Just moments after President Trump announced his intent to nominate U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert to replace Ambassador Nikki Haley at the UN, the long knives were already out. A former Fox News show hostess, Nauert was said to have little substantive foreign policy experience and her nomination was an indication that President Trump was seeking to downgrade the role of UN Ambassador’s role in policy making. Some observers quickly suggested that Ambassador Haley had sometimes riled Mr. Trump by not always hewing strictly to the Administration’s party line and that he was anxious not to have that sort of thing rerecur.
But let’s not forget that Ms. Haley’s nomination was also greeted with skepticism. Her resume was built around her activities on the domestic side, and, indeed, she had no foreign policy background, coming to the UN after serving as the governor of South Carolina.
Yet, at all events, Ambassador Haley hit a home run as the US. representative. She regularly took on the Russians and the Chinese to further President Trump’s agenda of putting America first. She was also an extraordinarily effective advocate for change in the wooden way the UN invariably voted against Israel and for its enemies.
While the role of a UN Ambassador is largely as spokesperson for the positions of his or her government, there is no question that Ms. Haley brought certain personal gifts of analysis, persuasiveness, eloquence and forcefulness to her assignment, which planted the seeds of cooperation among friends and adversaries at particular times.
So there is little reason to think that Ms. Nauert is not up to the UN ambassadorship because of her lack of hands-on, substantive experience with foreign affairs. By all accounts, she was an intelligent and articulate discussant of a whole variety of public policy issues – including those of the international sort – in her Fox TV appearances. Moreover, she has been highly effective as the State Department spokesperson which required her to break down and explain often intractable policy issues.
What appeals most about her to us at The Jewish Press was the way she handled then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s apparent coolness towards Israel. It will be recalled that in early February, Tillerson went on a tour of the Middle East, ostensibly to discuss Israeli -Palestinian peace and the Syrian civil war.
His itinerary included stops in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait and Egypt, but pointedly not Israel. Many had criticized this omission and noted that President Obama had been excoriated by many over his failure to stop in Israel for a visit while in the area to make his Cairo speech in 2009.
Ms. Nauert massaged the controversy in what seemed to be a very personal pro-Israel way:
I kind of liken that to my relationship with my best friend from junior high school, Julie. She lives in the Midwest. Every time I go to the Midwest, I don’t get to see my friend Julie. Every time that Secretary Tillerson is going to go to the Middle East, he’s not going to be able to hit every single country. But there is no doubt in the mind of the Israeli government officials or our government officials that our bond is strong.
As they say, “Close but no cigar.” Under those circumstances, a bow to Israel would have been an enormous signal to the world of the centrality of Israel to U.S. foreign policy. But what comes through is the personal disposition that is both welcome and promising. To be sure it will be President Trump who will be calling the shots in the long run – and we have few qualms about that. But there is no substitute to personal commitment.