U.N. Diplomats, Officials Question Trump’s Envoy Pick to World Body
With little foreign policy experience, can the South Carolina governor repair Trump’s reputation at the U.N.?
Of his nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday called South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley “a proven dealmaker” who “will be a great leader representing us on the world stage.” But some global diplomats were slightly less diplomatic in trying to suss out her creds for the international arena.
“What do you make of the announcement that Nikki Haley might become new U.N. ambassador?” one Western diplomat asked Foreign Policy in a text message Wednesday morning. “I heard she hasn’t really been a foreign policy figure in the past.”
She is a “total novice,” added another U.N.-based official. “It’s going to be interesting.”
“I’ll admit to a sense of relief when I heard her name — but that is probably due to my total ignorance about her foreign policy views,” said yet another senior U.N. official. “Ignorance is bliss, in comparison to what we do know about some of the other candidates.”
France’s U.N. ambassador, Francois Delattre, spoke highly of Haley. “It’s not up to me of course to comment on the nomination, pending her confirmation by the Senate,” the French diplomat told reporters after the announcement. “What I can tell you is that in my previous position as France’s ambassador to Washington…we had a very good contact. She is a highly regarded, very respected professional.”
Haley, 44, has little foreign policy experience and no experience in the federal government. As governor, she brokered economic development deals with international companies and led seven overseas trade missions, according to the Post and Courier, which first reported her pending nomination.
“She is also a proven dealmaker, and we look to be making plenty of deals,” Trump said in his announcement.
In September 2015, Haley led a delegation on a nine-day visit to Gothenburg, Sweden, and to Munich and Frankfurt in Germany, to meet representatives from Volvo, BMW, and Mercedes Benz. BMW has a large plant in Spartanburg, S.C., and Volvo and Mercedes Benz have announced plans to build auto plants in the state.
Haley said she was up to the U.N. job. “Our country faces enormous challenges here at home and internationally, and I am honored that the president-elect has asked me to join his team and serve the country we love as the next ambassador to the United Nations,” she said.
The U.S. Senate would need to confirm Haley first. Top Democratic leaders initially indicated a willingness to hear the South Carolina governor out. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), the former Democratic running mate for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, said Haley’s executive experience as governor “would serve her well” at the U.N. But the hearing may not go smoothly. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) promised a “thorough hearing” for Haley. And in a dig at Trump and his open fondness for Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Cardin said the next U.S. envoy would need to “confront” Russia.
She will be the fifth woman to serve as the top American envoy to the United Nations: Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Madeleine Albright, Susan Rice, and Samantha Power have previously heading up the U.S. mission at Turtle Bay. In a break with previous Republican administrations dating back to the end of the Cold War, Haley will hold Cabinet rank.
If Haley was Trump’s top pick to be U.N. envoy, Trump wasn’t her top pick for president. Haley initially endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in his presidential bid. After Rubio dropped out, Haley said she was “praying” for a win for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). When all other candidates dropped out of the race, Haley said she would vote for Trump — even though she said she “wasn’t a fan.”
Haley will face a U.N. showdown over the president-elect’s controversial campaign trail proposals, such as mass deportation, bans on Muslims, and reintroducing waterboarding, as FP first reported.
“We are going to speak up,” one U.N. official told Foreign Policy before Haley’s announcement on Wednesday. “It’ll be rough, but if [Trump] puts any of those ghastly campaign pledges into action we will condemn.”
Richard Gowan, a U.N. expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said Haley will face an extremely tough learning curve, as she is likely to take office with major crises spiking in Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“A huge amount of U.N. business still centers on African crises that Haley has probably never considered in depth, in contrast to Susan Rice and Samantha Power,” Gowan said of President Barack Obama’s two U.N. ambassadors. “That said, at least she is not a perennially angry white dude.”
The daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley was one of the most vocal critics of Trump’s controversial campaign promises on immigration. She will almost certainly ease fears about lacking diversity in Trump’s administration, which so far has uniformly tapped white men for top presidential nominations and appointments.
Haley “has a proven track record of bringing people together regardless of background or party affiliation to move critical policies forward for the betterment of her state and our country,” Trump said.
She was widely lauded for her handling of a racially-motivated South Carolina church shooting last year and removing the Confederate flag from state grounds. Haley’s appointment comes at a time when the president-elect’s White House picks, including his top strategist Steve Bannon, face their own controversies surrounding racism.
Barbara Slavin, a journalist and Iran specialist at the Atlantic Council, praised Haley’s appointment on Twitter as someone who “smart, moderate, and opposed Trump in the primaries, good pick.”
But she has also faced criticism for supporting laws that suppress voter turnout, including by signing a May 2011 law requiring voters present government issued voter IDs to the polls. The American Civil Liberties Union appealed to a federal court in 2012 to block implementation of the law, which it claimed disenfranchised voters, especially poor black voters.
Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
This story has been updated.
Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer