It seems like every time a Trump administration official steps down or is threatened with being pushed out, the liberal establishment jumps to their defense.
Sean Spicer was the toast of the Emmys for making light of his angry, belligerent turn as Trump’s press secretary. Gary Cohn, the architect of what is probably the most radically regressive tax bill in modern history, transformed into a “moderate” and “steadying influence” after he resigned. Even 75 percent of Democrats inexplicably opposed Trump firing Jeff Sessions, an honest-to-God white supremacist whose guiding ambition appears to be turning into a character from a D. W. Griffiths movie.
Now we have Nikki Haley, Trump’s ambassador to the UN, who announced two days ago she would leave her post by the end of the year. The New York Times lamented it would leave the administration “with one less moderate voice.” “Nikki Haley will be missed,” wrote the newspaper’s editorial board, arguing she was leaving “with her dignity largely intact,” having played “constructive roles.”
Brookings visiting fellow Jeffrey Feltman, who served alongside Haley for some of his time in the UN, expressed concern that her successor would reject the “support for the UN” that she managed to maintain, arguing that national security advisor John Bolton doesn’t share her pragmatism. The Washington Post had similar concerns.
This is all peculiar, not least because Haley has been very clear about where she stands in regards to Bolton’s ultranationalist worldview. “I know his disdain for the UN. I share it,” she said of Bolton earlier this year. And sure enough, Haley has done everything in her power over the last twenty-two months to prove she meant it.
To be sure, the UN is an imperfect institution that is asymmetrically dominated by very select interests. But if you’re worried about the survival of the concept of multilateralism, let alone US “support for the UN,” there’s little reason to be nostalgic about Haley’s tenure. Haley’s very first act as UN ambassador was a belligerent speech where she threatened the world’s countries she would be “taking names” of those who didn’t adequately support the US.
Haley spent much of her tenure assailing the UN Human Rights Council, first as “corrupt,” later as “foolish,” before the Trump administration pulled the United States out of the council — an act Haley blamed on human rights groups that she accused of aligning themselves with Russia and China over the US. She led a forty-country walkout from nuclear weapons ban talks and questioned if the countries who supported the talks were really “looking out for their people.”
When the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights produced a searing report on US poverty heavily implicating Trump’s policies, Haley called it “misleading and politically motivated” and an example of the UN’s “misplaced priorities.”
In other words, Haley’s ambassadorship was devoted to the exact kind of trashing of multilateralism and undermining of the UN’s theoretical position as a vehicle for orderly global relations that makes John Bolton giddy at night. The US even withdrew from UNESCO, an inoffensive UN agency that mostly works to preserve cultural and historical sites and spread education and literacy, triggered by what Haley denounced as its “extreme politicization” after it declared the old city of Hebron a Palestinian heritage site. UNESCO was “an already highly questionable UN agency,” she charged.
The UNESCO pull-out was part of what was arguably Haley’s chief agenda as ambassador: fervently advancing Israeli government interests to lay the groundwork for a future presidential run.
While Haley frequently assailed the Human Rights Council for having human-rights violators as members, her real issue with it was that it was a “cesspool of political bias” against Israel. Haley complained that the council was “wrongly singling out Israel for criticism,” claiming that Israel was “a country with a strong human rights record.” She accused the council of “chronic anti-Israel bias.”
Early on, Haley announced her determination to “stand up to the UN’s anti-Israel bias,” name-checking Obama’s decision not to veto a UN resolution condemning illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. In her first year on the job, she claimed the Western Wall was “part of Israel” and urged that the US embassy move to Jerusalem, demanded the UN withdraw a report concluding Israel is an apartheid state, and repeatedly threatened countries against voting for a UN resolution condemning the embassy move, including by warning that the US would defund the UN if the resolution passed.
No pro-Israel action was too petty. When the UN secretary general nominated former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad — a former World Bank official disliked by Hamas — to be the UN envoy to Libya, Haley blocked it, reportedly without even consulting Israel, because of the “signal” it would send to the UN, as the US didn’t recognize a Palestinian state. For good measure, she then called the UN “unfairly biased in favour of the Palestinian Authority.”
