the UN. Nonetheless, she was instrumental in bringing together a wide range of allies and competitors, including China, in July 2017 to agree on a new set of sanctions against North Korea. The effect of those sanctions in bringing North Korea into talks with South Korea and, potentially, with the United States, was trumpeted frequently by Trump supporters, but many others downplayed their effect.
In June 2018, Haley led the United States’ withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Explaining the U.S. decision, Haley said, “Human rights abusers continue to serve on and be elected to the council. The world’s most inhumane regimes continue to escape scrutiny, and the council continues politicizing and scapegoating of countries with positive human rights records in an attempt to distract from the abusers in their ranks. … [The] This disproportionate focus and unending hostility towards Israel is clear proof that the council is motivated by political bias, not by human rights. … There are several countries on the Human Rights Council who do share our values. Many of them strongly urged us to remain engaged in the council. They are embarrassed by the obsessive mistreatment of Israel. They share our alarm with the hypocrisy of countries like Cuba, Venezuela, Democratic Republic of Congo, and others serving on the council.”
But the timing of the U.S. move hinted at different motivations. Only the day before, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein commented on the Trump administration’s policy of separating families trying to enter the United States either asylum seekers or illegally, calling it “government-sanctioned child abuse.”
Just days after Haley led the United States out of the UNHRC, special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston issued a scathing report on poverty in the richest nation in the world. This report—which was anticipated, as it was based on research done in December 2017—stated that “About 40 million live in poverty, 18.5 million in extreme poverty, and 5.3 million live in Third World conditions of absolute poverty. It has the highest youth poverty rate in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the highest infant mortality rates among comparable OECD States. Its citizens live shorter and sicker lives compared to those living in all other rich democracies, eradicable tropical
diseases are increasingly prevalent, and it has the world’s highest incarceration rate, one of the lowest levels of voter registrations in among OECD countries and the highest obesity levels in the developed world.”
Haley responded to this report by claiming that it was illegitimate for the United Nations to even examine the question of poverty in the United States. “I am deeply disappointed that the Special Rapporteur used his platform to make misleading and political motivated statements about American domestic policy issues. Regrettably, his report is an all too common example of the misplaced priorities and poor use of funds proven to be rampant throughout the U.N. system…It is patently ridiculous for the United Nations to examine poverty in America. In our country, the President, Members of Congress, Governors, Mayors, and City Council members actively engage on poverty issues every day. Compare that to the many countries around the world, whose governments knowingly abuse human rights and cause pain and suffering.”
The issues of which countries are on the UNHRC and the accusation of bias against Israel have been raised since the birth of the council in 2006. Many observers believed that the criticisms of the United States’ treatment of immigrants and its large-scale poverty were the key factors prompting the U.S. decision to leave the council when it did.
One observer wrote, “From the very beginning, Haley—certainly with the stamp of approval from the White House as well as her predecessor, John Bolton—came not to engage but to harangue. Her adversarial positions at the United Nations are meant to endear her and her boss to the Israeli government and, perhaps more to the point, Israel’s right-wing supporters in the US. But diplomacy is not high on the agenda. Unlike other members of the Trump administration, Haley is capable of diplomacy and even leadership in the international arena. She demonstrated that when she got China and other nations to agree to ratchet up sanctions on North Korea. But she and Trump approach the UN with one phrase: America First…The timing of the decision strongly suggests that [the criticism of U.S. policies prompted it] . Trump has established a strong pattern of intemperate responses to criticism.”
Haley has repeatedly used strong language in defending Israel, often offending Palestinian leaders. In May 2018, after defending Israel’s actions in killing over 60 Palestinian protesters in Gaza in one day, she walked out of a Security Council meeting as the Palestinian ambassador was preparing to speak.
Iran was a consistent target of Haley’s, and she played a key role in making the case for President Trump’s eventual decision, in May 2018, to violate the United States’ commitment by leaving the nuclear deal with Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). In September 2017—just weeks before Trump began the departure process by refusing to certify Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA, despite universal acknowledgment that they had complied—Haley delivered a key speech to the American Enterprise Institute that foreshadowed Trump’s decision.
