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What Nikki Haley's departure means for US foreign policy

  • Wilson Dizard
  • 10 Oct 2018

Does the resignation of the US ambassador to the United Nations mean there might be a change in America's hostile attitude towards the UN?

( AP )

Nobody can tell exactly why Nikki Haley, the soon-to-be former US Ambassador to the United Nations, officially stepped down on Tuesday. 

What’s more clear is that her departure might not mean that her successor will temper the White House’s hostility to the the international diplomatic body. 

Haley, the former governor of the conservative southern state of South Carolina, never seemed to get on the bad side of her boss, President Donald Trump, even though she came from the more mainstream wing of the Republican party that Trump humiliated in his rise to the presidency in 2016. 

In her role as ambassador, she forcefully pursued Trump’s punitive foreign policies, advocating for US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the abrupt cutoff of American aid to the Palestinians. 

Haley was “single handedly the most hateful UN actor on behalf of the US during my adult life, remarkably even including [John] Bolton,” Andrew Kadi, a member of the US Campaign for Palestinian rights, told TRT World. 

“Palestinians in Gaza have been marching since March for their rights, and meanwhile this heinous administration with Nikki Haley as its rep at the UN decided to cut funding to the most critical services that Palestinians in Gaza are using,” Kadi continued. 

“Those services being both educational and humanitarian in nature, and when you consider that UNRWA also provides psychosocial support for a population living in a place that will be uninhabitable in the next 20 years, according to international health organisations, you really realize how despicable Nikki Haley and this administration have been.” 

Kadi added that he hoped the Palestine Liberation Organization, whose offices in Washington DC were shuttered by Trump, would take Haley’s hostility to the UN as evidence of how the US has never been on the side of Palestinians. 

In the context of the Trump administration, he said continued advocacy for Palestinian rights is the way forward. 

“The US has never been and will never be an ally to our struggle. Rather, the only option is to continue struggling until this administration recognises our rights and forces its client state in Israel to do the same,” he added. 

The man Kadi mentioned as being worse than Haley, John Bolton, had held Haley’s UN role between 2005 and 2006 under President George W. Bush, and returned in 2018 under Trump as National Security Advisor, a far more powerful position. 

Bolton had pushed for the Iraq War, and has built a reputation as one of Washington’s most uncompromising hawks on Iran. 

Aaron David Miller, Vice President for New Initiatives and Middle East Program Director at the Woodrow Wilson Center, suggested that Haley’s work had been easier in 2017, when former of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took a relaxed view towards the business of American diplomacy. 

Now, his replacement, the outspoken Mike Pompeo, has turned foreign policy into a far more Trumpian affair. 

“Why did Nikki Haley leave? We really don't know. In her first year she benefitted [sic] enormously from the Tillerson's vaccum [sic]. Now with Pompeo and Bolton around, the job is no longer fun,” Miller tweeted on Tuesday. 

As is common in Washington, there’s always a more cynical interpretation, including a brewing ethics scandal. 

All the same, what makes Haley’s departure remarkable for Trump’s White House is the lack of drama surrounding it. 

Over the last two years, senior administration officials have been sacked and escorted by security out of the White House. Omarosa Manigault Newman, who went on to write a scathing tell-all book about the dysfunctional executive branch, recorded her own firing on her phone

Although Haley joins dozens of other Trump staffers who no longer haunt the White House halls, her leaving was straightforward by comparison to others. 

Who's next in line?

Some see Haley's departure as a way to better prepare for pursuing political ambitions in the future. 

“She was always going to leave before the first term finished. She took the job to try and build up her credentials. She has zero loyalty to Trump. I don’t know what her specific impetus was to resign now. She’s definitely gonna try to run for president,” said one Iran analyst, who requested anonymity.  

Asked whether her replacement would be better for the world and the UN, the Iran analyst replied: “In my humble opinion, no.” 

But who could her replacement be? 

In some kind of predictable universe that we do not inhabit, it would be Dina Habib Powell, a Coptic Egyptian-American from Texas, who speaks Arabic and has a decades long history in Republican politics and national security circles. 

Powell served as an economic advisor in Trump’s White House in 2017, before returning to work at Goldman Sachs. 

However, thanks to the “America First” mantra of the Trump foreign policy (an infamous refrain of American Nazi sympathisers before World War II) an immigrant with ties to the Bush administration is viewed with suspicion by the most nationalist and nativist elements of Trump’s base, Politico reported. 

Haley herself is the daughter of Indian-Americans, a fact that seems at odds with some in the administration who’d like to see a decrease in any immigration into the United States. 

If Powell does get the appointment after Haley officially leaves at the end of the year, there’s every reason to believe that any humanitarian impulses she might have would have to get past Trump first. 

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