Donald Trump has a skill for recruiting Cabinet officers he has treated badly. Serving in his administration can require selfless devotion to duty. Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, could tell you about that. So could Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who is swiftly becoming the Cabinet superstar.
She took the lead in persuading China and Russia to join the sanctioning of North Korea, all to persuade Kim Jong-un to think again about his boastful threat to ignite World War III.
Such a catastrophe might at last be “the war to end war,” as Woodrow Wilson said of World War I. Mr. Kim’s reckless exuberance with his nuclear toys has terrified the world into a new reality, and Nikki Haley used it to win approval of United Nations Resolution 2371, which she calls “the single largest economic package ever leveled against the North Korean regime” and “the most stringent set of sanctions on any country in a generation.”
If enforced to the limit — a big “if” — the effects could reduce Pyongyang’s exports by $3 billion, a third of its revenue from exports of coal and minerals, which in turn is key to keeping its nuclear and missile scientists at work.
“The international community is standing with one voice,” Mrs. Haley says. “China didn’t pull off. Russia didn’t pull off. All of the Security Council and the international community said, ‘That’s enough.’ ” Mr. Kim’s provocations have exhausted the patience even of China, his enabler and patron. “It’s reckless. It’s irresponsible, and the international community really laid down the groundwork of saying, ‘We’re not going to watch you do this any more.’ “
The prospect of pocketbook pain is always persuasive, and North Korea’s blustery response arrived as if on cue. “North Korea will make the U.S. pay dearly for all the heinous crime it commits against the state and the people of this country,” the state media warned. Military intelligence services reported that North Korea was moving anti-missile ships into position off its eastern coast in anticipation of action.
“They’re going to threaten,” Mrs. Haley says of the bluster, “but we’re not going to run scared from them. Our job is to defend not just the United States, but our allies. We have to protect our friends, and we’re going to continue to do that. China stepped up and said, ‘We will follow through on these sanctions.’ And now we have to just stay on them to make sure they do that.”
This is not the kind of talk the rest of the world is accustomed to hearing from the American ambassador to the United Nations. Mrs. Haley reported for duty at a United Nations puzzled and despondent over the defeat of Hillary Clinton, and many regarded her as a patronage payoff by the new president, and would finish her term at the U.N. with just another entry on her resume and leave for the speaking circuit to cash in on political celebrity. “No one at the United Nations,” said one professor pundit, “will think Nikki Haley is someone to talk to who will be either knowledgeable or close to the president.”
The professor missed by only a mile. Perhaps buoyed on such modest expectations, she has prospered at the U.N., working hard to build close relationships with other delegations, particularly those of America’s European allies. Over the first months of her tenure she earned the respect of other delegates that enabled her to rally support for American positions on Syria as well as North Korea.
Her frequent and aggressive scolding of Russian support for President Bashar Assad in Syria earned her a reputation for leading, as well as following, American policy. She squelched the long-standing Russian goal of making Russia the moral actor in the Syrian civil war. She still won Russian support for the sanctions vote.
Little more than a year ago she seemed unlikely to be a part of a Trump administration. She clashed with Mr. Trump the candidate on the eve of the South Carolina primary, having endorsed Mario Rubio, and said sharp things about Mr. Trump. “During anxious times,” she said, “it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation.”
Mr. Trump unleashed a Twitter attack. “The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!” he tweeted angrily. But that was forgotten by both of them when Mr. Trump assembled his Cabinet. He needed someone who knew how to speak up, even to him. She learned in South Carolina, as only a governor can, how to twist arms to rally support.
Someone asked her the other day whether she had to twist arms to bring Russia and China along on the sanctions vote. She replied with one word: “Lots.”
• Suzanne Fields is a columnist for The Washington Times and is nationally syndicated.