GLASGOW, Kentucky — “There’s no place like home for the holidays” is the United States’ theme for the Security Council presidency in December, while at the same time, in a slight contradiction, the US wants to tackle the problem of the Council’s credibility.
To illustrate her point about the Council’s “credibility,” as she said, Kelly Knight Craft, the American ambassador to the United Nations, told a media briefing that the Council’s trip to South Sudan this fall reflected the Council’s importance. She had stayed an extra day to visit an internally displaced persons’ camp there, where people said to her, “We have hope because the Security Council is here.”
US priorities for the Security Council Presidency
On Dec. 6, Knight Craft laid out the US agenda for the Council this month, a day after it traveled to Washington, D.C., for a lunch with President Trump in the White House. There, the German ambassador to the UN, Christoph Heusgen, asked Trump to pay the outstanding US dues to the UN, as it still owed its 2019 payment of $491 million. (On Dec. 6, a State Department spokesperson told PassBlue that the US paid $300 million this week.)
When asked at the briefing (see video below) about Heusgen’s comment to Trump, Ambassador Knight Craft said, perhaps unaware that UN member states’ dues are calculated according to their national wealth: “. . . let me just talk to you about burden sharing. Whether it be NATO paying their 2 percent or whether it be the UN burden sharing, we are the number one donor. . . . we expect countries to pay their fair share.”
This month, the Council will also discuss piracy in Somalia, intercommunal violence and terrorism in West Africa and renew some peacekeeping mission mandates. The signature debate for December will be “the role of philanthropy in post-conflict situations,” an issue that Knight Craft mentioned in her Senate confirmation hearing last summer, saying she wanted to bring more private money into the UN.
The Council will also discuss “the Trump administration’s efforts to end criminalization of homosexuality around the world,” Knight Craft told reporters, speaking in broad but strong terms on international affairs. When asked about North Korea and its missile launches, she talked about “the danger that the world faces” by the regime, after Chairman Kim Jong-un threatened to send a “Christmas gift” to the US. Although unconfirmed, the Council is planning to meet on North Korean human rights on Dec. 10.
When asked about the focus of a Dec. 18 meeting on Syria, Knight Craft talked about the “atrocities” that President Assad has committed against his own people and how no issue to her has been “more damaging” for the Council’s credibility. About Iran, where US sanctions have damaged the economy and demonstrators have been killed, she said, “What I care about are the Iranian people.” On Iraq, she said it is at a “crossroads” on human rights and good governance.
A lunch with UN Secretary-General António Guterres and the Council on Dec. 9 will be held at Emma’s Torch, a restaurant in Brooklyn that trains and employs victims of human trafficking and refugees through a social-enterprise program. (In another contradiction, for the first time in decades, the US admitted no refugees into the country in October.)
As for Knight Craft’s contention that the Council needs better accountability, the US mission to the UN declined to hold the monthly meeting with civil society groups at the UN, to discuss the agenda of the US. The decision prompted the World Federation of United Nations Associations, which sponsors the meetings with Council presidencies, to say in an email, “We reiterate our commitment to furthering transparency and accountability in the work of the Security Council and hope to continue to organize dialogues with future presidents.”
The Security Council is also traveling to Kentucky, Knight Craft’s home state, as part of the Council’s new method of relating informally offsite, called Sofa Talks.
The Council is traveling to what is often called the “Horse Capital of the World” from Dec. 13-15. All participating Council members must pay for their own travel to and lodging in Kentucky, according to the US mission to the UN. (So far, three ambassadors are not going, including the French diplomat.)
The trip entails a stop in Frankfort, the capital, for dinner at the governor’s mansion and a later tour of a bourbon distillery; and a day in Lexington, featuring a men’s basketball game at the University of Kentucky. The Council is not going to Glasgow, Knight Craft’s hometown. Frankfort is a much smaller but more elegant city than Lexington, situated in a ravine with dramatic backdrops and a homey downtown. The capitol is perched on a hill, on Capitol Avenue, and the mansion is nearby. Gov. Andy Beshear is a Democrat.
Each month, PassBlue profiles UN ambassadors as they step into the role of Council president and highlights important data about their countries, including their carbon-emission levels and maternal death rates. This data signals the extent of a country’s commitments to mitigating climate change and promoting women’s rights.
This column follows ones on South Africa, Bolivia, China, Ivory Coast, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, France, Germany and Russia, among others.
Since the US mission to the UN declined many interview requests, a PassBlue reporter traveled to Kentucky to learn more about Knight Craft, who is married to Joseph Craft III, an industrialist from Kentucky. The state’s most famous American is Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the US, born in Hodgenville, in a log cabin (reproduced in a federal park), not far from Glasgow.
US Ambassador to the UN: Kelly Knight Craft, 57
Ambassador to UN Since: September 2019
Education: B.A., University of Kentucky (1984)
Her story, briefly: There are two symbols that unite the city of Glasgow, in Barren County, to the UN. The first is the Ralph Bunche Historic District, where African-Americans have lived for decades, mostly apart from the white residents of the town, near its central square, where they were restricted from certain sections during the segregation era. It is a lively downtown that features a tall red-brick county courthouse as well as a variety of stores, some vacant, two restaurants and local government and lawyers’ offices.
Nearby are numerous churches, mostly Protestant, with “Stand for Life” signs on their lawns. The Ralph Bunche district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004 and remains an African-American enclave.
Although a community center, named after Ralph Bunche, occupies a former segregated school for African-Americans, it is now a soup kitchen open to everyone. The neighborhood is named after the American diplomat who worked at the UN and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 for his mediation in Israel. Bunche also helped write the UN Charter.