In her speech, Haley broadened the question of Iranian compliance with the JCPOA, stretching the conditions for certification far beyond the actual question of whether Iran was abiding by the letter and spirit of the deal. “[International Atomic Energy Agency] Director General (Yukia) Amano is a very capable diplomat, and he is a serious person who clearly understands the critical nature of his task,” Haley said. “In our discussion, Amano made an observation that stood out to me. He said that monitoring Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal is like a jigsaw puzzle. Picking up just one piece does not give you the full picture. That’s a very appropriate metaphor and it goes well beyond the work of the IAEA. It goes to the entire way we must look at Iranian behavior and American security interests.”
This expansion of the terms of Iranian compliance become a key talking point for Trump and his officials in their effort to build support for leaving the deal. Longtime U.S. intelligence analyst Paul Pillar observed, “Haley’s speech strongly suggests that at the next due date for certification in October, the administration will, even if it still has no evidence of Iranian violations, withhold certification by taking advantage of a vague clause in the Corker-Cardin legislation that refers to whether continued sanctions relief is appropriate, proportionate, and in U.S. national security interests. The administration will assert, as Haley did in the speech, that this will ‘not mean the United States is withdrawing from the JCPOA.’ The speech also had a bizarre passage that tries to blame the terms of the agreement itself for death of the agreement, the idea being that re-imposition of sanctions is the only way of penalizing Iranian non-compliance. But if the Republican-controlled Congress re-imposes nuclear-related sanctions, which noncertification would be an invitation for Congress to do, make no mistake: it would be the United States that reneges on its commitments and violates the agreement. If the JCPOA dies, it will be the Trump administration that killed it.”
In December 2017, Haley announced that she had “irrefutable evidence” that Iran was in violation of its international commitments, leading many to believe she was referring to a violation of the JCPOA. Instead, she claimed that a United Nations report “provides devastating evidence of missiles, conventional arms, and explosives, and “explosive boats” of Iranian origin used by the rebels in Yemen—all of which violate U.N. resolutions.”
But the United Nations did not agree with Haley’s assessment of their report. According to a report in Foreign Policy, “While the new evidence has strengthened the case against Iran, it has not been sufficient to convince the U.N. to explicitly accuse Tehran of supplying the Houthis with banned missile technology. A U.N. panel of experts charged with monitoring violations of Yemen’s 2015 arms embargo concluded last month that for the time being it ‘has no evidence as to the identity of the broker or supplier.’ U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, meanwhile, stopped short of charging Iran with upgrading the Houthis’ missile program.” In fact, the missile examined had a component in it that was made in the United States. Haley also neglected to mention that the United States is arming the Saudi-led coalition in its relentless bombing campaign, the main cause of the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen.
Israel at the U.N.
Haley has been an outspoken and unquestioning defender of the right-wing Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu. In May 2017, she voiced support for moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. “Obviously I believe that the capital should be Jerusalem and the embassy should be moved to Jerusalem because if you look at all their government is in Jerusalem. So much of what goes on is in Jerusalem and I think we have to see that for what it is.”
When Trump announced, in December 2017, that the embassy would be moved to Jerusalem, the decision was met with international outrage. The Security Council voted 14-1 to request that the U.S. withdraw its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but the U.S.—the sole country voting no—vetoed the resolution. In the General Assembly, where there is no veto power, Haley tried to bully countries out of voting to condemn the United States’ decision. She sent a letter to other countries, saying, “As you consider your vote, I encourage you to know the president and the US take this vote personally. The president will be watching this vote carefully and has requested I report back on those who voted against us.”
She followed the letter up publicly, tweeting, “At the U.N. we’re always asked to do more and give more. So, when we make a decision, at the will of the American people, about where to locate OUR embassy, we don’t expect those we’ve helped to target us. On Thursday there’ll be a vote criticizing our choice. The U.S. will be taking names.”
At her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Haley sharply criticized Barack Obama’s decision in December 2016 to abstain from a U.N. Security Council Resolution reiterating that Israel’s settlements on the West Bank were not permissible under international law. “I will not go to New York and abstain when the U.N. seeks to create an international environment that encourages boycotts of Israel,” Haley said.
Speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference weeks after her confirmation as ambassador to the U.N., Haley said, “The days of Israel bashing at the U.N. are over… I wear high heels, it’s not for a fashion statement, it’s because if I see something wrong I will kick it every single time.” Some observers saw this speech as a step on Haley’s desired path toward the White House.
In May 2018, in the wake of Israel killing over 60 protesters in one day during a Palestinian protest in Gaza, Haley staunchly defended Israel’s actions while blaming the Palestinians for their own civilians’ deaths. During an emergency meeting of the Security Council, Haley said, “I ask my colleagues here in the Security Council, who among us would accept this type of activity on your border? No one would. No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has. In fact, the records of several countries here today suggest they would be much less restrained.”
