Jon Lerner, '95: The Factors that Contributed to Ambassador Haley's Successes

The UN and Israel in the Nikki Haley Era

To most Americans, there is a certain sameness to their country’s role at the United Nations, and this role is not an especially pleasant one. While many U.S. ambassadors have served ably, few have won public acclaim beyond diplomatic circles. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jeane Kirkpatrick clearly did. Many would add to that distinguished short list Ambassador Nikki Haley, who recently ended her two-year UN tenure. 

Haley’s time was marked by several achievements, from North Korea sanctions, to the South Sudan arms embargo, to financial savings and reforms. But she was probably best known for her record on Israel. In fact, Israel’s UN ambassador, Danny Danon, went as far as saying, “With Nikki Haley’s appointment as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a new era was born.”

Was a new era really born? If so, what was new about it? And how did it happen that the former South Carolina governor who had never been to either Israel or the United Nations before accepting this diplomatic assignment would come to earn this reputation as a pathbreaker, a reputation now widely endorsed by both friends and enemies of Israel? I have thoughts on these questions, having served as Haley’s deputy and as a member of the National Security Council’s Deputies Committee. I worked closely with her on policy-making throughout her time at the UN, including on the Middle East and Israel–Palestinian issues.

Myths are sometimes assets in international relations. The fiction that Taiwan is not an independent country, for example, allows us to sustain our relationship with China. In other cases, however, myths can create serious problems. On Israel–Palestinian issues, the Trump administration was determined to test some mythical propositions that many had come to take for granted and, in some cases, to refute them. Haley’s prominence at the UN arose in large part from a conscious choice to reject myths that pervaded diplomacy on Israel–Palestinian issues for decades.

Four factors account for Haley’s extraordinary performance.

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