The American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference crowd hadn't had something or someone unabashedly to cheer for - until Monday evening. Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was greeted as a rock star and repeatedly brought the crowd to its feet as she recounted her record at the U.N. "When I come to AIPAC, I am with friends," she started off. "In the United Nations, we sometimes don't have many friends." The crowd treated her more like a valued member of the family rather than a mere friend.
Unlike the previous administration, which declined to veto a vehemently anti-Israel resolution as it headed for the exits, Haley proudly recalled that she had promised Israel that this sort of thing would never happen again - and it hasn't.
She railed at the U.N., UNESCO in particular, for its obsessive and unfair bullying of the Jewish state. She recalled, "Some of you might have seen that the top Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, recently had some advice for me. He told me to shut up. Mr. Erekat, I will always be respectful, but I will never shut up." The crowd roared in approval.
She embraced the notion the accusation that the United States shows favoritism toward Israel. "There's nothing wrong with showing favoritism towards an ally; that's what being an ally is all about," she said. However, she explained that "in all that we're doing, our approach on Israel is tied to one major idea - the simple concept that Israel must be treated like any other normal country." That, too, drew robust applause, since a major focus of AIPAC has been to halt the international effort to delegitimize the Jewish state. She said that U.N. votes should never be the only factor in foreign aid, but noted that the administration was "determined to start making that connection."
She also vigorously defended the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. "It cannot be the case that only one country in the world doesn't get to choose its capital city," she said. She promised to be there when the new embassy opens in May.
With good humor and anecdotes from her time growing up in and serving as governor of South Carolina, we got a reminder that she was a skilled politician before heading to the U.N. Aside from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, she is arguably the only member of the administration who has improved her record in office.
Her "we're taking names" attitude at the U.N. gives friends of Israel on both sides of the aisle some sweet satisfaction after years of complacency in the face of an anti-Israel onslaught. Granted, at the U.N., Haley gets to show off flashy rhetoric without the responsibility for choosing the least of bad options with regard to Syria or Iran policy.
Nevertheless, from the safety of New York she has made the most of her time. She has generally avoided the ongoing White House soap opera and has been spared the indignity of defending President Donald Trump's indefensible actions. She might be one of the few figures who would not alienate either pro-Trump or anti-Trump Republicans should she decide to run for the presidency in the future.
(For one thing, she has never had to serve in Congress, where partisan sniping and gridlock can hinder political ambition.)
The trick for Haley may be getting out of the administration with an unblemished record - before the roof falls in.
Haley is uniquely able to maintain a high profile without incurring much criticism. She does not run, or claim to run, U.S. foreign policy. With this president, that's a plus for her.
Having backed Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., for president, she claims no role in Trump's stunning victory (as Stephen K. Bannon did). Haley, therefore, likely won't trigger his resentment and antagonism, as others who claim too big a role in Trump's rise have done.