I was moved to learn of that sweet letter that George H.W. Bush left for Bill Clinton in an Oval Office desk drawer as he left the White House in January 1993. Poppy wished him “great happiness” in the new job and advised him not to “let the critics discourage you or push you off course” during “the very tough times” ahead.
So here’s my letter to you, with a wish for great happiness in your new post as United States ambassador to the United Nations — provided, of course, the Senate confirms your nomination — and bits of advice that I’ve learned on the job here in New York.
1. Weave a good story about yourself and try to stick to it. But don’t look a gift horse in the mouth! Look at me: I started out as an Indian American Sikh growing up in Bamberg, South Carolina. I broke into politics through the Tea Party! Now I’m a Christian and prominent national leader, a vibrant symbol of the New South. Today I live in a 6,000-square-foot Manhattan apartment, rent-free, with views of the East River.
Early in 2016, I was for “Anybody but Trump.” I said at the time: “During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation.”
But after he won the White House, I was proud to toil for Donald. “Being strong and confident in who you are allows you to know when to bend and when to hold the line — like palmetto trees,” I said recently, celebrating my Carolina roots.
2. Above all, be loyal to the boss. No matter what he tweets, says or does, no matter how unhinged he behaves, he is the master of your immediate future. You may hope for a new life after the UN, but for now, keep him happy with supporting tweets and regular shout-outs on the talk shows.
Do you remember my response when The New York Times published a column by an anonymous administration official describing a collective “resistance” inside the White House aimed at protecting the nation from Trump’s worst impulses? To Anonymous, “[t]he root of the problem is the president’s amorality.”
That’s not how I saw it. If someone like Anonymous sees something truly insane coming down, they should just pick up the phone and tell Donald he’s making a big mistake, I wrote in my own op-ed.
“If that doesn’t work, and you are truly bothered by the direction of the administration, then resign on principle. There is no shame in that. But do not stay in your position and secretly undermine the president and the rest of our team.”
You might be wondering, “Is that what Nikki was thinking when she resigned on October 9?” Truthfully, I’ve tried to not share too much on that point. Sitting with Donald in the Oval that day, I just said I wasn’t “running for 2020” and that “I look forward to supporting the president in the next election.”
I’ve since let it be known that I want to write a book and will be staying in New York until my son finishes high school in two years. But I’m trying not to focus on what else I’ll be doing until after I leave the UN in a few weeks. I’ve said I want to remain active on the policy front and might enjoy working for a think tank. Does that make me sound like an eventual presidential candidate? I’ll let you decide.
3. Get a dog. Keep pictures of it on hand for your Twitter feed when you have nothing better to say. I firmly believe that Donald would be more popular if he had a dog, and he would also find more inner happiness. Remember Harry Truman’s hard-won wisdom: “If you want a friend in Washington. . . . “
4. The amazing thing about the UN is that it is the only international organization in the world where every nation has a seat at the table. That is going to be a big problem for you, just as it was for me, given that you represent an administration that regularly insists it is the only nation that counts.
In Washington, “multilateralism” and “globalism” are fighting words, but in Turtle Bay, they are cherished goals. Can you serve both masters? Of course! As public servants we are nothing if not flexible. In explaining how the US votes, “sovereignty” has been my mantra and “America First” my refrain. In seeking other nations’ votes, I like threats — “We are taking names!” — but I also make a pitch for our own brand of multilateralism, in which we remind other governments that Washington is the biggest contributor to the UN budget and can effortlessly kill any program or agency by simply yanking its funding.
“This vote will make a difference on how Americans look at the UN and on how we look at countries who disrespect us at the UN. And this vote will be remembered,” I told the General Assembly last December when it became clear that nearly every world government was lining up against our decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. We lost that vote 128-9, with 35 abstentions. Since then, just one country, Guatemala, has joined Washington in moving its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem. I got the last word: I threw a party at my place and didn’t invite a single person who voted against us.
As I like to emphasize, “The United States does not fear isolation in this chamber or anywhere else.” I said that in November 2017, just before 191 of the UN’s 193 members voted against us in the General Assembly. This was the UN’s annual symbolic resolution condemning the US economic embargo against Cuba. At least it wasn’t a total loss. Israel voted on our side.
But don’t sweat the small stuff. (Although you should send text messages to your fellow Security Council members right before a vote, using their first names: it makes them feel special.) Just repeat to yourself: the best solutions to international problems in a multilateral framework occur when everyone embraces national sovereignty — and particularly US national sovereignty. You think this sounds crazy? You’re right.
Bless your heart,
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts?
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.