Donald Lambro: Haley’s departure silences one of Putin’s harshest critics
U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who announced this week she will be leaving her post at the end of the year, will be remembered most for being the Trump administration’s toughest critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Haley has repeatedly criticized Putin for backing the Syrian regime’s bombardment of its civilian populations in that country’s bloody civil war, and has pushed for U.S. sanctions against Moscow at a time when President Trump has thus far refused to condemn the Kremlin dictator.
While calling Putin “a strong leader” throughout his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump has yet to blame him for Russia’s cyberwar interference in the U.S. election, or the poisoning of an ex-Russian double agent and his daughter in Great Britain -- or anything else, for that matter.
Earlier this year, when Haley announced on CBS’s “Face The Nation” that Trump would soon be imposing new sanctions on Russia, she was sharply criticized by Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council.
“She got ahead of the curve,” Kudlow told reporters at a news conference in Florida. “She’s done a great job. She’s a very effective ambassador. There might have been some momentary confusion about that.”
Haley sharply struck back at the White House, saying, “With all due respect, I don’t get confused.”
In fact, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin planned to announce the sanctions that week. And the political news website Politico reported earlier that the president had signed off on the sanctions move.
In the end, the decision never came off as scheduled, probably due to a last-minute order from Trump, who didn’t want to hurt his friendly relationship with Putin.
Kudlow reportedly called Haley and apologized to her.
“Still, Haley’s response offered a glimpse of the growing tension between the White House and her staff over the handling of the messaging flap,” wrote Washington journalists Andrew Restuccia and Eliana Johnson at the time.
“Haley has so far largely avoided the infighting that has taken down so many senior Trump administration officials,” they wrote. “But Haley, who has taken a hard line on Russia at the United Nations, is now stepping squarely into the drama of the West Wing. ...
“In the aftermath of Haley’s comments, Trump made it clear to his staff that he had no intention of imposing the new sanctions in the short term. The White House then scrambled to explain the conflicting messages, pinning the blame on Haley,” Restuccia and Johnson reported.
But if the White House looked the other way while Russia provided Syria with the backing to drop chemical bombs on defenseless civilians, Haley was slamming the Kremlin, and Putin in particular, in the United Nations.
“We of course know that our work in Syria is not done,” she said earlier this year. “We know it is now up to Bashar al-Assad on whether he’s going to use chemical weapons again. And should he use it again, the president has made it very clear that the United States is locked and loaded and ready.”
The United States, France and Britain bombed three facilities in the heart of Syria’s chemical weapons program earlier this year. Meanwhile, Haley was railing against Russia’s support for the evil Assad regime, and continuing to raise the threat of U.S. economic sanctions against Moscow.
Trump has hit certain Russian individuals and entities with economic sanctions, but not its economy as a whole.
Meantime, Haley has been frustrated by Trump’s failure to harshly attack Putin, as she has fearlessly done many times as U.N ambassador.
Last April, in a speech before the U.N. Security Council, Haley came out with guns blazing, saying, “The Russian regime, whose hands are all covered in the blood of Syrian children, cannot be ashamed by pictures of its victims.”
Calling those responsible for the attacks “monsters,” she said that Russia was getting a “pass in the name of unity.”
That forced Trump’s hand to send out a meek tweet saying, “President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad.” He promised that there will be a “big price to pay,” but it never came.
She also came down hard on the Moscow-directed poisonings in England, saying “Russia is responsible” for the chemical attacks.
Now, in an unusually abrupt action, she is leaving her post, no doubt feeling that the White House never really gave her the full support that she deserved. Meanwhile, Trump is still saying that he wants to be friends with Russia and, especially, Putin.
Donald Lambro has been covering Washington politics for more than 50 years as a reporter, editor and commentator.