Over the last week, Nikki Haley—once viewed as a potential Republican presidential nominee who might save the GOP in a post-Trump era—has embarrassed herself by going out of her way to prove her fealty to Donald Trump.
What has attracted the most media attention in her new book With All Due Respect is her revelation that she defended the president against former secretary of state Rex Tillerson and former White House chief of staff John F. Kelly, whom she says were doing their best to undermine the president and his agenda. Haley writes: “Kelly and Tillerson confided in me that when they resisted the president, they weren’t being insubordinate, they were trying to save the country.” If they didn’t do that, Haley quotes Tillerson as saying, “people would die.” She accused Kelly and Tillerson of arrogantly believing that “the president didn’t know what he was doing” and that “it was “their decisions, not the president’s, that were in the best interests of America.”
Appearing on CBS News for an interview with Norah O’Donnell, Haley said that both Kelly and Tillerson were making their own policy, and that they tried to recruit her to join in their efforts. “Instead of saying that to me,” she told O’Donnell, “they should have been saying that to the president, not asking me to join them.” The responsible action for Tillerson and Kelly, she said, would have been to tell the president about their differences with him and to “quit if you don’t like what he’s doing.”
By now we know that Tillerson’s and Kelly’s concerns were more than justified—as evidenced by the impeachment inquiry unfolding in the House of Representatives. The main focus of the first public impeachment hearing was Trump’s attempt to hold up congressionally approved aid to Ukraine until President Zelensky agreed to investigate the Bidens and Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential race. This aid was greatly needed: As acting ambassador William Taylor explained, in a little-noticed moment during his testimony last week, the delay in delivering aid could in theory have—indeed, might in fact have—resulted in the loss of life. U.S. military aid “allows the Ukrainian military to deter further incursions by the Russians,” Taylor said. “If that further incursion, further aggression were to take place, more Ukrainians would die. So it is a deterrent effect that these weapons provide.” In the conflict with Russia, Ukrainians lose their lives “every week,” he said.
In another stop on her book-promotion tour, an interview with the Washington Post, Haley employed her well-developed method of seeming to be critical of the president while still defending him. “Do I think it’s not good practice to talk to foreign governments about investigating Americans?” she asked rhetorically. “Yes. Do I think the president did something that warrants impeachment? No, because the aid flowed.” To put it a bit differently, Haley is arguing that even if the president tried to change policy toward Ukraine and extort its president, that attempt failed to work, and anyway, Ukraine got its aid. This argument—also voiced by congressional Republicans at last week’s impeachment hearings—turns morality on its head. Just because Donald Trump is a failed extortionist doesn’t mean his attempted extortion didn’t take place.
There was a time when Haley, as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, took tough positions that differed from, or were even the opposite of, the president’s proclaimed policy views, especially toward Russia and Putin. That is why, when she left the U.N. job at the end of 2018, many observers speculated that she was planning to run against Trump in the 2020 Republican primaries. The expectation was that she could be an old-style hawkish leader against America’s enemies—which would have sharply contrasted with Trump’s neo-isolationism. Recall that the very liberal Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wrote in 2015 praising Haley for taking on the president. He quoted her as saying, “Every time someone criticizes him, he goes and makes a political attack back. That’s not who we are as Republicans. That’s not what we do.” She added that Americans “want to know they’re sending someone up to the White House that’s going to be calm and cool-tempered and not get mad at someone just because they criticize him. We would really have a world war if that happens.”
Today, however, it seems that Haley has tied her fortunes to Trump. She has clearly calculated that her future political prospects depend on assuring the Trump base that she is with them and the president. Her abandonment of her own fiercely stated views in order to be accepted is more evidence of the rot that has overtaken the Republican party. Now speculation is rife that the president will bump Mike Pence off the ticket for Haley. Such a step might have the effect, Trump’s advisers clearly hope, of bringing back the suburban women who in the midterm elections moved toward the Democrats.
Many people—including both some Trump supporters and some Trump critics—undoubtedly agree with Haley that both Tillerson and Kelly should have made their opposition public and then resigned. For that matter, James Mattis and H.R. McMaster might have been expected to offer more forthright critiques of the administration once they were out of office, rather than the carefully guarded statements they have issued.
And here we must turn to John Bolton’s actions and statements since he left the White House as the National Security Advisor in September. The liberal community hated Bolton’s appointment, always depicting him as somewhat of a madman who might get our country into an unnecessary war (he had openly called for the bombing of Iran) and who favored regime change instead of diplomatically solving our differences with nations like Iran, Venezuela, and Cuba.
Like him or hate him, Bolton is consistent—and puts Haley to shame. We know from the testimony of others that he opposed the extortion of Ukraine and in a one-on-one meeting urged the president to release the delayed aid. Bolton also opposed the private foreign policy actions Rudy Giuliani was taking. “I am not part of whatever drug deal” Trump’s other advisers “are cooking up” in Ukraine, Bolton reportedly said.
Bolton did the honorable thing and resigned. But he has not been quiet. At a private speech he gave two weeks ago in Miami to an audience of investment bankers, Bolton, according to NBC News, “painted a dark image of a president and his family whose potential personal gain is at the heart of decision-making, according to people who were present for his remarks.”
Bolton told the bankers that he agreed with Trump on the need for a tough policy toward China, but had substantial disagreements with the president on Iran, North Korea, and Syria, in addition to Ukraine. Bolton particularly criticized Trump’s policy toward Turkey; Bolton would have favored sanctions against Erdogan’s government after it purchased a Russian missile-defense system. Audience members told NBC that Bolton said “Trump’s resistance to the [sanctions] was unreasonable,” especially since they had bipartisan support. Bolton also said, according to those present for the speech, that he “believes there is a personal or business relationship dictating Trump’s position on Turkey because none of his advisers are aligned with him on the issue.”
The NBC News report points out that Trump has a property in Istanbul and that Ivanka Trump attended its opening with Erdogan. Trump himself acknowledged in 2015 that, should he become president, that property could be “a little conflict of interest.”
By pulling U.S. troops out of Syria, the president also gave Turkey the green light to attack formerly pro-U.S. Kurdish troops. That attack led to many new Kurdish refugees, as well as many brutal tactics that led to the death of many Kurdish civilians, who often became targets as much as did Kurdish troops.
Bolton reportedly went on to criticize Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, as well as Senator Rand Paul. Most shocking is Bolton’s remark, according to three people who heard him, that “Trump could go full isolationist—with the faction of the Republican Party that aligns with Paul’s foreign policy views taking over the GOP—and could withdraw the U.S. from NATO and other international alliances.” If that actually happens, do you really think the current Republican members of the House and Senate would forcefully oppose Trump? They might not approve of such a new isolationist orientation, but recent history suggests there is no policy line they’d be unwilling to cross for the president.
Now that these remarks have been leaked, Bolton should publicly reveal the most important things he is keeping back, rather than save them for a book that will be published more than a year from now, for which he reportedly is receiving a $2 million advance. If stopping the president from making even more serious and potentially dangerous foreign policy changes is essential, it behooves Bolton to disclose the information about Trump and his administration that he claims to have.