As Nikki Haley Resigns, US Foreign Policy Becomes More ‘Trumpist’

The upcoming departure of Nikki Haley from the position of the US Ambassador to the UN is an unexpected but logical event. Although the main political imperative is domestic (to prevent a split in the Republican Party on the eve of the next presidential election in 2020), it will have a noticeable impact on the US foreign policy. It will become even more “Trumpist”, and will be determined in its formation by serious strengthening of the Mike Pompeo-John Bolton tandem, who are both loyal to Trump and do not argue with his foreign policy leadership.

Anyway, Haley’s departure was a matter of time. She did not fit into the circle of people with whom Trump would like to be surrounded, and was a big exception in his team. During the 2016 election campaign, she harshly criticized Trump and openly supported his rival Marco Rubio. And while already working as ambassador to the UN, she showed far greater loyalty to the president than, for instance, former Secretary of State Tillerson, but Trump does not forget criticism. Initially, the choice fell on her not because the new president liked Nikki Haley, but on the basis of political expediency at that time: offering the post of ambassador to the UN to a bright representative of the Republican elite and the establishment (and at the same time a relatively young and new politician compared to, for example, Vice President Pence), Trump sought to unite around himself the party and its elite, to force them to accept him as the party leader. Today, with few exceptions, this task is fulfilled.

Nikki Haley looked more harmoniously in the Trump administration in 2017, when his foreign policy team consisted mostly of people disloyal to him, often in an open clinch, who believed that their task was to ensure the continuity of the US foreign policy and minimize the impact of the president, to pursue not a “Trumpist” policy, but a traditional GOP course.

Those were former Secretary of State Tillerson and National Security Adviser McMaster.

However, the situation changed in 2018. Having saved and consolidated his electorate and strengthened his position in the Republican Party, Trump began to get rid of disloyal people and surround himself with like-minded officials. Compared to Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, who never publicly contradicted Trump, questioned his status as the head of the country’s foreign policy or tried to overshadow him in the information space, the independent Nikki Haley looked deviant. Of course, she did not allow herself such blatant manifestations of disloyalty as McMaster, who publicly denied some of the president’s statements, and Tillerson, who used obscene words against Trump. In general, her line at the UN corresponded to the priorities of the administration. And yet, Hayley positioned herself too independently: she announced some foreign policy steps (anti-Russian sanctions this spring) before they were finally approved by the president and openly made it clear that she did not need guidance, at least from other Trump subordinates.

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Expert Opinions

Such independence became particularly undesirable in the context of Bolton’s and Pompeo’s apparent attempts to consolidate the US foreign policy in their hands. With a high degree of probability they were the ones who posed the question of Haley’s dismissal before Trump. On the one hand, in the United States, the UN representative is a cabinet minister, and from this point of view, Nikki Haley’s desire to play an independent role without Pompeo and Bolton is explicable. Moreover, unlike both of them, she is a political heavyweight — the former governor of South Carolina and, in general, the rising star of the Republican Party (by way of comparison, prior to Trump’s appointment of Mike Pompeo as CIA director and later Secretary of State, he was only a member of the House of Representatives for six years). However, in reality, Haley’s independence and high political authority were simply incompatible with the efforts of Pompeo and Bolton to build a foreign policy apparatus for themselves, obviously, in accordance with Trump’s desire. And here personal proximity to the president and his support played a role.

In this regard, a new US ambassador to the UN is a priori going to have much less political power than Pompeo and Bolton, and neither desire nor ability to challenge their authority. That is confirmed by the list of the candidates for the post. The position of the US ambassador to the UN is becoming formal and diplomatic instead of political, which is also quite regular for American practice. Under Obama, Susan Rice and Samantha Power, who held this post, were incomparable in terms of their political influence with the Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, accepting their superiority.

Finally, there is a third, purely domestic factor that pushed Trump to the decision to transfer Nikki Haley to another job in his administration. With all her great qualities (the six-year experience of governorship, five years in the House of Representatives, her gender and young age (she is only 46), commitment to conservative values, business skills, charisma, intelligence, etc.) at the time of her present appointment she was already being considered a promising leader for the Republican Party, its new face. While working as Ambassador to the UN and positioning herself as a head of the US foreign policy, independent from the Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor, Nikki Haley was constantly in the focus of public attention, so her political authority grew even more. That made the representatives of the elite, still considering Trump a stranger and a source of problems for the Republicans, start talking about her as the desirable leader of the party and a possible candidate for the presidency in 2020.

That threatened a split within the party, which had only recently rallied around Trump, who obviously does not want to quit and will run for re-election in 2020. Considering the likely victory of the Democrats in the November midterm elections to Congress, there was a high probability that the Republican Party elite would blame Donald Trump for the loss and promote Haley as the desirable party leader and presidential candidate of 2020 even more actively. For the Republicans, such a split would have been a disaster capable of destroying the “Grand Old Party.” However, the majority of ordinary party members are still standing for Donald Trump. So, before the mid-term elections to Congress, it was necessary to remove Haley from the center of public attention. It would also be dangerous for the President to part with her completely: having left the Administration, she is likely to become his political rival.

The final solution seems to be the best: Haley does not leave the administration, but until 2020, she will obviously hold a less public position. Then, if Donald Trump wins the presidential election once again, we should expect Nikki Haley to return to active political life – not as Trump’s potential rival, but as his possible successor in 2024.

It is very likely that in the period 2021-2024 she will be offered the State Secretary post. Thus, continuity and stability in the Republican Party will be ensured, and Trump will finally become not the destroyer of the party, but the creator of its new image.
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Expert Opinions

So far, for the US foreign policy, the outcomes of Haley’s resignation will be the strengthening of Donald Trump’s personal leadership at the PR level and the concentration of the real power in the hands of Pompeo and Bolton, acting in a kind of balance with Defense Minister James Mattis. Time will show how stable this balance will be and whether it will turn into an open conflict. With the disappearance of Nikki Haley as a “third pillar”, the danger is high. On the other hand, in terms of values ​​and approaches, the foreign policy bloc of the US Administration is becoming even more homogeneous. It will turn even more one-sided, utilitarian to allies and offensive to rivals (tightening of the policy will occur primarily in relation to China and Iran), committed to ensure that the US can do whatever it wants. Disregarding international organizations and international law, skepticism with regard to arms control (which is very dangerous from the perspective of evolution of the US-Russian relations and international security) will further intensify. US foreign trade mercantilism will go on.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.