Nikki Haley must have raised eyebrows at the White House with her bold off-the-cuff defense of the women complaining that Donald Trump sexually abused them before the election.
“[A]ny woman who has felt violated or felt mistreated in any way, they have every right to speak up,” Haley said on the CBS talk show “Face the Nation” on Dec. 10. “[W]omen should always feel comfortable coming forward. And we should all be willing to listen to them.”
Haley is, of course, the neophyte diplomat appointed to the cabinet-level job of United States ambassador to the United Nations by the same Donald Trump who has dismissed his accusers as liars and even threatened to sue them. Her record on promoting women’s rights could be charitably described as slim.
Haley’s remarks made front-page news because she is more often heard brashly defending Trump’s foreign policy moves, no matter how unwise or foolish they may be.
Haley, a former governor of South Carolina, is certainly nimbler than Trump, a real estate mogul by profession, but neither displays much appreciation of the fine points of the diplomatic arts. Both tend to view foreign affairs as subordinate to domestic politics, so their initiatives often come out half-baked or miss the mark altogether.
On North Korea, for example, Haley seems to be mindlessly matching Trump’s bluster threat for threat. The president said he was willing to rain “fire and fury” on the country of 25 million people and “totally destroy” it as he ridiculed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for pursuing negotiations. Trump has mocked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a man as estranged from reality as Trump himself, as “Little Rocket Man” and “short and fat.”
Haley has hit the same talking points — it’s all China’s fault! — and warned that “the North Korean regime will be utterly destroyed” if it overreacts to their taunts.
They have similarly made a hash of America’s ties with Iran. Rather than seek common ground with Tehran or a way to bolster international stability, Trump and Haley have instead worked hard to insult its leaders and undermine the international nuclear deal that has worked well to sideline their nuclear-arms program.
Haley was at it again on Dec. 14, telling a news conference at a US military base that Washington had indisputable evidence that Iran had made the missile fired by Houthi rebels in Yemen at a civilian target in Saudi Arabia.
So sexual misconduct has become one of the rare issues on which Haley has openly defied the president. As far as the public knows, it appears to have paid off for her.
If only the same were true of Trump’s recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move the US embassy there from its current home in Tel Aviv.
This is a move that for most Americans is hard to parse. The president described it as a brave possible breakthrough toward a Middle East peace deal. But it is, in fact, a powerful roadblock to any deal and is likely to be a fatal blow to the long-embraced international goal of the two-state solution: the establishment of a Palestinian nation existing alongside Israel in peace, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
No one who closely follows Trump would ever expect him or his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to actually push hard for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. While Trump may talk about a deal, his Middle East actions have catered almost exclusively to his American base, the conservative Jews and evangelical Christians who are Israel’s strongest supporters. The Palestinian cause — just about any cause involving Muslims, really — is of no concern to Trump’s politics. For the Arab world, his decision on Jerusalem merely transformed what was previously an assumption into a cold, hard fact.
So why did Ambassador Haley, in her first statement praising Trump’s decision, refer to “an overwhelming bipartisan consensus in favor of moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to its rightful place in the Israeli capital city of Jerusalem”? While the announcement triggered an emergency session of the UN Security Council and enraged virtually every UN member but the US and Israel, Haley was focusing on domestic politics, glossing over the fine points to act as a cheerleader for the president, rather than the community of nations.
She called his decision a “courageous and historic step that was long overdue” and said it was “the just and right thing to do” in Jerusalem, a city she and Trump insisted was like any other. But Jerusalem is not like any other. Divided by agreement with Jordan after Israel’s unilateral declaration of statehood in 1948, it was later united by Israel’s military through force and occupation.
Since then, the international community has underscored the need for a shared capital of Israel and a future Palestinian state, with the city’s final shape and status to be determined through an agreement between the two parties.
So while Trump and Haley maintained that the move would stimulate the peace process, the nearly universal reaction from other quarters has been just the opposite. Sadly, however, the violent protests that met Trump’s move bode ill for future negotiations as both the US president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will assuredly point to any attacks on Israeli targets as signs that the Palestinians are unreliable partners for peace.
Over and above the immediate fallout, this latest Trump tango underlines once again that, at least in the realm of foreign affairs, his “America first” policy translates into “America alone.” Haley has previously expressed the belief that this approach to global politics does not bother her.
“The United States does not fear isolation in this chamber or anywhere else,” she told the General Assembly during a Nov. 1 debate on the decades-old US embargo on trade with Cuba. In that debate, her point of view was opposed by 191 of the UN’s 193 members. As on Jerusalem, Israel was her only friend in the fight that day.
So Haley has shown that she is fine with standing up to 191 nations. If only she could use her newfound mettle to stand up more often to Trump.
Irwin Arieff is a veteran writer and editor with extensive experience writing about international diplomacy and food, cooking and restaurants. Before leaving daily journalism in 2007, he was a Reuters correspondent for 23 years, serving in senior posts in Washington, Paris and New York as well as at the United Nations (where he covered five of the 10 years that Sergey Lavrov spent in New York as Russia’s senior UN ambassador). Arieff also wrote restaurant reviews for The Washington Post and Washington City Paper in the 1980s and 1990s with his wife, Deborah Baldwin.