Nikki Haley will be missed when she leaves her post as U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations. The question is whether President Donald Trump, and the person he chooses to succeed her, can learn from her hits and misses over the past two years, and safeguard U.S. 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 U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, yielding useful U.N. 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 U.S.
If Haley’s backroom politics were often successful, her public threats that the U.S. would be “taking names” of those who failed to support it were less so. The ostentatious U.S. withdrawal from several U.N. bodies may have played well to a domestic audience, but it did little to make the U.N. more effective. Up to a point, U.S. complaints about the U.N.’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 recognizes the U.N.’s enormous potential to advance U.S. interests and has the skills and temperament required.
Next year, just as Haley leaves her job, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa will join the U.N. 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 U.S. and the world need a successor to Haley who’s up to the challenge.