This past Thursday, the University of Chicago hosted Nikki Haley for her first public appearance at an American university since her appointment as US Ambassador to the United Nations. She was joined by Institute of Politics Executive Director David Axelrod, who asked questions ranging from Russian meddling in the 2016 election to the Parkland tragedy.
This was Haley’s second time on campus; her first visit was in 2014, as Governor of South Carolina. On Thursday she opened with a strong speech regarding her mission as ambassador to the United Nations, which she believes necessitates combining idealism and realism in order to advance American economic, strategic, and human rights interests. She maintained, “That doesn’t mean we should always get our way,” but the United States should be able to expect something in return for its investment in the United Nations, whether that be “feeding and clothing refugees, or isolating the rogue regime in North Korea.” This mindset, she hopes, will enable the United States to cooperate collectively and constructively with other countries.
Next, she delved into accomplishments made at the United Nations in the past year, namely the passage of three “increasingly comprehensive” sanctions packages leveled against North Korea. The sanctions ban all North Korean exports and restrict 90 percent of its trade, putting pressure on its missile program and forcing the Kim regime into desperate “public relations damage-control,” as demonstrated by Pyongyang’s perceived openness towards South Korea at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. At the time of the vote, Ambassador Haley declared that they were “the most stringent set of sanctions on any country in the past generation,” but some purport they will do little to hinder Pyongyang’s nuclear missile program, as the Kim regime is accustomed to governing under adverse conditions. Whether or not these sanctions will bring constructive change remains to be seen.
However, Ambassador Haley warned that for every “successful” North Korea outcome at the United Nations, there is a Syria, where attempts to stop dictator Bashar al-Assad from committing egregious human rights violations against his own people are repeatedly thwarted by one country: Russia. She attributed such a blockade of action to certain countries at the United Nations who “do not share American values” and stated that if the United States is acting in support of what is right, it is willing to act alone.
To begin the ensuing Q&A period, David Axelrod asked a question from a UChicago student, who suggested that the United States is “buying” votes from potential allies in the United Nations by rewarding those who vote in favor of American interests with foreign aid. Haley responded to this accusation with a reiteration of her earlier message that the United States has a strategic investment in the United Nations—just as no one expects their personal investments to “come back and bite them,” the United States should not expect anything of the kind from the United Nations.
Additional student questions followed regarding the decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Ambassador Haley emphasized that by moving the embassy, the United States was acting in accordance with what Congress had voted on time and again and that the the Trump administration was not actually taking a stance towards a potential resolution of the conflict. Axelrod pushed Ambassador Haley further, insisting that the move was a manifestation of American bias towards Israel, which could hinder an ultimate resolution. The Ambassador, in what some consider to be her trademark strongwoman style, pushed right back, pointing out that after the embassy moved, “The sky didn’t fall, and now the negotiations can start between the Israelis and the Palestinians.” While the sky certainly did not fall, the move did have consequences: the United States’ Arab allies vehemently attacked the decision and the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Central Council voted to suspend its recognition of Israel.
The conversation remained cordial for the remainder of the night, with David Axelrod maintaining what could be appropriately deemed unbiased moderation and Ambassador Haley holding her own as a calculated but confident politician. Her consistently sunny demeanor and carefully crafted responses, even in the face of several pointed questions, were a marked change from the unpredictability of the President she serves. Speaking on President Trump’s fondness for unfiltered Twitter posts, Ambassador Haley remarked, “I don’t know what to expect when I wake up in the morning.” Luckily for her, she thinks this uncertainty “makes [her] job interesting.”
Serving such a volatile President as Ambassador to the gridlocked United Nations requires someone of tough character and strong will, and Ambassador Haley’s talk on Thursday night indicates that she is well-suited to this challenge. Going forward, one can expect much more fire and brimstone from Ambassador Haley and can only hope that she stands by her promise to speak up for what is right.
The recorded talk can be found here.Molly McCammon is a Staff Writer for the Gate. The image featured in this article was taken by the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics.
Molly McCammon is a first-year prospective double major in Philosophy and Political Science. On campus she is a data research assistant for the Chicago Project on Security Threats (CPOST), involved in EUChicago, and volunteers with non-profit Sirat, helping conduct ESL lessons for Syrian refugees living in Hyde Park. In her free time she enjoys running, reading, and finding Chicago’s best baklava.