NOW I understand why columnist Suzanne Fields calls Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, a “superstar in the cabinet of Donald Trump”.
In an administration that has been wracked by disarray and missteps, the former governor of South Carolina has emerged as the most forceful articulator of Trump’s new foreign policy. She has turned heads and won admirers with her work in the approval of the critical UN Security Council resolution to impose new sanctions on North Korea, the progress towards resolution of the Syrian civil war, and the impetus for the reform of the United Nations system.
PH and human rights
Lately in this traditional month of public oratory at the United Nations, the lady has turned her gaze to the subject of the Philippines and the big to-do about human rights.
Haley placed her voice squarely on the side of President Duterte and the Philippines.
In resonant words that clearly showed what she thinks and where US foreign policy is going, Haley told the UN General Assembly and international human rights organizations:
“The Philippines is suffocating. We must give President Duterte the space to run his nation. We must respect their independence … It is not in our purview to decide administrative issues for the Philippines…
“That is the job of the president.”
Haley elaborated: “Destructive forces have never given the Duterte administration enough space to jump-start his programs of government; they did not even afford him the proverbial honeymoon period…. Now, they have calibrated their plot to ouster movements and this is just the second year of his presidency.”
She called on human rights groups (the UN’s included) to be impartial and not take political sides while dispensing their duties in any particular nation.
She asked HR groups in the Philippines to engage in consultations with the Duterte government and shun political stances which may lead to a loss of relevance and credibility for the country.
Rise of a superstar
Bullseye. Haley could not have hit her target more squarely. The unerring aim is partly the subject of Fields’ syndicated column (“Nikki Haley: Trump’s cabinet superstar”, Washington Times, August 11, 2017), which recounts how Haley transformed her UN post into a platform for leading, not for just following.
Fields wrote: “She (Haley) took the lead in persuading China and Russia to join the sanctioning of North Korea, all to persuade North Korean President Kim Jong-un to think again about his boastful threat to ignite World War 3.
“Haley used Kim’s reckless exuberance with his nuclear toys to win the approval of United Nations Resolution 2371, which she calls ‘the single largest economic sanctions package ever leveled against the North Korean regime’ and ‘the most stringent set of sanctions on any country in a generation’.
“If enforced to the limit—and that’s a big ‘if’—the effects could reduce Pyongyang’s exports by $1 billion, which is approximately a third of its revenue from exports.
“North Korea sees ‘the international community standing with one voice,’ Haley says. ‘China didn’t pull off. Russia didn’t pull off. All of the Security Council and the international community said, ‘That’s enough. You’ve got to stop it. It’s reckless. It’s irresponsible.’ The international community really laid down the groundwork of saying, ‘We’re not going to watch you do this anymore’.”
Haley prospered at the UN by working hard to build close relationships with other delegations. Over the first months of her tenure, she earned the respect of other delegates that enabled her to rally support for American positions on Syria and North Korea.
Her frequent and aggressive scolding of Russian support for Syrian President Bashar Assad earned her a reputation for leading, as well as following, American policy. She squelched the longstanding Russian goal of making Russia the moral actor in the Syrian civil war. And she still won Russian support for the sanctions vote.
Little more than a year ago, she seemed unlikely to be part of a Trump administration. She clashed with then-candidate Trump on the eve of the South Carolina primary, having said sharp things about him and
endorsed Sen. Mario Rubio.
Trump unleashed a Twitter attack. “The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!” he tweeted angrily. But that was forgotten by both of them when Trump assembled his cabinet. He needed someone who knew how to speak up, even to him. She learned in South Carolina, as only a governor can, how to twist arms to rally support.
Someone asked Haley whether she had to twist a lot of arms to bring Russia and China along on the sanctions vote. She replied: “Yes, we did.”
Sovereignty of nations
The biggest boost for the Philippines in the unveiling of Trump’s new foreign policy doctrine will likely lie in its unblushing endorsement and defense of the sovereignty of nations. He espouses not only America’s return to greatness; he recognizes the sovereignty of rival powers like Russia and China, and virtually all nations. And that, of course, includes the Philippines.
America under Trump is turning away from the architecture of liberal internationalism that has been dominant in international relations for so many decades, since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The triumph of populism in many countries and the ascendancy of nationalism signal a new and challenging international environment.
President Duterte was indubitably right in steering Philippine foreign policy towards closer relations with China, Russia, Asean, while taking care to forge strong relations with the US.
These developments invest added significance to the coming Asean leaders’ summit in November, which the country will host and where the US, China, and Russia, and other major nations will be in attendance.
The Philippines is destined to become a bigger player in international affairs, commensurate to its size and impressive growth.
Downer for Tindig coalition
At the other end of the spectrum, Haley’s remarks will be a downer for the newly formed Tindig Pilipinas and human rights organizations in the country.
The hope of the opposition that human rights violations or extra-judicial killings (EJKs) will be the kryptonite to bring down the Duterte presidency may have received a mortal blow. The enthusiasm of US media for grisly stories about the drug war will peter out.
There is now zero chance that the US will countenance regime change in the Philippines. Tindig could become a wallflower at the dance.
I urge President Duterte and his key advisers to employ Haley’s imaginative use of language to advantage. It should encourage DU30 to temper and refine his vocabulary of command.
Getting the space to lead and govern is what every leader of substance craves for. I will only add the caveat that the space should be used wisely for worthy and noble ends.