“With All Due Respect: Defending America with Grit and Grace,” is framed as a look back at Nikki Haley’s two years as United States ambassador to the United Nations. It’s also not unreasonable to assume she’s just ticking off one more box before an eventual run for high office: Quit your government job, start tweeting about yourself — a lot — give speeches to friendly audiences for hefty fees, set up a tax-free foundation, amass donations . . . write a book.
But Haley’s “defense of America” seems to have a target audience of just one reader: Donald J. Trump.
The president is, of course, still the president, actively campaigning for re-election in 2020. But the road ahead for both Trump and Haley is anything but clear at this point. By Election Day, Haley may well be in the race, in which case she will need to stay in Trump’s good graces to win over his political base.
Praising him to the skies is a good start, as well as a marked departure from the conduct of so many other former Trump aides. After writing tell-all books, they were showered with harsh insults. But Trump’s tweeted response to Haley’s recently published book (based on the fragile assumption he read it) proves he sees it as a wet kiss: “@NikkiHaley is out with a new book, ‘With All Due Respect’ this week. Make sure you order your copy today, or stop by one of her book tour stops to get a copy and say hello. Good luck Nikki!”
The book, along with her high profile on the speaking circuit and her Stand for America foundation, all demonstrate that Haley is poised to step up. Maybe Trump will be hounded out of the White House, putting Haley’s pal Mike Pence in the Oval Office, where he can name her as his vice president. Some pundits have speculated that Trump could invite her to replace Pence on the 2020 ticket, although there are no signs that this is in the works. And if none of this happens, there is always a South Carolina Senate race or a 2024 presidential try.
While Haley insists, so far, that she has no intention to seek higher office in 2020, she makes clear in her book that she is open to whatever comes down the pike. “If God has another door for me,” she writes, “He will show it.”
Normally, a candidate hoping to succeed a former boss who is bombastic, mendacious, undisciplined, narcissistic and a lousy diplomat with poor judgment and seriously low ratings would aim for a bit of distance. But these are not normal times.
Haley’s book instead brims with love for the commander in chief. And please take note, dear reader, of the many times she boasts about the brilliant advice she gave him. While foreign policy experts may rate him as the most disastrous president in history, she wants MAGA fans to know how important she was to his beautiful achievements.
Haley is clearly a rara avis among Trump’s ex-appointees. She does not merely endorse virtually his entire agenda; she also defends his outrageous conduct and indefensible utterances. When it comes to that small handful of matters that she cannot bring herself to embrace, she graciously explains them away.
Thus, when asking if it was a mistake for the president to call the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “Little Rocket Man” in his maiden speech to the UN General Assembly — while trying to persuade the dictator to shut down his nuclear arsenal — Haley recalls that she advised Trump not to, but he did so anyway, because, well, “he was the president.”
“Make them think I’m crazy,” Trump counseled Haley when asked how she could help ramp up pressure on Kim. “That’s his problem, not mine.” How did it all turn out? Many UN colleagues told her the president’s childish insults were the wrong speech at the wrong time. Yet she took heart from the president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, when he jokingly repeated the offensive nickname in a private conversation with her.
“It was another case of Trump fascinating and disarming international leaders,” she said, glossing over that Museveni was in fact just one leader who had been charmed and not an important one, at that. But Trump has so far come up empty-handed on North Korea, which today continues to crank out nuclear warheads and test ballistic missiles while sending Trump the occasional “beautiful letter.”
Then there was Trump’s scandalous two-hour private meeting in Finland with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which he capped by announcing that Putin had assured him there was no Russian interference in the 2016 US election. While his own intelligence agencies had fingered Russia, “I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump told a news conference.
A day later, facing a deluge of criticism, including accusations of treason, Trump insisted with a straight face that he had misspoken. He had meant to say, “why it wouldn’t be” rather than “why it would be.”
Bizarrely, Haley takes credit for his reversal, even as she writes that it took “days” to get through to the president to complain about his statement. If days had passed, she would have reached him only after he had already offered his clarification. Even more curiously, although the incident had dominated the news for days, she writes that Trump, when he finally heard from her, expressed surprise about any uproar. “No one around him had characterized the press conference in that way,” she said. “I was glad he made that clarification, and I understood what he had been trying to do.”
Haley also suggests that she had never been a never-Trumper during the 2016 presidential campaign. The facts are that she cozied up to three other candidates before Trump nailed down the Republican nomination. At one point she stated: “During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation.” Pundits universally interpreted this as a pointed reference to Trump.
“The speculation that this remark was aimed at the media’s new fixation, Donald Trump, began immediately,” she writes without challenging that assumption. Yet behind the scenes, the two of them were just fine with each other, Haley now insists. “I wasn’t loud about it, but I knew how urgent it was for the party to come together to defeat Hillary Clinton.”
Mainstream-media reviews of “Due Respect” have zeroed in on Haley’s disgust with fellow officials who urged her to help them prevent Trump from being Trump. Specifically, the officials were White House chief of staff John Kelly, pushed out in December 2018, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, canned by the president in March 2018. By her account, these two men insisted she join them and “save the country” by subverting Trump’s agenda and helping them to pursue their own ideas. Tillerson further irritated her by seeking to impose his own choices on her UN staff and to insist on clearing all her statements in advance.
