When US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley resigned on Tuesday, surprising many — including the UN missions of some of the US’s closest allies — two kinds of reactions began rolling in.
On one hand, there were those who saw her as a bulwark for traditional US values in an administration that seems increasingly content to part with them. On the other, there were those who saw her as complicit in tearing apart the international order, and the multilateral institutions of which it’s comprised.
What is Haley’s actual legacy? The facts show a bit of both.
1. Getting Russia and China on board for sanctions on North Korea
In August 2017, the UN Security Council unanimously agreed to what Haley hailed as “the most stringent set of sanctions on any country in a generation.” The sanctions called for a total ban on North Korean exports, including coal, and targeted institutions and individuals aiding North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
The sanctions were, and are, hailed as one of Haley’s greatest achievements. “Haley may have been tough on the UN in public, but she has actually been a fairly pragmatic ambassador, willing to do deals on issues like sanctions against DPRK with China and Russia,” Richard Gowan, senior fellow at United Nations University, said in a message to BuzzFeed News. Even her political adversaries noted her work, with Senator Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, thanking her "for her service," though Markey's statement also noted that "truly dealing with the North Korean nuclear threat" required America to be in the driver's seat, implying that Haley was not.
The sanctions were a part of the campaign of “maximum pressure” that many believe helped bring Kim Jong Un to Singapore for his summit with Haley’s boss, US President Donald Trump, this June.
Still, nothing gold can stay, and, in September, Haley was accusing Russia of covering up North Korea sanctions violations. Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia strongly rejected her accusations.
2. Keeping a traditional US line on Russia
It wasn’t just the September accusations. Unlike the president, Haley delivered a consistent message to the United Nations and the world regarding her, and the US’s, stance on Russia, once even announcing sanctions on the country that the White House later walked back (White House officials said Haley had gotten confused; Haley famously retorted, “with all due respect, I don’t get confused”).
At a UN Security Council briefing in May on the subject of instability in Ukraine, Haley condemned “in the strongest terms, Russia's involvement in eastern Ukraine and its purported annexation of Crimea,” which she called, "a textbook example of the direct violation of the sovereignty of one (UN) member state by another member state."
“Her attitude to the most pressing issues was [an] example to many,” Volodymyr Yelchenko, permanent representative to the Ukrainian mission of the United Nations, wrote in a text to BuzzFeed News. “Her tough stance on Russian aggression against Ukraine is of particular importance for my country.”
In July — the same month that Trump met and praised Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki — Haley told the Christian Broadcasting Network, “We don’t trust Russia, we don’t trust Putin, we never will.”
3. Pulling the US out of the Human Rights Council and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees
Haley did make changes, however, on the US approach to the United Nations — namely, by leaving the Human Rights Council and cutting US funding from the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
Gowan noted, “While she has pushed the UN hard to cut its costs, she has avoided doing irreparable financial damage to the institution.”
But some financial damage was done. Haley came in demanding reforms from the multilateral organization, and, when they weren’t made, she and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — with whom she reportedly got along better than she did with his predecessor, Rex Tillerson — announced that the US was withdrawing from the Human Rights Council.
In June, Haley called the council “a protector of human rights abusers, and a cesspool of political bias,” later adding that the “chronic bias” was against Israel.
“I want to make it crystal clear that this step is not a retreat from our human rights commitments. On the contrary. We take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights,” she said.
The same perceived hypocrisy was the alleged reason for cutting UNRWA funding. In August, the Trump administration said the United States was cutting all funding for the primary program for Palestinian refugees. That same month, Haley said UNRWA needed to be reformed to get support from the Trump administration, and accused the Palestinian Authority of “bashing” the United States while asking it for money.
4. A hawkish approach on behalf of Israel and against Iran
The HRC and UNRWA weren’t the only realms in which Haley presented herself as a fierce champion of Israel. In December 2017, 128 countries voted in favor of a resolution condemning the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the country’s capital. Haley or, rather, the US mission threw a party for those countries that voted no or abstained.
Haley’s conservative line was also toed over Iran: she is reportedly the Cabinet-level Trump official who convinced the president, against Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s wishes, to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Iran nuclear deal. And Haley used her position to bash Iran, claiming the country was violating UN resolutions and that the Iranian people themselves were discontented by their own government.
She earned accolades from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday.
5. Not completely blowing up the United Nations.
In the end, despite leaving the HRC and UNRWA, and despite the fact that she couldn’t keep her colleagues from laughing at her boss during the UN General Assembly (and then went on Fox News to say that, actually, they love him), Haley managed to represent the United States at a multilateral institution for an administration that is highly critical of multilateralism — a feat made all the more impressive after John Bolton, perhaps the senior official most obsessed with UN governance, became national security adviser. She managed to get resolutions passed, including an arms embargo on South Sudan. She spoke a traditional US line in an untraditional administration.
Haley, for her part, said in her resignation letter to Trump, obtained by the Washington Post, that she would be “returning from government to the private sector.” Some of her former colleagues are unconvinced. “We all have thought for some time she has far bigger plans than the UN. Her speeches are often more for a national audience,” one UN official from a non-US country told BuzzFeed News.
Haley has said she will stay in the role until January 2019, and Trump said he would name her replacement in two or three weeks, meaning the question is now what kind of legacy her successor will pursue.
“The big question is now whether Trump will select a hardline anti-multilateralist, more in the John Bolton mode, to replace her,” Gowan said.
Senator Edward Markey's statement was mischaracterized in an earlier version of this post.