Granted, Haley was at the forefront of several of Trump’s core initiatives, from staunchly defending Israel at the United Nations to building the case for U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal to pushing sanctions against North Korea through the UN Security Council. In our conversation, she credited the president’s threats of war against North Korea with helping her pass the sanctions and lauded the administration’s exit from the Iran deal and move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as proof that the United States was “not afraid to stand alone if it’s for the right things.”
Yet she acknowledged that she and the president had substantive disagreements. “I get where he wants to go, and I just have my different style of getting us there,” she told me. “There are certainly things that we don’t agree on … My job is to go and do what he needs me to do. But for the most part, he’s been very willing to listen and very willing to come around.”
This independence was apparently by design. Trump “knew that I was someone that had strong beliefs and opinions and voiced them. And he said that that was one of the reasons he wanted me to do this job,” Haley once recalled.
These days, however, independence in the Trump administration seems more like a design flaw. And it’s in that context that Nauert could soon arrive at the United Nations. The Trump administration has both sought to reform the UN and steadily disengaged from it by pulling the United States out of the international body’s Paris climate agreement, Global Compact for Migration, and cultural and human-rights organizations, while cutting funding for the UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees—all on the grounds of putting America first.
When I asked UN Secretary-General António Guterres this fall whether he was worried about the United States under Trump withdrawing entirely from the United Nations, which the U.S. was instrumental in creating and sustaining after World War II, Guterres tellingly didn’t rule out the scenario. “I will do everything possible to avoid it,” he responded.
Nauert, for her part, didn’t spend a lot of time at the State Department discussing the United Nations. But it came up in the second question she ever fielded as spokesperson. Asked why she had released a statement that mourned the death of the head of the UN Population Fund and recognized his efforts to secure “stronger, more affordable and accessible maternal health and reproductive health care services,” given that the Trump administration had just accused the Population Fund of supporting abortion and eliminated all funding for it, Nauert toed the administration line.
“We sent out that announcement because he passed away,” she explained, declining to say whether the organization was doing good work or not. President Trump, she added, was focused on “protecting the interests of Americans first.”
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Uri Friedman is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers global affairs.
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