Heather Nauert has reportedly been asked by Donald Trump to serve as his Ambassador to the United Nations. She would replace Nikki Haley, who announced her departure last month.

Nauert currently serves as the spokesperson for the State Department and before that worked as a journalist, most recently for Fox News. Her experience both facing questions from reporters and asking questions as a reporter may serve Nauert well in Turtle Bay, where being an effective communicator is an important part of the job of UN Ambassador.

One Key Question is Whether or Not Nauert will Serve in the President’s Cabinet

Unlike Democrats, Republican administrations typically do not make the UN Ambassador a cabinet level position. The exception was Nikki Haley, who insisted on joining the cabinet as a condition of her nomination.

Whether or not the UN Ambassador is in the cabinet has both bureaucratic and political implications.

In any administration — Republican or Democrat — there is always some bureaucratic tension between the UN Ambassador and Secretary of State. The UN Ambassador manages a large mission in New York with portfolios and priorities that sometime overlap and compete with similar agendas in Foggy Bottom. If the UN Ambassador is a member of the cabinet, the big debates get hashed out through what is known as the “inter-agency process.” In National Security Council meetings, the UN ambassador and Secretary of State could present opposing views on an issue, with the president ultimately making the final decision.  If the the UN Ambassador is not a cabinet official, then the Ambassador would report directly to the Secretary of State, as opposed to the President. The Secretary of State can overrule the UN Ambassador.

This is significant politically because when the UN Ambassador is a cabinet official her or his interlocutors at the UN can be more reasonably assured that the position being advocated by the US Ambassador is one that is supported by the president. They can also be more reasonable assured that the UN Ambassador speaks directly for the president–rather than through another layer of bureaucracy. This is why it is generally more diplomatically advantageous for the UN Ambassador to be in the cabinet.

Previous Experience Matters. And Here, Nauert Brings Something Different

Prior to Nikki Haley, the previous three US Ambassadors to the United Nations were Zalmay Khalilzad, Susan Rice and Samantha Power. All three had experience specific to a vital function of the United Nations: conflict management. Khalilzad previously served as the US Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan. Susan Rice was a longtime Africa specialist, who in the 1990s served in the State Department managing responses to conflicts on the continent. Samantha Power was a journalist whose Pulitzer Prize winning book examined responses to genocide, and as a White House official she helped design new policy mechanisms to respond to mass atrocities.

Haley did not have any of that experience in conflict management. What she lacked in experience coming into the job, she made up for in political skill and was able to form a good working relationship with the UN’s top conflict manager, Secretary General Antonio Guterres. She also demonstrated early on that she was a quick study of UN.

The experience that Nauert brings to the job is as a communicator. She was a longtime television host and served for the last year as the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, which made her the spokesperson for the State Department specifically and American foreign policy more generally.

The job of a communicator is to shape and deliver messages — not, generally, to shape and deliver policy. Still, the job of the UN Ambassador, though, is one in which a communicator might thrive. Giving public speeches and making public pronouncements are an essential part of the job. We know that Nauert can excel at that.

The big question should she assume the job is whether or not her skills as a communicator can balance her lack of experience as a diplomat, politician or conflict specialist?

 

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