The new sheriff at the United Nations is stylish in heels but not so stylish in attitude. The delegate lounges haven't been the same since Nikki Haley arrived as the United States ambassador almost three months ago.
She's blunt without being brash, and neither shy about giving the Russians the cold shoulder nor making it clear that the United States stands with Israel, not with the wolves that look for opportunities to mock, belittle and scorn the Jewish state.
The previous administration seemed comfortable cozying up to the enemies of Israel and timidly (some might say "cowardly") abstained from a U.N. Security Council vote condemning the Jewish state. Haley calls that abstention "embarrassing" and "hurtful." The chances of something like that happening now are likely small, indeed.
The new sheriff, as she calls herself, will get her first chance to demonstrate the new American attitude this month when the United States assumes the presidency of the Security Council on the monthly rotation. For the first time in recent memory, the council will not focus on rants against Israel. Haley told reporters that she will push instead for reforms of the U.N. peacekeeping missions with concern for human rights issues, which are not popular among delegates from nations with the worst records of abuses.
She promises that a debate will be about Iran's support for terrorism, the war in Syria, outrages by Hamas and Hezbollah and other things that some nations just don't want to talk about. "So much has been put forward against Israel," she says, "and not enough has been put toward some of these other issues." She expects howls and shrill cries of outrage from delegates deprived of the usual pile-on.
The ambassador does not have a reputation for the usual argle-bargle that comprises diplo-speak, for saying not much at great length, which is the lingua franca at the U.N. Words translate to action only with resolve and determination, and the American mission at the U.N. suddenly has a new reputation for both words and action.
Last month, the United States demanded that a U.N. commission withdraw its report that described Israel as an "apartheid regime." The report was withdrawn, and the executive secretary of the commission resigned, and the commission took down the report from its website.
Haley replaces a very different American voice at the U.N. Former U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power was popular with her Security Council colleagues, and why not? She was an academic comfortable with argle-bargle and familiar with slowing things down, and her outspoken foreign policy views meshed easily with what she heard in the delegate lounges.
Haley has Cabinet status, the first ambassador to have such status (and the accompanying access to the president) since Jeane Kirkpatrick, who served in President Ronald Reagan's administration.
Her tenure as a governor and experience with the retail politics of the South tempers her plain speech with a warmth that has endeared her already with many colleagues. When she speaks, it's often not what her colleagues expect to hear from an American ambassador, but some of them find her candor refreshing.
Haley is the daughter of Sikh parents and the mother of two children. Her husband, Michael Haley, is a captain in the South Carolina National Guard. He served a tour in Afghanistan and returned to become the First Gentleman of South Carolina, so designated when his wife was elected governor.
They were married in two ceremonies, one Sikh and the other Methodist. She has a gift for mocking politically correct attitudes and describes herself as "South Carolina's first minority governor and the first girl governor." She relishes delivering a memorable one-liner. "I wear heels," she famously said, "but it's not a fashion statement. It's because if I see something wrong, we're gonna kick 'em every time." In her first public appearance at the U.N., she warned, "For those who don't have our backs, we're taking names."
She was a bit of a surprise choice to join the Trump administration. She warned Republicans during the campaign not to follow "the siren call of the angriest voices," and the Donald tweeted in return, "The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!"
No one in the administration has been as rough and tough on Russia. "We should never trust Russia," she remarked. This independence is the mark of the woman. And she said: "The president has not once called me and said, 'Don't beat up on Russia.' ... I am beating up on Russia."
The president has the independent voice he says he wants. The message may be that when you want the job done well, send a girl.