Nikki Haley leaves with her reputation not just intact but burnished. The same cannot be said of Trump’s other departed top-level appointees.
Nikki Haley will be missed when she leaves her post as US Permanent Representative to the United Nations. The question is whether President Trump, and the person he chooses to succeed her, can learn from her hits and misses over the past two years, and safeguard US leadership at an institution that, for all its flaws, remains indispensable.
Proof of Haley’s political acumen is that she leaves the job with her reputation not just intact but burnished. The same cannot be said of Trump’s other departed top-level appointees, not to mention numerous other diminished members of his national security team.
Though Haley was a foreign-policy novice, her political skills yielded big wins. She secured Chinese support for strong sanctions on North Korea. She also cultivated good relations with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, yielding useful UN reforms and directing attention to the weaknesses and abuses of UN peacekeepers. She got high marks for focusing on trouble spots in Africa such as South Sudan, where she persuaded China to go along with an arms embargo. And she forcefully addressed the UN’s persistent anti-Israel bias.
She also managed to hold at bay some of the administration’s worst instincts — keeping a spotlight on Russia’s bad behavior in Syria and Ukraine, despite Trump’s reluctance. Sadly, she could not prevail against the administration’s cruel decision to slash the number of refugees admitted to the US
If Haley’s backroom politics were often successful, her public threats that the US would be “taking names” of those who failed to support it were less so. The ostentatious US withdrawal from several UN bodies may have played well to a domestic audience, but it did little to make the UN more effective. Up to a point, US complaints about the UN’s mismanagement and corruption are justified, but engagement, not withdrawal, is the best way to fix this.
Trump is unlikely to nominate a successor whose loyalty is suspect, or who is intent on restraining his instincts. So it will fall to the Senate, in confirming the appointment, to ensure that the next ambassador recognises the UN’s enormous potential to advance US interests and has the skills and temperament required.
Next year, just as Haley leaves her job, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa will join the UN Security Council. This could be a crucial moment for the institution — a fresh opportunity to address threats such as the spread of nuclear weapons, climate change, global pandemics, and humanitarian crises. The US and the world need a successor to Haley who’s up to the challenge. –Bloomberg