Aid advocates voice concern that State Department experts are being sidelined in first daughter’s foreign-policy debut.
Ivanka Trump’s White House résumé will soon include famine and the Syrian humanitarian crisis.
The first daughter scheduled an unannounced meeting Thursday at the White House with Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to explore ways to address some of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, including looming famines from Somalia to Yemen and aid blockades in Syria.
The collaboration by two of the administration’s most influential women signaled an intent to raise the profile of American support for humanitarian relief around the world at a time when President Donald Trump’s budget advisors have been calling for steep financial cuts in foreign aid.
The initiative provides a counterpoint to the “America First” approach advocated by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has expressed little interest in promoting human rights around the world or making humanitarian relief an American foreign-policy priority. In fact, Tillerson has routinely declined to meet, or cancelled scheduled meetings, with the heads of U.N. relief agencies, including Filippo Grandi, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees.
But the effort by Haley and the younger Trump to enter the humanitarian field has rankled State Department staffers, who were not asked to provide input for the meeting between the two, who have virtually no experience in managing international relief efforts. Without the backing and involvement of the bureaucracy, which controls the U.S. relief budgets, the effort is unlikely to amount to no more than empty feel-good platitudes, officials say.
Aid advocates said while they welcome Haley and Trump’s interest in humanitarian issues, they see the administration moving in a different direction, proposing deep cuts in humanitarian relief programs and foreign assistance. The State Department, meanwhile, has yet to fill its most senior humanitarian positions, including the director of USAID, and the top posts that deal with refugees, humanitarian affairs, and conflict resolution.
“There is a strange disconnect between what we see in the Trump budget proposal and the ad hoc action of U.S. Ambassador Haley and Trump’s daughter,” said Joel Charny, the director of the U.S. office of the Norwegian Refugee Council.
“It’s good to hear there are people in the administration who believe in humanitarian response and believe in U.S. leadership on humanitarian response,” Charny added. “But the fact that it is taking place completely outside of a normal policy process led by agencies with humanitarian leaders who understand and believe in human action is troubling.”
Ivanka Trump’s interest in humanitarian issues comes at a time when the administration has faced withering criticism for failing to address famines or the threat of famine in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Yemen.
In an effort to dramatize those needs, Haley is planning to take a trip to Jordan and Turkey in the near future to highlight the plight of millions of suffering Syrian civilians, including nearly half a million people forced to endure sieges by government and rebel forces. Ivanka Trump is not expected to tag along on the trip said one source. But they may take a trip together later in the fall to a humanitarian crisis zone.
Last week, Haley denounced the Syrian government for trying to starve its people into submission and Russia for covering up its crimes. “The Syrian regime is engaged in a purposeful strategy of siege and surrender,” she told the Security Council last Thursday during a meeting on the humanitarian crises in Syria. “Civilians stranded inside are literally kept as prisoners until they die or kneel before the government. They are denied food. They are also denied life-saving medical supplies.”
Trump recently reached out to Haley to brief her on the humanitarian crisis in Syria, according to a report Tuesday in the New York Times. The two “promised to keep in regular touch,” according to a source close to the White House.
Trump’s daughter is a natural ally for Haley, who has been fending off efforts by the State Department to rein her in.
Last month, Haley excluded the State Department from a luncheon she organized with President Trump and the 14 other Security Council ambassadors.
One council diplomat said the arrangement appeared calculated to demonstrate the strength of her personal relationship with the president, who lunches regularly with the U.S. secretary of state.
The meeting, the diplomat said, appeared calculated for “reinforcing the perception in all of our minds that she is very close to the president and that no one else in the foreign-policy space really matters and it’s all about the president and her.”
“She is positioning herself as the decision-maker, and she has expanded that quite broadly, so it is not just the U.N. aspect of Syria policy. I think she has got a bigger role on Syria foreign policy,” the diplomat added.
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