The new sheriff at the United Nations is stylish in heels but not so stylish in attitude, and the delegate lounges haven’t been the same since Nikki Haley arrived almost three months ago.
She’s blunt without being brash, not shy about giving the Russians the cold shoulder, nor making it clear that the United States stands with Israel, not with the wolves that look for opportunities to mock, belittle and scorn the Jewish state.
The previous administration seemed comfortable cozying up to the enemies of Israel, and timidly (some might say “cowardly”) abstaining from a U.N. Security Council vote condemning the Jewish state. Mrs. Haley calls that abstention “embarrassing” and “hurtful.” The chances of something like that happening now are likely small, indeed.
The new sheriff, as she calls herself, will get her first chance to demonstrate the new American resolve this month when the United States assumes the presidency of the Security Council on the monthly rotation. For the first time in recent memory the council will not focus on rants against Israel. Mrs. Haley told reporters that she will push instead for reforms of the U.N. peacekeeping missions with concern for human rights issues, which are not popular among delegates from nations with the worst records of abuses.
She promises that a debate will be about Iran’s support for terrorism, the war in Syria, outrages by Hamas and Hezbollah and other things that some nations just don’t want to talk about. “So much has been put forward against Israel,” she says, “and not enough has been put toward some of these other issues.” She expects howls and shrill cries of outrage from delegates deprived of the pleasure of the pile-on.
The ambassador does not have a reputation for the usual argle-bargle that comprises diplo-speak, for saying not much at great length that is the lingua franca at the U.N. Words translate to action only with resolve and determination, and the American Mission at the U.N. suddenly has a new reputation for both words and action.
Last month the United States demanded that a U.N. commission withdraw its report that described Israel as “an apartheid state.” The report was withdrawn and the executive secretary of the commission resigned, and the commission took down the report from its internet website.
Mrs. Haley replaces a very different American voice at the U.N. Samantha Power was popular with her Security Council colleagues, and why not? She was an academic comfortable with argle-bargle and familiar with slowing things down, and her outspoken foreign policy views meshed easily with what she heard in the delegate lounges.
The new ambassador has Cabinet status, the first ambassador to have such status and the accompanying access to the president since Jeanne Kirkpatrick, who served in the Reagan administration.
Her tenure as a governor and experience with the retail politics of the South tempers her plain speech with a warmth that has endeared her already with many colleagues. When she speaks, it’s often not what her colleagues expect to hear from an American ambassador, but some of them find her candor refreshing.
Mrs. Haley, 45, is the daughter of Sikh parents, and the mother of two children. Her husband, Michael Haley, is a captain in the South Carolina National Guard. He served a tour in Afghanistan and returned to become the “First Gentleman of South Carolina,” so designated, when his wife was elected governor.
They were married in two ceremonies, one Sikh and the other Methodist. She has a gift for mocking politically correct attitudes, and describes herself as “South Carolina’s first minority governor and the first girl governor.” She relishes delivering the memorable one-liner. “I wear heels,” she famously said, “and it’s not for a fashion statement. It’s because if I see something wrong, we’re gonna kick ‘em every time.” In her first public appearance at the U.N., she warned those “who don’t have our backs, we’re taking names.”
She was a bit of a surprise choice to join the Trump administration. She warned Republicans during the campaign not to follow “the siren call of the angriest voices,” and the Donald tweeted in return that “the people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!” (but with only one exclamation point).
No one in the administration has been as rough and tough on Russia. “Never trust the Russians,” she says. This independence is the mark of the woman. “The president has not once called me and said, ‘Don’t beat up on Russia.’ So I am beating up on Russia.”
The president has the independent voice he says he wants. The message may be that when you want the job done well, send a girl.
• Suzanne Fields is a columnist for The Washington Times and is nationally syndicated.