He was born in Detroit, but the district was named after him because he is a model of great prestige for African-Americans. (Glasgow also had the state’s first black mayor elected to a full term, Luska Twyman, a Republican.)
The second symbol in Glasgow, related to the UN more recently, is Knight Craft herself, née Kelly Guilfoil. She was born in Lexington, Ky., but grew up in Glasgow, a city of about 14,000 and the Barren County seat. Her father, a veterinarian who also raised cows and horses as a hobby, was the county chairman of the Democratic Party, in an agriculture belt of dairy and cattle farms, now ceding to grain crops and not as prosperous as it was for decades. Dr. Bobby Guilfoil was also a deacon in the city’s most desirable parish, the First Christian Church in Glasgow.
Knight Craft’s mother, Dale Guilfoil, was a home-ec teacher at Glasgow High School, the more elite public high school in the county that Knight Craft attended. Dale Guilfoil was apparently such an accomplished seamstress that she sewed the family’s clothes, including Dr. Guilfoil’s suits, and the house’s draperies. Knight Craft has two siblings, Marc Guilfoil, head of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, and Micah Guilfoil Payne, a lawyer in Glasgow.
Knight Craft’s middle-class family was wealthy by Glasgow standards, where they built a cathedral-style house situated on a hill outside town, amid acres of rolling countryside. “Daddy would be rolling in his grave” if he knew his daughter was working for Trump, a Glasgow official said of Knight Craft. (The county voted for Trump in 2016, but the state is fairly equal in political party affiliations.) In her father’s era, Democrats in Kentucky were not as different from Republicans as they are today. Now, the issues that separate the two parties statewide are gun rights, abortion and Evangelical Christian beliefs, a Republican adviser in Lexington told PassBlue.
Knight Craft’s switch to the Republicans seems to have occurred during her years at the University of Kentucky, in Lexington, where she maintains a townhouse in a gated community, near the Blue Grass Airport.
Soon after she graduated from university, she married her first husband, David Moross, in 1985. Moross is the chief executive of a private equity firm and now lives in New York City. Together, they have one daughter, Mia Moross, who was raised in Lexington but now lives in New York City.
In 1992, Knight Craft married Judson Knight, an orthodontist in Lexington. They have one daughter, Jane Brady Knight, who started her own political organization, called the Modern American Party 2020, with her husband, Wyatt Melzer. She interned for John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, when he was Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2013. She has also worked for Fox News and the Koch brothers, major Republican donors.
Knight Craft’s current husband is Joseph Craft III, a coal investor from Hazard, in eastern Kentucky; a University of Kentucky alumnus (and law school graduate); and active multimillion-dollar donor to the institution. The couple married in 2016, and he runs Alliance Resource Partners, a coal-mining business based in Tulsa, Okla., that it says is the second-largest such operation in the eastern US. Together, the Crafts donated $2 million to Trump’s presidential campaign, though they supported Marco Rubio’s candidacy (R-Florida) at first. They are also big financial supporters of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Knight Craft has supported both Governor Beshear; and the outgoing governor, Matt Bevin, a Republican.
Knight Craft financially backed George W. Bush in 2004, and he appointed her as an alternate delegate to the UN General Assembly in 2007, where she read a speech. The Crafts were the finance co-chairs for the Trump inaugural committee.
In 2017, she was appointed as ambassador to Canada. Her predecessor, Bruce Heyman, was also a political donor — for the Democratic Party. He donated $1.2 million to the Democrats before Barack Obama appointed him ambassador. Before, he was a vice president of Goldman Sachs. Although the Canadian post is often a position awarded to political donors, the UN ambassadorship, the No. 2 US diplomatic job, is generally more selective, based on foreign-affairs and other relevant experience.
Head of State: President Donald Trump
Secretary of State: Mike Pompeo
Type of Government: Federal, constitutional republic
Year America Joined the UN: 1945
Years in the Security Council: One of the permanent-five members (Britain, China, France, Russia and the US)
Closest Allies on the Council: Britain and other European countries
Population: 325.7 million
Memberships in Regional Groups: Group of Seven (G7), Group of Twenty (G20), NATO
Adult Literacy Rate: 14 percent fall “below basic” literacy (2003); (Unesco has no data on the US)
GDP per Capita: $62,641 (2018); (world: $11,200)
Emissions (tons of CO2/year, per capita): 17 (world average, 5)
Total Contributions to UN Operating Budget (rounded): $591 million, making the US the largest contributor to the UN, costing US taxpayers about $1.80 per capita.
Total Contributions to UN Peacekeeping Budget: approximately $1.65 billion, making it the biggest contributor of all 193 member nations, including the permanent-five Council members; or about $5.80 per capita. (China, the second-largest contributor, gives about half of what the US is assessed in 2019). The US is currently hundreds of millions of dollars in arrears for its peacekeeping dues.
Electric Power Consumption: 13 kwh/year, per capita (world average: 3kWh/year)
Brianna Lyman contributed research to this article.
Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, she has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and near Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working in New York at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Stéphanie Fillion is a New York-based reporter specializing in foreign affairs and human rights who has been writing for PassBlue regularly for a year, including co-producing UN-Scripted, a new podcast series on global affairs through a UN lens. She has a master’s degree in journalism, politics and global affairs from Columbia University and a B.A. in political science from McGill University. Fillion was awarded a European Union in Canada Young Journalists fellowship in 2015 and was an editorial fellow for La Stampa in 2017. She speaks French, English and Italian.