South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is already coming under fire for lack of foreign policy experience, following President-elect Donald Trump’s announcement that he will nominate her to serve as ambassador to the United Nations. On the foreign-policy front, I’d suggest giving Haley the benefit of the doubt. Foreign policy experience might sound like a great metric for judging any candidate to represent the U.S. at the UN, but it can be misleading — useful, but hardly sufficient.
For instance, while such longtime foreign-policy fixtures as Secretary of State John Kerry and current ambassador to the UN Samantha Power were, respectively, designing and promoting President Obama’s rotten Iran nuclear deal, Haley had the good sense to oppose it.
More broadly, plenty of Americans with loads of foreign policy experience (including Alger Hiss) were instrumental in the 1945 genesis of the ever-expanding swamp that is the UN. In the 71 years since, legions of American foreign-policy maestros have made themselves lavishly at home amid the UN vapors, while allowing U.S. interests to drown in its quicksand.
That said, I’ll stipulate that among those best qualified for the job of next ambassador to the UN, my own preferences ran strongly to former U.S. Ambassador John Bolton or former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Bolton has plenty of foreign policy expertise, especially with the UN. He knows his way around both the minefields of the Security Council and the miasmas of the back corridors — as documented in his 2007 memoir, “Surrender Is Not an Option,” and demonstrated by his vital role in achieving the 1991 repeal of the UN General Assembly’s resolution equating Zionism with “racism.”
Giuliani surely knows plenty about the UN as well, as a former mayor of the city that hosts its headquarters (and the accompanying annual September gridlock), and as a former U.S. attorney of New York’s Southern District, where criminal investigations periodically intersect with the large UN underbelly of cases involving graft, money-laundering, spying and so forth. Among Giuliani’s foreign policy credentials, one of the high points was his rejection, shortly after the al Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, of a $10 million charitable donation to New York City, offered by a Saudi prince who criticized Israel and America’s policies in the Middle East.
Either of these men would have been a good choice. But their chief credentials have less to do with their UN and foreign-policy background than with their record of sound principles and strong backbone. Those are the two qualifications most desperately needed in a U.S. ambassador to the UN. Nor does it hurt to have a strong stomach at the despot-heavy UN, where the likes of Iran, Cuba and the Palestinian Authority command out-sized influence, and Russia and China wield vetoes on the Security Council.
Trump in his announcement praised Haley as having “a proven track record of bringing people together” and being “a proven dealmaker.” That in itself is not enough. There are plenty of deals to be had at the UN, if the U.S. is willing to sacrifice its own interests, and pay the biggest share of the bill into the bargain. President Obama recently celebrated his erstwhile success in peddling the Paris climate accord, a UN-fostered deal that should count as neither a success nor a surprise, given that it entails promises of massive global wealth transfers to some of the world’s most repressive governments, based on dubious “science,” offering hazy goals, at substantial cost to the wallets and the freedom-of-choice of Americans.
The real question is how much fortitude, patriotism and common sense Haley might bring to the post of ambassador to the UN. After eight years of Obama leading from behind, apologizing for America, snubbing democratic allies and offering concessions to enemies, the UN bureaucracy and its member states are more than accustomed to scarfing up U.S. money while seeing America diminished, ignored or humiliated on the world stage.
A classic example was the insult delivered to Obama last year by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who on the opening day of the General Assembly’s high-level debate shared the lineup with Obama in New York, but did not bother to take part a day later in Obama’s “Leaders’ Summit” on countering ISIS and “Violent Extremism.” Putin had bigger fish to fry. He flew home to Moscow, to preside over Russia’s abrupt delivery of a demarche to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, informing them that Russia (whether Washington liked it or not) was about to begin air strikes in Syria. Obama’s summit gabfest gave way to Kerry spluttering at the UN Security Council about the need in Syria for U.S.-Russia “deconfliction.”
That’s just a sample of what’s been going on at the UN, where the problems abound both on the policy level and within the UN bureaucracy itself. The UN is a collective of 193 member states, in which the U.S. gets one vote in the General Assembly, and holds one of the five veto-wielding seats in the 15-member Security Council, but pays 22% of the assessed dues for the General Assembly budget, 28.57% of the annual peacekeeping bill, and varying but usually large percentages of the budgets for a welter of funds, programs and related entities that have proliferated into a diplomatically immune global labyrinth more dedicated to serving itself than the UN charter cause of peace. In this setup, U.S. tax dollars are treated largely as an entitlement, to be pocketed without gratitude or respect, and too often with scorn.
Here, for reference, is the UN’s chart of its own system, which has been evolving for decades into something that more closely resembles a neo-colonial empire than a conclave of governments.
Where, in all this, might Nikki Haley begin?
