Truth, Terror and Nikki Haley's Challenge at the UN

EDITORIAL USE ONLYNikki Haley, Ambassador of the United States to the United Nations Press Conference after her Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question today at the UN Headquarters Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, New York, USA - 16 Feb 2017 (Rex Features via AP Images)

Bravo yet again to Nikki Haley, America’s new ambassador to the United Nations. Speaking at an informal meeting of the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, Haley called out Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism, saying:


The United States will not hesitate to stand against the forces of terrorism, and that includes standing against the states that sponsor it, in particular the Islamic Republic of Iran.

This follows Haley’s refreshingly direct comments last week to the press — aptly praised by the New York Sun under the headline “Haley’s Comet” — in which Haley denounced the UN’s obsessive attacks on the democratic state of Israel. In those remarks, Haley lambasted the UN’s “double standards” as “breathtaking,” and threw in a mention of Iran as “the world’s number-one state sponsor of terror.” Here’s an excerpt:

Incredibly, the UN Department of Political Affairs has an entire division devoted to Palestinian affairs. Imagine that. There is no division devoted to illegal missile launches from North Korea. There is no division devoted to the world’s number one state-sponsor of terror, Iran. The prejudiced approach to Israeli-Palestinian issues does the peace process no favors. And it bears no relationship to the reality of the world around us.

With such remarks, Haley is bringing to the UN a voice of truth, decency, and plain old common sense that is a desperately needed departure from the usual diplomatic doubletalk. Credit her also for blocking the ploy by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to name as his special envoy to Libya a former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, which is not a UN member state. The PA has been maneuvering for decades to obtain that status without keeping its promises to negotiate in good faith a lasting peace with Israel.


Haley is salvaging for the U.S. a role of integrity that, under President Barack Obama and his successive UN ambassadors, was all too often lamentably absent (recall Ambassador Susan Rice leading from behind on Libya, and Ambassador Samantha Power, who this past December abstained from vetoing Resolution 2334, with which the Security Council savaged Israel).

Both Haley and President Trump — who chose her — deserve credit for Haley’s stellar performance so far at the UN. On a number of vital issues not only has Haley hit the ground running, but in contrast to her predecessors of the past eight years, she has been heading in the right direction.

All that said, a warning is in order. This is the UN we are talking about — a mountain of unaccountable bureaucracy and moral sludge, where even for the best and brightest the job of trying to bring about any kind of genuine reform is like trying to clear a mudslide with a teaspoon.

Haley’s latest denunciation of Iran’s terror-sponsoring ways came in the context of a proposal by Guterres to create within the UN secretariat a new office devoted to combating terrorism. Like most reform proposals that originate within the UN itself, the thrust here — unfortunately — is to try to improve a rotten UN system by creating yet more of it.

Guterres is urging that to head this proposed new counterterrorism office, the UN — which is already rife with scores of senior officials — should create a post for yet another under-secretary-general. The idea, basically, is to consolidate an array of UN counterterrorism initiatives under a counterterrorism czar. In theory (I stress, in theory, not necessarily in practice), this would consolidate and streamline UN counterterrorism efforts, leading to better results.


Haley, amid her otherwise sterling remarks at Wednesday’s informal consultations of the General Assembly, was endorsing this proposal, urging that the UN expand its counterterrorism assistance to member states, and saying:

The United States supports the Secretary-General’s proposals to reform the UN’s counterterrorism architecture. These changes can start with the appointment of an Under-Secretary-General to oversee and coordinate the numerous entities whose work with the UN relates to counterterrorism. This new Under-Secretary-General will need to set clear priorities to implement the UN’s Global Counterterrorism Strategy.

That sounds good, but it almost certainly won’t work.

The basic flaw in the UN’s counterterrorism “architecture” is not lack of yet another office, headed by yet another under-secretary-general. We’ve been here before, with proposals to streamline, consolidate, fortify, mobilize, and better manage UN counterterrorism efforts. Please see, for instance (if you can make any sense out of it), the UN web page on the CTITF 2005 coordination framework, which was supposed to solve the problems that the proposed new architecture is now supposed to solve. (The record suggests that terrorists, worldwide, are unimpressed.)

The basic failing here is built into the design of the UN itself, which welcomes as members not only freedom-loving democratic states, but also states that sponsor terrorism, or at least don’t mind terrorism as long as it is directed at others (especially if they can profit by abetting such activities as sanctions-violating arms smuggling). Typically, such UN member states strive to stymie or subvert UN offices and initiatives that are meant to help clean up the world. Thus does the UN Human Rights Council end up stacked with human-rights violators. Thus does the misogynist regime of Iran secure for itself a seat on the governing board of the UN’s agency for Women.


Haley, in her endorsement of a new UN office for counterterrorism to be headed by a new UN under-secretary-general, described this latest reform proposal as a test of the UN:

[T]he United States is hopeful that the United Nations can play a valuable role in helping Member States counter it. But to do that, the UN will need to adapt. The UN was designed to maintain international peace and security by facilitating the peaceful resolution of conflicts between states. Whether the UN is effective in addressing the challenges posed by non-state actors and supporting counterterrorism is a test of this institution’s ability to meet the international security challenges of today.

Credit Haley that perhaps she is simply trying to pick her battles, rather than take on all at once the entire UN system. But the truth is, the UN has been tested repeatedly, and often, going back decades, and right up to the present.

Do we really need more tests? The UN flunks. It fails. It is configured to fail.

Whatever the official stance might be on fighting terrorism, or however many offices the UN might create, proliferate, modify, or consolidate, the UN itself is in the business of conferring legitimacy on terror-sponsoring states by way of providing them with membership and an array of accompanying privileges. Those privileges include opportunities not only to vote in the General Assembly and win seats on UN governing bodies, but also to insert loyal nationals into the UN system as staff.

Officially, UN staffers are neutral — loyal only to the UN, not to their home countries. In practice, that’s about as true as the charming notion that the moon is made of cheese. The way the UN is set up means that its most pernicious member states have enormous incentives to do everything in their power to exploit the UN system — including its counterterrorism projects. Last month, Foreign Policy reported that Russia has a keen interest in staffing the proposed new post of counterterrorism czar. That is not a reassuring prospect.


In any of the world’s genuine fights against terrorism, the UN has more often been part of the baggage than a help in lightening the load.

Note, for instance, the UN’s genial attitude toward the terrorists of Hezbollah, and de facto support via UNRWA — the UN’s Palestinian “refugee” agency — for Hamas (groups the UN does not recognize as terrorist), plus the UN’s impotence against the likes of ISIS. The burden of actually combating terrorists has been carried by a number of the UN’s member states, such as the U.S., and the UN’s favorite punching bag, Israel.

For America — for a Trump administration now sorting out a strategy for dealing with terrorism — the wisest course would be to sideline the UN, defund its endless projects to reshape a chronically incoherent and failing “architecture,” and focus instead on forging, outside the UN, coalitions that actually work.

The only way America is likely to benefit from yet another UN office, headed by a new UN counterterrorism czar, is if that czar happens to be someone in the mold of Ambassador John Bolton (in the unlikely event that Bolton, or anyone remotely like him, might be willing to spend his or her talents on such a fundamentally frustrating project). And even that would be merely a temporary fix.

Haley is doing brilliant work every time she skips the diplomatic bromides and sticks to telling the truth about the UN. Please, let’s have lots more of it.


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