She would have none of it. From the start, she had demanded that Trump put her in the cabinet, give her a seat on the National Security Council and let her speak her mind freely.
“I’m not going to be a wallflower or a talking head. I have to be able to say what I think,” she said she told Trump when he offered her the UN post.
“That’s why I want you to do this!” he responded, according to her.
Haley said that Kelly and Tillerson argued that Trump’s incompetence outweighed his abilities and might have catastrophic consequences for international peace and security. But Haley saw this as an insult to the Constitution. If the two men disagreed with the president and couldn’t change his mind, “they needed to carry out his wishes or leave,” she writes.
Of course, they were easy prey for Haley, as Tillerson was widely reviled during his tenure at the State Department and neither man remains in power. Haley uses the situation to boast about the extraordinary successes that Trump achieved by listening to her rather than the Kellys and Tillersons.
There was, for example, Trump’s determination to pull out of the Paris agreement on climate change, an action she covers in just six dismissive words.
Then there’s the boast that over the protests of just about every other adviser, she pressed Trump to pull out of the multinational agreement aimed at preventing Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Because the deal was negotiated by the Obama administration and criticized by Israel, Trump had been attacking it as “the worst deal ever negotiated.” Other aides initially convinced him to stick with it, but she brags that she advised him to ignore their warnings of dire consequences.
Trump may have been eager to bomb Iran back to the Stone Age, or maybe he was counting on the other parties to the deal — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, the European Union and the UN Security Council — to keep Tehran on the straight and narrow. But as things turned out, starting an all-out war proved more complicated than he thought, and the heavy economic sanctions he imposed after pulling out of the nuclear deal led Tehran to dig in its heels and edge closer to producing atomic weapons rather than change its behavior in any positive sense.
A particularly depressing aspect of Haley’s book is the disdain she expresses for her former workplace, the United Nations. To Trumpistas, multilateralism is a dirty word, and America must do everything in its power to maintain its status as the sole international leader, even if that means infuriating close allies while embracing tyrants.
Haley shamelessly heaps on the praise for the job she did as a UN ambassador while freely admitting that she started out knowing little about the job. When first asked if she wanted it, she said she was uncertain until her husband, Michael, began “surfing around the Web” to conduct quick research on the UN.
“‘You should really take a look at this,’ he said. ‘I think you would like it.’ ” So she accepted the offer. But surprise! “The critics came out saying I had no foreign policy experience to do the job. Once again I was automatically underestimated.”
Even then, she writes, she decided against learning too much about the UN, concerned that she might feel bound by tradition once she arrived in Turtle Bay. She did, however, ask the British ambassador for pointers after she was ribbed for warning right from the start that she would be “taking names” of countries that did not have “our back.” The ambassador’s advice? “I should tone it down and try to play nice with others.”
“It was a reminder that maybe I wasn’t much of a diplomat. But I also thought that instead of changing my ways, maybe the UN should change its ways,” she writes. “The United States was not going to get pushed around anymore, at least not on my watch.”
Haley indeed loved tough talk during her two years at the UN. Her main tool of persuasion seemed to be a threat of one sort or another, sometimes unleashed publicly, sometimes privately, when a particular country, UN agency or activity offended her.
Those threats could be quite vague. “The US will be taking names,” she warned again, in late 2017, when the General Assembly brought up a resolution asking Trump to reverse his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. When she lost that vote by a lopsided 128-9, with 35 abstentions, she decided to throw a little party for the 44 countries that veered from the majority. Her threat led her to the idea of simply cutting aid to those countries that failed to line up behind her.
While the US Congress has rejected most of the administration’s proposed foreign aid cuts, this has not slowed Haley down. In June 2018, she announced the US would pull out of the Human Rights Council, rather than fight for reform from within, after accusing it of an anti-Israel bias and coddling human-rights violators. In October 2017, she did the same for Unesco, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, also over allegations of bias against Israel.
She also fought tooth and nail against an annual General Assembly resolution calling on Washington to end its economic embargo on Cuba. In her second year at the UN, the Assembly rejected her plea 189 to 2, with the US joined only by Israel.
“The United Nations can be a difficult place for moral clarity,” she laments, noting that governments too often fail to stand up to repressive regimes. But she may be misinterpreting what governments really think when they vote against Trump. “[W]hat I learned at the UN is that these countries want the United States to lead. They count on us to lead. Because if we don’t stand up for freedom, no one will.”
To hear Haley tell it, her UN service led to a resurgence in international respect for Washington. “We had rediscovered America’s voice in foreign policy,” she writes, adding, “We were leading again.”
Yet since Trump took office, public opinion polls in many parts of the world have reflected plummeting US popularity. At home as well, the picture is bleak, as domestic polling has shown low levels of support for Trump’s leadership throughout his time in the White House, currently running at a bit over 40 percent approval. Surveys on average find just 36 percent of Americans saying they believe the country is going in the right direction these days, while 58 percent say they believe we are on the wrong track.
“I realize there are many who will think this book is motivation for something in the future,” she writes. “I can’t help that.”
Her sole motive for writing the book? “I wanted all of you to know what I felt as I went through these times in my life.”
“With All Due Respect: Defending America With Grit and Grace,” by Nikki R. Haley; 9781250266552