Step one, prosaic as it might sound, would be to get a handle on the full extent of current U.S. funding of the UN. It’s not only the State Department that funnels American resources to the world body. Money pours into the UN from departments across the federal budget. A while back, Congress made a point of requiring the Office of Management and Budget to submit a full annual report of all U.S. government contributions to the UN, across the board. That requirement expired in 2011, and it has been more than five years since the last full accounting — which for fiscal year 2010 came to $7.69 billion. One might guess that by now that sum is substantially larger. How much does it now come to, and what is it all going for?
Step two would be to explore quite fully what it means that the UN, for all its noble-sounding charter and self-righteous rhetoric, is not — as Obama likes to imply — an “international community” in which, against evil-doers, the members stand shoulder-to-shoulder. Some of the members are themselves evil-doers. And most if not all members are, as a rule, in it for themselves and their own domestic politics. In a UN forum that confers a certain de facto legitimacy on any regime that occupies a seat, the worst members have the strongest incentives to exploit their UN privileges to the hilt.
Thus has the UN Human Rights Council devolved repeatedly — despite “reforms” — into a favorite berth for despotisms seeking not to reform themselves, but to redefine “human rights.” Thus has the government of Iran, word’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, mastered the art of acquiring seats on the boards of major UN agencies, including its current seat on — what else? — the Executive Board of UN Women.
Step three would be to review some of the most stunning UN scandals, which — with their various blends of malfeasance, corruption, waste, fraud, abuse and coverups — offer a pretty good guide to a UN ethos that a team of the UN’s own investigators, looking into kickbacks in the UN procurement department, once dubbed a “culture of impunity.”
I’d suggest starting with the UN-run multi-billion dollar, terror-linked, global web of graft that was the 1996-2003 Oil-for-Food Program in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Then proceed to the 2007 Cash-for-Kim scandal, involving cash and dual-use items dispensed to the totalitarian government of North Korea by the UN’s flagship agency, the UN Development Program (where UN officials also turned out to be keeping counterfeit U.S. $100 banknotes in their Pyongyang office safe). Proceed to the more recent UN peacekeeping problems, including the cholera outbreak that killed thousands in Haiti thanks to UN negligence. Then there’s the apparently chronic problem of peacekeepers raping minors, which the UN, despite years of an official “zero tolerance” policy, has failed to stop. Or check out the $1 million-plus bribery case involving a former president of the General Assembly from 2013-2014, John Ashe, who died suddenly this June in his Dobbs Ferry, NY, home, while awaiting trial.
And then, steps four to infinity, there is the question — which needs constant asking — of whether the UN, with all its many flags and lavish rituals, is actually a vehicle on the road to peace, or an obstacle. Too often the UN serves as a handy facade for pretending to deal with trouble, while papering over frictions or rising problems, until they flare into deadly threats or serious conflict. Ten years of UN sanctions might sound good for keeping rogues in check, but they have not stopped North Korea’s nuclear program. The Iran nuclear deal, embraced by the UN Security Council, complete with annexes, has plenty of heft if you go by the amount of woodpulp. But that deal is more likely to abet than to stop Iran’s acquisition of the bomb. And so it goes.
When America’s next ambassador arrives at the UN next year, there will be a new secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, who is actually an old socialist, and a veteran of the UN bureaucracy with a record — according to the UN’s own auditors — of “critical” lapses in management. His record suggests that at a UN that can’t even keep track of its own funds, he’ll be chiefly dedicated to furthering the UN’s grab to become central planner for the planet. And there is still the threat that Obama, before leaving office in January, will make use of the UN, a quite genuine repository of anti-Semitism, to take a parting shot at one of America’s closest natural allies, the democratic state of Israel. That could be quite a job to remedy.
In dealing with any or all of this, Nikki Haley clearly has some idea already, and can find out a lot more at speed if she seeks advice from principled veterans of the UN, such as Ambassador Bolton (assuming he’s willing to offer), and sits down with the writings of the late and truly great Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick. A good place to start would be Kirkpatrick’s essay in the July 1989 issue of Commentary magazine, on “How the PLO Was Legitimized,” in which she explains how Yasser Arafat exploited the UN “to come to power through international diplomacy — reinforced by murder.” Yet more will very quickly become evident on the job.
What’s most needed in the next U.S. ambassador is character, judgment and backbone — whether Haley has what it takes, I don’t know. We may learn more at her Senate confirmation hearing; it will be interesting to see how she handles any hazing over her foreign-policy credentials, or lack thereof.
But what’s needed, above all, is a steely determination to stand up for America, to cut through the UN’s polysyllabic claptrap, to know not only how to make a deal, but when to walk away, how to summarize the UN’s anti-American perfidies to a busy American president, and how to spell out to the UN and its despot-infested assemblies that America is wedded first and above all to its own security and freedoms. That would cause shock and horror in many of the wood-paneled offices of New York and Washington, but I’d wager it would command a lot more respect at the UN, and compared to the Obama administration’s contortions of leading-from-behind while standing shoulder-to-shoulder, it would yield far greater benefits not only for America, but for the globe.