The hijinks continued into this year. When the Palestinians put forward resolutions condemning the embassy move, Haley championed Trump’s decision to retaliate by withholding more than $100 million in Palestinian aid — aid that the US cut altogether in August and which five million refugees depend on for basic necessities.
After Israeli forces killed dozens and otherwise brutalized hundreds of Palestinian protesters in May, she told the UN Security Council that “no country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has,” and walked out of the room as a representative from the Palestinian Authority started speaking.
On the back of all this, Haley made a beeline for the annual AIPAC conference in both 2017 and this year, where she further bashed the UN, affirmed her commitment to Israel in front of thousands of future Republican donors, and made Sarah Palinesque comments about how she wears heels for kicking. It’s no wonder various Israeli officials and even the country’s army issued tributes to Haley upon news of her resignation.
Haley is well-liked by neocons and centrists for supposedly bucking the Trump administration in championing human rights. And Haley has indeed made a big show of taking countries to task over their human rights abuses.
It doesn’t take much effort to see through this posturing. When Haley originally listed the human rights violators who sit on the UN Human Rights Council, she conveniently left out Egypt, a US ally that has embarked on a campaign of repression since a 2013 coup, and that most recently tortured and raped a US national. At the same time, Haley has cozied up to India and its ultranationalist, repressive prime minister Narendra Modi.
Haley is such a fan of human rights, she threatened behind closed doors to end support for the UN’s peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in exchange for cuts to its scale, which she cheered. She later bragged about cutting $600 million from the annual UN peacekeeping budget, earning the US taxpayer a miniscule saving. She then made sure to visit traumatized victims for a photo-op in the very countries where she had forced a reduction in peacekeeping forces. In keeping with this, Haley has also proposed turning US aid to poor countries into leverage for “greater support at the UN and elsewhere,” particularly among countries that frequently vote against the US government.
Meanwhile, Haley has used her position to beat the usual war drums. She warned that military action against Syria was on the table. She threatened North Korea that it could be “destroyed” over its saber-rattling in 2017. And she did a lie-filled speech criticizing the Iran deal, while repeatedly touting dubious evidence that Iran has violated recent Security Council resolutions in the hope of spurring on more aggressive actions against the country, pointing to Iranian-made weaponry found in Yemen. This means Haley, who has been praised for criticizing Saudi Arabia over its repressive policies, has only ever mentioned the appalling Saudi war in Yemen to push for harsher measures against Iran.
One could make the case that in all these examples, Haley was simply acting under the orders of the Trump administration. Not so, according to Haley, who proudly describes herself as a “bull in a China shop” and bragged to CNN that she only took the job on the assurance that she could speak her mind. “I don’t go rogue on the President,” she explained. “He’s very aware of what I’m doing and he’s very supportive.”
In Trump’s Own Image
Given all this, one might wonder why centrists and liberals are suddenly enamored with Haley. The answer is that Haley takes enough of the standard national security establishment positions that these same figures are happy to look past her more Trump-like qualities.
Haley has demonstrated an unbending fealty to Israel on issues big and small, and she aggressively postures against the traditional geopolitical foes of the DC elite. Indeed, Haley won liberal plaudits early on for taking a harsh stand on Russia and has echoed liberal talking points about Russia’s 2016 election shenanigans. She also quickly learned how to speak in the self-serving language of human rights routinely employed by Western policymakers as a vehicle for a more aggressive foreign policy.
In reality, Haley is a unilateralist hawk in the mold of Bolton, Bush, and Trump, and the damage she’s done shouldn’t be forgotten even if the president manages to replace her with someone worse. For her part, in less than two years in her job, Haley has done what she set out to do: shore up her foreign policy credentials, market herself to the pro-Israel lobby and the GOP donor base, and raise her profile not just among the Trump-voting Right, but among easily beguiled liberals and centrists who put empty girl-power sloganeering over actual tangible policy outcomes.
At least if nothing else, Haley has never gotten into any of the ethics troubles that many of Trump’s other appointees have found themselves in. That is, until the day before she abruptly resigned, when a federal watchdog called for an investigation into Haley’s taking private luxury jet flights from three of her former donors. The news was promptly ignored by every major report about her resignation.