How Nikki Haley got her job as UN ambassador, and a major foreign policy spokesperson for the Trump administration, is a mystery, at least to me. Her vicious personal attacks on Trump when he was a candidate should’ve ruled her out from the get-go. Where oh where is Trump’s vaunted vindictiveness and alleged “narcissism” when we need it? Whereas Obama’s appointments were characterized as a “team of rivals,” Trump’s may rightly be considered a team of enemies.
As Governor of South Carolina, and a member of that state’s House of Representatives, Haley’s foreign policy experience is absolutely nil. Nor does her degree in accounting from Clemson University inspire confidence. Her record thus far has consisted of giving voice to the neoconservative tendency in the GOP – the very people Trump defeated in the GOP primaries. The conventional Republican foreign policy clichés we’ve heard for years pour forth from her mouth like vomit from a drunk. Her recent speech before the American Enterprise Institute on the nuclear deal with Iran is a perfect case in point.
Haley acknowledges that Iran is complying with the terms of the deal, but that, we’re told, is a mere “technical” detail. Compliance is irrelevant, she says:
“They think, ‘Well, as long as Iran is meeting the limits on enriched uranium and centrifuges, then it’s complying with the deal.’ That’s not true. This is a jigsaw puzzle.”
What exactly does this mean? According to Haley, the Iran deal consists of more than just the terms laid out in the agreement, known as the JCPOA: it’s also about a UN resolution calling on Iran to stop testing missiles and the legislation passed by Congress overseeing enforcement. Yet these are separate issues: the UN resolution she refers to endorsed the deal, and merely requested Iran to stop testing missiles. As for the Corker-Cardin legislation, it’s hard to imagine how Iran is answerable to the US Congress: this is pure fantasy on Haley’s part.
Speaking of pure fantasy, early on in her peroration our UN Ambassadress reveals herself as a rank amateur by calling into question the very legitimacy of the Iranian regime:
“Judging any international agreement begins and ends with the nature of the government that signed it. Does it respect international law? Can it be trusted to abide by its commitments? Is the agreement strong enough to withstand the regime’s attempts to cheat? Given these answers, is the agreement in the national interests of the United States?
“The Islamic Republic of Iran was born in an act of international lawbreaking. On November 4, 1979, a group of Islamic revolutionary students overran the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. In violation of international law, they held 52 American Marines and diplomats hostage for 444 days.
“For the 38 years since, the Iranian regime has existed outside the community of law-abiding nations. Henry Kissinger famously said that Iran can’t decide whether it is a nation or a cause.
“Since 1979, the regime has behaved like a cause – the cause of spreading revolutionary Shiite Islam by force. Its main enemy and rallying point has been and continues to be what it calls the Great Satan . . . the United States of America.”
Why should anyone take her seriously at this point? However, just for the fun of it, let us take on the core of her argument: the idea that “judging any international agreement begins and ends with the nature of the government that signed it.”
By this standard, any agreement reached with a non-democratic country – say, Saudi Arabia, or China – is invalid, inherently illegitimate, and bound to be broken. Indeed, how many countries in the world live up to Ms. Haley’s exacting standards? By her lights, we shouldn’t even be in the United Nations!
During World War I, we loaned Britain substantial amounts on the condition that they would pay back their debts with interest. Yet they defaulted. Was this due to the “nature” of the British government?
Nations sign and abide by – or fail to keep — agreements in pursuit of their perceived interests: it has nothing to do with their “nature,” i.e. with their domestic political arrangements. That Haley fails to understand this basic principle of international diplomacy underscores her unfitness for the job of UN ambassador.
Another Haley howler is her contention that “For the 38 years since [the taking of the US embassy in Tehran] the Iranian regime has existed outside the community of law-abiding nations.” This is news to the ninety-nine countries that maintain embassies in Tehran, the Iranian capital, including Britain, France, Spain, Germany, and most of the rest of our NATO allies. Our allies in the East – Japan, South Korea – also maintain full diplomatic relations with the Iranian government. Only Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the US maintain “interest sections” via the Swiss diplomatic corps (Canada has contact with Tehran via the Italians).
So much for Iran being “outside the community of law-abiding nations”! Indeed, the reality is quite the opposite: alongside the Egyptian dictatorship and the Saudi despotism, the US and Canada are alone in ostracizing Tehran.
Which brings us to an important point: although there is much speculation that Haley’s speech is a prelude to the Trump administration pulling out of the Iran deal, the reality is that this is highly unlikely. Haley herself hints at this when she avers that “the deal was constructed in a way that makes leaving it less attractive.” Well, yes, leaving the deal would give Iran the green light to move ahead with a nuclear weapons program – endangering the entire region, provoking an arms race, and raising the possibility of yet another Middle Eastern war. So here she acknowledges, albeit indirectly, the benefits of the deal.
And there’s another point to be made: the US was not alone in shaping and ultimately signing on to the Iran deal. The other signatories are Britain, Russia, France, China, and Germany. If the Trump administration pulls out, the others will ignore the US sanctions on Tehran, a state of affairs that will merely underscore Washington’s impotence.
Haley’s amalgam of innuendo – Iran, she avers, is secretly violating the deal, although she provides us with no evidence – historical revisionism, and outright absurdity is not aimed at Iran, or the international community. Like most foreign policy pronouncements of this – or any other – administration, it’s meant for domestic consumption. Aside from projecting “strength,” and “toughness,” it’s a sop to the powerful Israel lobby, which has been smarting from its failure to scotch the deal, as well as to those neoconservatives in the GOP who hate Trump and will continue hating him no matter what he does or doesn’t do about Iran.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump said he wouldn’t pull out of the Iran deal but would instead strenuously “police” it. This may well be one of his campaign promises that the President will actually keep. What’s likely to happen is that Trump will throw this in the lap of Congress – as he’s doing with the DACA issue – in order to avoid taking a position one way or the other. As with most of what comes out of this administration, especially when it comes to foreign policy, the Haley speech is simply bombast. Or, as Shakespeare characterized life itself, it’s “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.