Haley went on to say, “Let’s remember that the Hamas terrorist organization has been inciting violence for years, long before the United States decided to move our embassy. This is what is endangering the people of Gaza. Make no mistake, Hamas is pleased with the results from yesterday.”
After her speech, Haley walked out of the room as the Palestinian ambassador was set to speak, a deliberate insult to the Palestinians. Earlier in the day, she blocked a Kuwaiti initiative in the Security Council calling for an impartial investigation into the deaths in Gaza.
Criticism of the Trump Campaign
Throughout Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency, Haley was one of his most vocal Republican critics. In September 2015, Haley said of Trump, “Every time someone criticizes him, he goes and makes a political attack back. That’s not who we are as Republicans. That’s not what we do.” Americans, Haley said, “want to know they’re sending someone up to the White House that’s going to be calm and cool-tempered and not get mad at someone just because they criticize him. We would really have a world war if that happens.”
In her response to Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in 2016, Haley said, “During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.” When an NBC talk show host asked if she was referring to Trump, she said, “Mr. Trump has definitely contributed to what I think is just irresponsible talk.”
Shortly after that episode, Haley—who had endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) as the Republican nominee—said, Trump was “everything a governor doesn’t want in a president.” By the time the election came about, Haley did support Trump against Hillary Clinton, although she said she was “not a fan.”
Despite the fact that Haley never retracted anything she said about Trump, he nominated her as Ambassador to the U.N. After she took that role, she supported Trump’s policies in key areas such as Iran, Israel-Palestine, and North Korea, and routinely spoke in Trump’s name on those issues. She also shares with Trump a deep-seated mistrust and hostility toward the United Nations.
But she also disagreed with Trump on matters like NATO—where she is a strong supporter of the alliance while Trump, during his campaign, often questioned the value of it—and Russia—where she called for sanctions on Russia over the conflict with Ukraine, while Trump has been reluctant to pursue action in that arena.
Yet she has also remained independent and has stayed largely outside of the turmoil of Trump’s administration. In April 2018, Haley stated that the United States would impose sanctions on Russia over its support for the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. But Trump apparently changed his mind, and his economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said “She’s done a great job. She’s a very effective ambassador, but there might have been some momentary confusion about that.”
Haley responded sharply that “With all due respect, I don’t get confused.”
History of Support for Israeli Right
While Haley was still governor of South Carolina, she was already making her mark on international politics with her vocal support of Israel. During her tenure, South Carolina became one of the first two states to pass legislation against the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement (BDS). While the law did not specifically name Israel, it barred the state from doing business with anyone who engaged in a “boycott of a person or an entity based in or doing business with a jurisdiction with whom South Carolina can enjoy open trade.”
The legislation inspired efforts in other states to pass similar laws.
Her strong support for Israel was noticed by mega-donor, Sheldon Adelson, who donated $250,000 in 2016 to Haley’s campaign organization to defeat four Republican state senators who Haley, as governor, wished to see replaced.
Journalist Jim Lobe noted, “Perhaps Adelson gained an unusual interest in South Carolina’s state senate, but it seems more likely the investment was a show of support for Haley’s hawkish pro-Israel positions. Adelson, who is also the largest donor to the extreme right-wing Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), has long pushed stridently anti-Iran positions, suggesting in late 2013 that Washington detonate a nuclear weapon in Iran’s territory unless Tehran complied with demands that it completely abandon its nuclear program.”
Lobe also noted that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was a staunch supporter of Haley’s. “Haley had become been a darling of the neocons well before she arrived at Turtle Bay. Part of the credit or blame belongs to her close ties to fellow South Carolinian Sen. Lindsay Graham, long a neoconservative favorite for his staunch defense of Israel, belligerence toward Iran and Russia, and chronic interventionist instincts, especially as regards the U.S. military. It’s not coincidental that her most influential adviser, by all accounts, is David Glaccum, who served for years as Graham’s chief counsel.”
In her response to Barack Obama’s 2016 State of the Union speech, Haley said that if Republicans were in the White House, “We would make international agreements that were celebrated in Israel and protested in Iran, not the other way around,” a reference to the Iran nuclear deal.
Please note: IPS Right Web neither represents nor endorses any of the individuals or groups profiled on this site.