When Nikki Haley was selected as UN Ambassador she had a very limited foreign policy experience. No one really knew what to expect. But during her confirmation hearing, Haley displayed a sophisticated understanding of the United Nations and US-UN relations. She showed that she was both a quick study and would likely embrace a kind of traditional Republican approach to the United Nations. And she more or less did. With the notable exception of embracing a hostility towards Palestinians beyond the pale of her predecessors, she was generally in the mainstream of the historic, bi-partisan approaches to the UN.
Donald Trump, though, came to office defying traditional Republican approaches to foreign policy. The only consistent thing about his first two years in office were that he was consistently unpredictable. Early in his presidency, it was extremely difficult to understand if Trump had any guiding principles at all, though many around the UN worried that his mantra of “America First” would lead inexorable to a clash on First Avenue that could destroy the UN and destabilize the liberal world order.
But while Trump set out to destroy, disparage or otherwise weaken other multilateral institutions, the United Nations was largely spared — thanks in large part to Nikki Haley.
Nikki Haley’s greatest accomplishment was managing Donald Trump’s relationship with the United Nations.
Upon arriving at the UN in 2017, Haley quickly formed an early partnership with Antonio Guterres, himself only recently installed as UN Secretary General. Together, they successfully pushed for some much needed reforms to the bureaucratic structure of the United Nations. These reforms were championed by Guterres and fully embraced by the United States. Indeed, Donald Trump’s very first engagement at the United Nations as US President was a meeting at the UN General Assembly intending to praise these management reforms at the United Nations.
By all accounts, Haley’s engineered a fine working relationship between Guterres (a former prime minister of Portugal and skilled politician) and Donald Trump. Last month, Trump heaped praise on the Secretary General during a toast at a luncheon at the United Nations, calling him a friend and commending his job performance.
Trump’s affinity for personalities around the UN has translated into support for the UN itself. While other multilateral forums, like NATO and the G-7, have triggered Trump’s ire, he’s been generally positively disposed to the UN.
Nikki Haley deserves credit for helping the United Nations remain favorably viewed by the US President — an accomplishment that is very much valuable for America’s long term interests at the UN. She is clearly a talented politician and she used those skills to create a productive working relationship between the White House and the United Nations. It is impossible to predict what kind of damage an impulsive and unpredictable president might have inflicted on the United Nations with out someone of her political skill managing the Trump’s relationship with the United Nations. To that end, mitigating any potential damage Trump could have inflicted on the United Nations will be her most significant legacy as UN Ambassador.