Nikki Haley, the fiery US ambassador to the United Nations, seems to have crossed swords with her boss in the White House. President Trump is said to have taken to shouting at the TV whenever he sees her making statements.
Last weekend, the spat flew spectacularly into the open when Trump undercut Haley over her claims that the White House was about to impose new sanctions on Russia. Trump’s blood pressure reportedly surged with rage at her apparent uppityness to make up policy on the hoof.
Next day, the Trump administration pointedly announced it was holding off on new sanctions against Moscow. Haley was embarrassingly left hanging out to dry. A senior Trump aide told US media that the UN ambassador had gotten “confused”. Haley then hit back at the slight, saying she “doesn’t get confused”.
There seems little doubt that the former South Carolina governor who was once such a rising star in Team Trump has now fallen out of favor with the president.
Such rapid reversal in fortune is par for the course for those who work for Trump. Rex Tillerson, HR McMaster, and many other senior members of his administration, have all been ditched by the president at a moment’s notice, usually via his Twitter feed.
Nikki Haley would likewise be advised to watch her back. Any day, she might find herself out of a job.
Ever since she was appointed as envoy to the UN, 46-year-old Haley has gained an unenviable reputation of being something of firebrand. She has delighted the hawkish wing on Capitol Hill with her belligerent tirades against Iran, North Korea and Russia. For a while too, Trump seemed to think she was doing “a great job”.
But lately, her bravura performances at the UN Security Council have apparently rankled Trump for displaying a little too much self-importance and ambition. The word is that the president – himself a person with excessive egotism – views Haley as being a little too big for her boots, who harbors secret plans to one day occupy the White House.
The New York Times this week reported on growing jealousies and insecurities between the president and his UN ambassador. Trump is wary that Haley’s grandstanding at the UN is more about advancing her political reputation among the Republican party, with a view to launching a run for the presidency in 2020. There is even talk of Haley teaming up with the current vice president Mike Pence for the presidential ticket. Trump has his eye on being re-elected, and is none too pleased with the conjecture about Haley striving to become the first female president.
Apart from grubby political jealousies and infighting could there be anything more significant in the dimming star of Nikki Haley?
Trump’s abrupt intervention to scotch the latest round of sanctions against Russia may indicate a pragmatic realization that relations between Washington and Moscow are sliding much too dangerously.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has recently warned of dire deterioration in bilateral relations to the worst years of the old Cold War.
Russia’s envoy to the UN, Vasily Nebenzia – Haley’s counterpart – has also deplored that the way things are unraveling a war between the US and Russia cannot be ruled out. The worst flashpoint seems to be in Syria, where Russian troops are based, especially after Trump ordered a barrage of the country with over 100 missiles last weekend.
That barrage was on the back of a dubious chemical-weapons incident, which Trump blamed on Syrian government forces and their Russian ally. Syria and Russia have dismissed the claims, saying the incident was a premeditated provocation carried out by Western-backed militants and their media associates in the so-called White Helmets.
Moscow has reportedly expressed grave concerns to the Trump administration that the situation in Syria is at risk of escalating into a full-blown war between the US and Russia. It seems senior officials within the Trump administration are also acutely aware of the risk. Pentagon chief James Mattis reportedly cautioned Trump to limit the air strikes and to avoid Syrian and Russian casualties.
Perhaps too Trump has been given pause for thought over the initial allegations of Syrian and Russian complicity in the chemical-weapon incident in Douma on April 7. A growing number of Western journalists and politicians are questioning the authenticity of claims of an atrocity, and are openly saying that it was a “false flag” aimed at provoking US, British and French military strikes. This is exactly what Russia had been warning of in the lead up to the strikes on April 14.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is reportedly still willing to give Trump a chance to try to normalize relations between Washington and Moscow.
That could be why Trump is increasingly exasperated by Nikki Haley. Her bellicose diatribes at the UN have plunged US-Russian relations into a bottomless pit.
While Trump has expressed at times a desire to improve relations with Putin, Haley has sounded the diametric opposite with her relentless hostility towards Russia. Evidently, Haley cannot think beyond a prism of Russophobia. Which is not a constructive position for White House policy. She, after all, is supposed to be an envoy for the president, not his policymaker.
Only days after being collared by Trump over Russian sanctions, Haley this week showed a marked change in tone at the UN concerning Russia. As 21st Century Wire reported, Haley appeared to be backtracking from her previous intransigent stance for blaming Russia over the Skripal poisoning affair in England. No longer is Haley categorically claiming a Russian state assassination plot. She is now leaving open the possibility that Russia may have lost control of its nerve agents which got into wrong hands. It’s still a load of codswallop, but as 21st Century Wire points out, Haley is “hedging” her position and weakening her accusations against Russia.
Now, the question is: has President Trump concluded that Nikki Haley is a liability, not an asset? Her Russophobia and political ambition seem to have overtaken her judgment, and are precluding any chance of a normal relation between the US and Russia. In short, she is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Relations between the US and Russia have sunk to treacherous levels. Trump seems to have enough savvy to know that the downward dynamic has to stop before rock-bottom catastrophe hits.
Admittedly, US presidents are only figureheads when up against the Deep State and longterm strategic planning. So, Trump may not be able to divert the underlying dangerous direction of relations that Washington seems hellbent on towards Russia.
But if Trump stands to have any go at all at alleviating tensions with Russia, one thing is sure: Nikki Haley has to go.