Nikki Haley, President Trump’s choice as US Secretary of State at the United Nations is rapidly winning admirers after only a few months in her role. Her blunt, no-nonsense style combined with a willingness to speak truth to power represent a breath of fresh air in international relations. In the morally discredited world of the UN, these attributes are a necessity.
Following the deadly chemical weapons attack in April, Haley gave an impassioned speech attacking Russia, Syria’s arch protector. “How many more children have to die before Russia cares?” she asked, while holding up photographs of murdered infants. Russia, she said, was peddling a “false narrative”, a charge later confirmed when Moscow questioned whether the regime had carried out the attack.
In many ways, Haley set the tone for the administration, which then responded with deadly strikes against military targets inside Syria. The same is true of her comments on Assad’s government, when she recently declared that a political solution in the country was impossible with the dictator “at the head of the regime”.
It is the UN’s disproportionate attacks on Israel that have had Haley fuming in indignation. After attending the first meeting of the UN Security Council, she remarked on the strangeness of proceedings.
Instead of focusing on Hezbollah’s illegal build-up of rockets, Iran’s terrorist infrastructure, the defeat of ISIS or the Syrian civil war, the proceedings were dominated by criticism of Israel.
She reiterated the US’ ironclad support for the Jewish state in the face of this relentless and unfathomable bias. She also declared that there would be no repeat of Resolution 2334, which decried all settlement activity in the West Bank. Actions, not just words, would be used to counter anti-Israeli UN bias, she promised.
She has been true to her word. In March, a report was commissioned by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), accusing Israel of being an apartheid state. It was co-written by Richard Falk, a figure well known for his vituperative rhetoric and prominent role in the 9/11 denial movement.
Haley led calls for the report to be dismissed, describing it as ‘anti Israel propaganda’. Her forceful response, together with that of new Secretary General Antonio Guterres, helped bring about the resignation of the Jordanian diplomat Rima Khalaf, the Executive Secretary of the ESCWA and a lead figure in producing the report. Following Haley’s comment that ‘UN agencies must do a better job of eliminating false and biased work’, the report was also withdrawn from UN websites.
Haley also led objections to the appointment of former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as a special representative in Libya. It was another surprising intervention, given Fayyad’s popularity among diplomats, but Haley’s logic was explicit. The US, she said, did not currently recognise a Palestinian state or ‘support the signal’ that his appointment would send.
Although the rejection of Fayyad was questionable within this context, the logic of rejecting Palestinian statehood as a diplomatic fait accompli was entirely justified. It is her reasonable position that such recognition can only follow the outcome of bilateral talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
Electing Haley was certainly a bold move because she had little foreign policy or diplomatic credentials to fall back on. But this freshness and unconventionality now appear to be her most important assets.