NEW YORK –– President Donald Trump’s “America First” rhetoric was never popular at the United Nations, but officials there are now worried they’re losing a critical ally as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, prepares to leave.
The gulf between a U.N. diplomatic community that cherishes multilateralism and Trump’s open disdain for “globalists” was always wide. Yet Haley managed to deliver the president’s domestic applause lines even as she forged a partnership with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres over budget cuts, and rallied the Security Council around new sanctions against North Korea.
With the U.N. depending on Washington for about a quarter of its budget, officials there worry that Haley’s successor as U.S. ambassador will lack the political savvy and –– more importantly –– the personal rapport with Trump to soften the president’s harder-edged foreign policy approach. The former South Carolina governor had direct access to the president and received a rare Oval Office send-off when she announced her resignation.
“You want the U.N. ambassador to have the president’s ear,” said former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who was U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in the late 1990s. “You also want someone with their own political stature.”
Haley arrived at the U.N. with little foreign policy experience but quickly established herself as a leading voice in Trump’s Cabinet on diplomatic issues. Haley warned upon her arrival at the U.N. that she would be “taking names” of countries that don’t “have our back.” She had allies and adversaries on edge with her promise to look at the U.N. with “fresh eyes.”
“Some of her statements were very political and aimed at domestic audiences,” said Jeffrey Feltman, a former U.N. undersecretary-general for political affairs. “But she was not there to destroy the organization; she was trying to make it more representative of U.S. interests. Haley was not a bomb-thrower.”
While Trump once derided the U.N. as a “club for people to get together, talk and have a good time,” the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear program gave Haley an opportunity to show the Security Council’s value, increasing sanctions throughout 2017 with backing from China and Russia.
Behind the scenes, Haley found a way to carry out the president’s desire to cut U.N. contributions in a targeted fashion, working with Guterres to help phase out ineffective peacekeeping programs in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan that the secretary-general acknowledged weren’t accomplishing their goals.
It didn’t hurt Haley in Trump’s eyes that she also took on the role of leading critic of what she called the U.N.’s “anti-Israel” bias. Trump has sought to tighten ties with Israel, moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and cutting aid to Palestinians, despite widespread international opposition to both policies.
Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., Danny Danon, acknowledged the close ties Haley helped forge, saying in an interview that the two of them “achieved a lot together; we changed a lot of things at the U.N.”
“I’m sure we will continue to work with whoever will step in, but Ambassador Haley is unique and very eloquent, and there’s no doubt her presence will be missed,” Danon said.
Haley said in her resignation announcement that she needed a break after two terms as governor and two years at the U.N. Critics suggested that Haley, who is widely believed to harbor ambitions to run for president someday, was bailing on the administration ahead of before potentially rocky midterm congressional elections for Republicans, and said her departure looked self-serving.
So far, the most-mentioned potential replacements –– including State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert and the U.S. ambassador to France, Jamie McCourt, –– have far less political experience than Haley did when she took the job. Trump’s choice may lose the Cabinet status that Trump gave Haley and end up reporting to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, whose antipathy for the U.N. dates back to before his days as ambassador in President George W. Bush’s administration.
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PHOTO (for help with images, contact 312-222-4194): Nikki Haley