Nikki Haley just stuck a stiletto in the flat-footed legacy of her predecessors, Samantha Power and Susan Rice. Our soft-spoken, poised ambassador to the United Nations (UN) has emerged as the star of the Trump administration, earning new admirers (and undoubtedly some new foes) for her performance last week on the international stage.
On April 5, the day after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attacked civilians with chemical weapons he’s not supposed to have, Haley calmly took the floor to call out both the perpetrators and their global coddlers. She stood and held up photos of Assad’s young victims.
“Yesterday morning, we awoke to pictures. To children foaming at the mouth, suffering from convulsions, being carried in the arms of desperate parents. We saw rows of lifeless bodies, some still in diapers, some with visible scars of a chemical weapons attack.” She paused. “Look at those pictures. We cannot close our eyes to those pictures.”
The next day, President Trump authorized a surgical strike against Assad, sending Tomahawk missiles to bomb the airfield where the attack originated.
In front of the Security Council on Friday, Haley again blasted Assad, his enablers in Iran, and the impotent ambassadors sitting before her (not to mention the ghosts of Obama’s feckless diplomats). But she saved her harshest words for Russia. It is a must-watch moment in American diplomacy, especially for those malcontents still harboring the Trump-hearts-Russia conspiracy:
Every time Assad has crossed the line of human decency, Russia has stood beside him. Russia is supposed to have removed all the chemical weapons from Syria, but obviously that has not happened. Let’s think about the possible reasons for Russia’s failure. It could be that Russia is knowingly allowing chemical weapons to remain in Syria. It could be that Russia has been incompetent…or it could be that the Assad regime is playing the Russians for fools.
That same day, she denied a request from Bolivia to hold a closed-door emergency session of the Security Council to discuss Syria. Haley said the meeting should occur in the open because “any country that chooses to defend the atrocities of the Syrian regime will have to do so in full public view, for all the world to hear.”
You go, girl.
Meet Nikki Haley
Nimrata “Nikki” Haley, who turned 45 on Inauguration Day, is only the third former governor to serve as UN ambassador. She was in the middle of her second term as South Carolina’s governor when she accepted her new post. That means she didn’t take the usual route from academia, the foreign service, or the military, which will be a plus as she assumes the role of UN disruptor.
She’s the daughter of Indian immigrants. Her father, a PhD and university professor, and her mother, an educator turned clothing retailer, were not the typical-looking Southern parents: “We grew up as an Indian family in a small town in South Carolina. My father wears a turban. My mother at the time wore a sari. It was hard growing up in South Carolina,” she told CNN’s Don Lemon in 2015. “But what I’ve worked toward is to make sure today is better than yesterday, and that my kids don’t go through what we went through.”
It’s likely that experience will give her a good measure of both compassion and toughness when dealing with a UN hostile to American interests and allies. Her performance so far has cleared the UN’s headquarters of the large thud left by Power, Obama’s last UN ambassador. Power ended her service by abstaining from a vote condemning Israel and delivering a toothless rebuke to Syria and Russia over the unchecked genocidal rampage that led to Aleppo’s fall.
During her impressive but overlooked confirmation hearing in January, Haley embraced her new challenge, telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “I love to fix things, and I see a UN that can absolutely be fixed.”
She laid out her views about the UN, particularly its long-standing enmity toward Israel: “Nowhere has the UNs failure been more consistent – and more outrageous – than its bias against our close ally, Israel. In the UN General Assembly session just completed, the UN adopted 20 resolutions against Israel and only six targeting the rest of the world’s countries combined. Last month’s passage of Resolution 2334 was a terrible mistake. I will never abstain when the UN comes in direct conflict with the interests and values of the United States.”
Nikki Haley On Key Issues
She addressed other key issues in her confirmation hearing.
Russia: “I don’t think we can trust them. I think Russia has to have positive actions before we lift any sanctions on Russia.” She told the committee she believed Russia committed war crimes when they bombed civilians and hospitals in Aleppo.
Iran nuclear deal: “It was a huge disappointment and created more of a threat and I think we are going to have to do a lot of things to fix what happened.”
NATO: “NATO has been an alliance that we value, and alliance that we need to keep, and I think that as we continue to talk to him (President Trump) about these alliances and how they can be helpful…I do anticipate he will listen to all of us and hopefully we can get him to see it the way we see it.”
Strengthening America’s role at the UN: “The world has seen us gray. They haven’t seen a black and white of where we stand and where we don’t stand. The world wants to see a strong America.”
Haley also discussed allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by some UN peacekeeping forces—“I think it is devastating when you have a child or mother who sees peacekeepers and are afraid”—and continuing access to family planning education and contraceptives, during which Haley referred to herself as “strongly pro-life.”
It’s good Haley likes to fix things, given the broken-down state of international affairs Obama’s top diplomats left behind. While this was a strong week for her and the United States, more difficult weeks lie ahead. But considering the unflinching toughness she has displayed so far, no one should doubt that she will handle those challenges with equal resolve. It’s good training for a future president.