Opinion: Nikki Haley, Donald Trump's global enabler, was no moderate

Nikki Haley's departure from the UN is being framed as the Trump administration losing one of its few moderate Republicans and voices of reason. Her record disproves that narrative, however, writes DW's Michael Knigge.
Michael Knigge
Michael Knigge

At this point it is almost moot to decry this White House's ongoing revolving door mentality. It is still unclear whether the amicable-seeming announcement of Nikki Haley's departure was long-planned, or if, notwithstanding her unprompted rejection, she might be plotting to run against Donald Trump for the United States presidency in 2020.

Ultimately, the speculation adds little to evaluating how the US has conducted itself on the world stage. Let's instead focus on what we do know, and that is Haley's record as US ambassador at the United Nations.

Put bluntly, her record is bleak. Sure, during her two-year tenure in New York she has given vocal support to certain human rights issues and was one of the more outspoken administration figures criticizing Russia.

Exit from UN bodies

But this is not what she will be remembered for. Haley, one of the earliest and most high-profile female members of Trump's Cabinet, will be remembered for what happened during her tenure: With her support, the US pulled out of the UN-backed international climate deal, the UN Security Council-backed Iran nuclear deal, the UN cultural organization UNESCO and the UN Human Rights Council.

Michael Knigge is DW's US correspondent

She will be remembered for threatening other UN members via Twitter that the US "will be taking names" of nations that supported a purely symbolic resolution denouncing Washington's decision to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

She will be remembered for advancing a new and dangerous principle whereby the US only gives aid to nations it deems friendly, meaning that they have conducted themselves, and voted at the UN, in line with the Trump administration's positions.

And she probably won't be, but should be remembered for the fact that during her tenure Washington ended its funding for the UN Population Fund, the body's reproductive health agency, and reinstated the so-called Global Gag Rule that prohibits the US government from funding international health groups that also advocate for abortions.

Enabler of 'America First' on the global stage

Taken together, Haley has been an ardent supporter of Trump's "America First" policy, which openly advocates a winner-take-all approach that is fundamentally at odds with the core principles of the UN. Her personal style may have helped to cloak and blunt her full-throated support for Trump's hostile attitude to multilateralism — nevertheless, it was there.

In her defense, some might say that she was trying her level best to prevent Trump from doing even more damage, and they may warn that her replacement could be even worse — but that ship sailed a long time ago. At this point in the Trump administration's tenure, and considering all the damage that has already been done on numerous fronts, we simply cannot allow the argument that "it could be worse" to stand and serve as a benchmark.

By any traditional party standard, Haley cannot be described as a moderate or mainstream Republican. She has been the leading advocate for and enabler of Trump's politics on the global stage. There is no reason the world need shed a tear about her impending departure.

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Daughter of immigrants

Nikki Haley was born Nimrata Randhawa to an immigrant family from India. She studied accounting at Clemson University and continued working at her family's clothing business, where she helped as a teenager. She is married to Michael Haley, an officer in the National Guard.

Nikki Haley: From Trump critic to Trump envoy

Breaking the glass ceiling

In 2011, Haley took over as the governor of South Carolina after having served three terms in the state House of Representatives. Haley was the first woman and the first member of an ethnic minority group to be elected as the governor of the state.

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Confederate flag

During her second term as governor, Haley shot to prominence when she led an effort to remove the Confederate flag from the state Capitol grounds. She had earlier dismissed calls to remove it but changed her mind after a 2015 massacre at a black church in Charleston.

Nikki Haley: From Trump critic to Trump envoy

Trump critic

Often referred to as a moderate Republican, Haley was one of the harshest critics of US President Donald Trump during his bid for the White House. She criticized Trump for not speaking out against white supremacists, his stance on immigration and his demeanor. She supported Senator Marco Rubio of Florida during the Republican primaries.

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Olive branch

When Trump named her as his to become ambassador to the United Nations, it came as a surprise to many. The two had sparred bitterly in the run up to the presidential election. Some saw it as an olive branch from Trump.

Nikki Haley: From Trump critic to Trump envoy

Outspoken envoy

Haley was outspoken and forceful during her brief stint at the UN. She joined her boss in calling out Iran and North Korea on numerous occasions. Under her tenure, the US pulled out of UNESCO and the Human Rights Council. But she did not agree with Trump on some issues, including Russia sanctions and the significance of the world body itself.

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Future Republican presidential candidate?

Haley, a rising star in the Republican Party, is often mentioned as a possible candidate for the 2020 presidential elections. But she has said she would not be running for the top job in 2020, when Trump plans to run for a second term.