Nikki Haley U.N. successor to take ‘America First’ to next level, diplomats say
U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s surprise announcement to resign by the end of the year sent shock waves across Washington’s foreign policy landscape Tuesday, triggering speculation that President Trump is gearing up for a new hard-line shift on international affairs as he heads toward his third year in office.
With Mr. Trump saying he’ll nominate a successor within three weeks, foreign diplomats are already speculating that the president is bent on naming someone who’ll take his “America First” agenda toward the United Nations to heights even Ms. Haley may have balked at during her run as ambassador over the past 20 months.
“A lot of U.N. officials and foreign diplomats will fret that Trump will select a much more hard-line unilateralist to replace Haley,” said Richard Gowan, a Columbia University professor and expert on U.N. politics.
Others say Mr. Trump, who claimed Tuesday to have known for months of Ms. Haley’s intention to leave the post by the end of 2018, decided suddenly to fast-track her resignation to ensure a successor can be confirmed quickly by the Republican-controlled Senate ahead of a difficult and uncertain midterm vote next month.
“This administration is all politics all the time, so it wouldn’t surprise me that they wanted to get ahead of the election,” said Gordon Adams, a long-time foreign policy commentator who teaches at American University. While Mr. Adams added that “it’s not clear at all why [Ms. Haley] resigned” and “it’s almost impossible to read meaning into it,” there were signs Tuesday that Democrats are already gearing up to make life difficult for whomever Mr. Trump nominates to the post.
New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who could wield the panel gavel with a huge Democratic wave in November, said Tuesday Ms. Haley’s surprise resignation was a “sign of the Trump administration’s chaotic foreign policy,” adding that he’s “deeply concerned about the leadership vacuum she leaves and the national security impact of her departure at this time of continued disarray for this administration.”
Ms. Haley was one of the administration’s few foreign policy “stars” in the early months of the Trump administration, when then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and senior White House national security aides struggled to fit Mr. Trump’s policy preferences to a more traditional foreign policy-making machinery. With the rise of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton as trusted executors of Mr. Trump’s agenda, Ms. Haley’s role has been less prominent.
The list of names circulating as possible Haley successors included U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and former administration advisor Dina Powell. But the surprise vacancy also fueled some speculation that Mr. Trump might turn to his daughter Ivanka or son-in-law Jared Kushner both White House advisers to fill what the president said has become an increasingly “glamorous” assignment.
Mr. Trump told reporters “Ivanka would be dynamite” as U.N. ambassador, but that he doesn’t want to be accused of nepotism. The president separately said Mrs. Powell, who served as a deputy national security adviser through 2017 but left during an exodus of administration officials at the end of the president’s first year, is “under consideration.”
Analysts said Mr. Grenell may be a top choice of the hawkish Mr. Bolton, who is widely seen to be the most hardline member of the president’s inner foreign policy circle. Mr. Grenell served under Mr. Bolton when he was U.N. ambassador in the George W. Bush administration.
Mr. Kushner’s name came to the fore, meanwhile, because Ms. Haley unexpectedly referred to him as a “hidden genius” during the unusual Oval Office session with Mr. Trump announcing her resignation on Tuesday.
How the transition to a new U.N. ambassador ultimately plays out will impact “the internal balance of power within the Trump administration,” said P.J. Crowley, who served as an assistant secretary of state for public affairs in the Obama administration.
The extent of the impact is going to depend on Ms. Haley’s “replacement and that person’s relationship with the president,” Mr. Crowley said in an email Tuesday.
“There is not a long line of folks willing to serve in an international organization given the administration’s skepticism of multilateralism,” he wrote.
Tough act to follow
Whoever gets the nod will have big shoes to fill. While foreign diplomats “often had fierce differences” with Ms. Haley over issues like Israel, Iran and internal U.N. reforms, Mr. Gowan said, she “did earn other diplomats’ respect.”
“She was a pragmatist and showed real diplomatic skill handling problems like North Korea with the Chinese in the Security Council,” he said. Early in Mr. Trump’s term, he noted, Ms. Haley “was one of the few cogent voices on foreign policy in the administration.”
Ms. Haley, 46, was appointed in November 2016 and quickly went to work on a behind-the-scenes push that resulted in successfully convincing the U.N. Security Council including China and Russia to back dramatically increased economic sanctions against North Korea.
While she more recently coordinated Mr. Trump’s second trip to the U.N. General Assembly and his first time chairing the Security Council, Ms. Haley also worked tirelessly on lower-profile objectives that have garnered far less press coverage.
She was the driving force behind the recent imposition of a U.N. arms embargo on South Sudan, and the successful push to last month to the Security Council to hold a first-ever meeting focused on the violent civil unrest in Nicaragua.
But Ms. Haley’s term also saw a period of American withdrawal from key parts of the world body, which critics say led to a lessening of Washington’s influence at the world body.
She engineered the administration’s formal pullout from the U.N. Human Rights Council over its perceived bias against Israel, and the end of U.S. funding for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency the main U.N. program for channeling aid to Palestinians on grounds it was “irredeemably flawed” and Washington would no longer bear the major share of the burden for funding it.
Ms. Haley has separately threatened to pull U.S. funding for nations that stood against Mr. Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, warning the administration would “take names” of those who voted on a U.N. resolution rejecting the embassy move.
Her fierceness in defense of Mr. Trumps’ aggressive agenda was often criticized, but it also drew high praise.
“She was at once a staunch supporter in the U.S. of UN programs that work, and a fierce critic at the U.N. of mechanisms that don’t,” Hillel C. Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based non-government group U.N. Watch said Tuesday.
“She was unafraid to stand alone to defend moral clarity,” he said, “for example by calling out the obsessive singling-out of the Jewish state by the UN’s Human Rights Council and other bodies that have become hijacked by tyrannies.”
Russian U.N. Amb. Vassily Nebenzia, who often clashed with Ms. Haley over policy at Security Council meetings, told the Associated Press he enjoyed “good working and personal relations” with his American counterpart.
Ms. Haley’s resignation “was a surprise not a very pleasant one for me, personally,” Amb. Nebenzia told reporters.
But even as Ms. Haley pushed Mr. Trump’s agenda, she was known to stand her ground against when she didn’t agree with him or felt she was being left out of the loop.
A high-profile spat occurred in April, when Ms. Haley drew Mr. Trump’s ire for previewing in a television appearance the administration’s planned imposition of new sanctions on Russia. When the sanctions never materialized, White House officials said the plans had changed without Ms. Haley being briefed, and top economic adviser Larry Kudlow suggested she was “confused.”
“I don’t get confused,” Ms. Haley said in a sharply-worded rejoinder to the West Wing.
Last month she wrote an op-ed article in The Washington Post discussing her policy disagreements but also her pride in working for Mr. Trump. It came in response to an anonymous essay in The New York Times by a senior administration official that alleged there to be a secret “resistance” effort from the right in Trump’s administration and that there were internal discussions of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office.
“I proudly serve in this administration, and I enthusiastically support most of its decisions and the direction it is taking the country,” Ms. Haley wrote. “But I don’t agree with the president on everything.”