A few weeks ago, at the end of April, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acted to put Nikki Haley, the US’s out of control UN ambassador, in her place, telling her through his officials that she should clear any comments she intends to make on contentious issues with the State Department before she makes them.
In the weeks that followed we heard little more from Haley. The phoney crisis in the Korean Peninsula came and went, the end of ISIS in Raqqa and Mosul approached, the shoot down of the Syrian SU-22 and the Russian warning took place, all without much of the usual grandstanding from Haley.
These weeks of relative silence have obviously chafed since over the last few days she has seized on the White House ‘warning’ to Syria to issue a string of superfluous ‘warnings’ of her own, some on twitter and some in television interviews. Presumably she feels that because she is echoing a warning from the White House she can go public in a way that since Tillerson’s order she previously couldn’t do.
These threats and ‘warnings’ from Haley are not to be taken seriously.
I have previously written about how Haley differs from her predecessor the equally outspoken and far more dangerous Samantha Power
There is a widespread tendency to treat Nikki Haley as a reincarnation of her predecessor, Barack Obama’s UN ambassador Samantha Power. As someone who has given himself the tedious task of following and comparing the comments of both, I have to say that I disagree.
Samantha Power is in my opinion an ideological fanatic who sincerely believes that the US has a ‘duty’ to intervene all over the world as part of some great liberal crusade to spread ‘democracy’ (as she defines it) everywhere. Nikki Haley by contrast comes across to me as simply a politician on the make.
The fundamental difference however is that Samantha Power was a key policy maker within the Obama administration, with strong connections to US Secretary of State Kerry and especially to Susan Rice, her predecessor as the US’s UN ambassador, who was President Obama’s National Security Adviser in his second term when Power was the US’s UN ambassador.
Through Rice Power also had a channel directly to Obama himself, who appointed her UN ambassador precisely because of her views. As it happens Obama and Power were already close to each other. Obama is known to have admired Power, to have read her books, and to have regularly sought her advice. He also considered her a personal friend, and apparently still does.
By contrast there is no evidence Nikki Haley has strong connections to anyone, whether in the Trump White House, the State Department (where since the coming of Tillerson many of the ideological neocon hardliners who had once backed Samantha Power have been sacked) or in the National Security Council.
The very fact Tillerson brought Haley to heel back in April shows he has little time for her. President Trump must have supported Tillerson when Tillerson took this step, shows that Trump also must have no great sense of loyalty to Haley. Given that Haley stridently criticised his Presidential bid during the Republican primaries that is not surprising.
President Trump’s National Security Adviser General H.R. MacMaster appears to be much closer to his fellow General, Defense Secretary Mattis, than he is to Haley, and by her own admission her dealings with the staff of the National Security Council are few and far between.
None of the other officials in the Trump White House who make foreign policy – eg. the disputatious trinity of Preibus, Bannon and Kushner – appear to have much time for her either, and Bannon is known to disagree with her on some issues.
All the evidence points to Haley being picked for her post – probably on Vice-President Pence’s recommendation – because after the election Donald Trump needed a (relatively) big name Republican to fill a vacant place at the UN to reach out to the Republican Party’s Congressional leadership.
In other words Haley was appointed to her post essentially for reasons of party management, and not because she is herself anyone with any influence.
This is in total contrast to Samantha Power, who worked in Obama’s Senate office from 2005 to 2006 when Obama was a US Senator, who was a fervid supporter of Obama’s during his 2008 Presidential bid (during which she called Hillary Clinton a “monster” who would “stoop to anything”), and who served as a staffer in Obama’s National Security Council before Obama appointed her his UN ambassador.
Haley cannot be completely ignored. The chaotic state of the Trump administration and the President’s habit of making decisions on the fly – brilliantly dissected by Seymour Hersh in his Welt piece – means that any voice coming from within the administration can from time to time in a particular set of circumstances have an outsized influence.
However that does not change the fact that unlike Samantha Power Nikki Haley is not an important official, and speaks for no-one but herself. There is no evidence Trump looks to her for advice, or that Tillerson or anyone else of importance in the Trump administration does, and no evidence she has any role in policy making, or is even especially well informed about it.
This means that when Haley threatens Syria with more bombing – as she has been doing over the last few days – but General Mattis is doing the opposite – as he too has been doing over the last few days – it is General Mattis not Haley who should be heeded.
My own opinion about Haley is that she is staking out a claim to be nominated Pence’s Vice-President in the event Pence eventually makes a run for the White House after Trump steps down. Ultimately I am sure her sights are on the Presidency itself.
Ever since Haley became the US’s UN ambassador she has been behaving in a way that is obviously intended to draw as much attention to herself as possible. I am sure she is doing this intentionally, precisely in order to stake out these claims.
Haley was after all considered by Romney for his Vice-Presidential running mate in 2012. Though she turned the offer down on the grounds that she had only been elected South Carolina’s governor two years before, such an offer would inevitably have stirred Presidential ambitions in her, and I have no doubt her current actions are largely driven by them.
That does make Haley someone to keep an eye on. However by definition it also means that her moment can only come after Trump leaves office.
Until then what Haley says is not to be taken seriously, and I am sure that when the current fuss over Syria dies down Tillerson will quietly act to shut her up again.