President Donald Trump has a skill for recruiting Cabinet officers he has treated badly. Serving in his administration can require selfless devotion to duty. Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, could tell you about that. So could Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who is swiftly becoming the Cabinet superstar.
She took the lead in persuading China and Russia to join the sanctioning of North Korea, all to persuade North Korean President Kim Jong Un to think again about his boastful threat to ignite World War III.
Such a catastrophe might at last be "the war to end all wars," as former President Woodrow Wilson said of World War I. Kim's reckless exuberance with his nuclear toys has terrified the world into a new reality, and Haley used it to win the approval of United Nations Resolution 2371, which she calls "the single largest economic sanctions package ever leveled against the North Korean regime" and "the most stringent set of sanctions on any country in a generation."
If enforced to the limit -- and that's a big "if" -- the effects could reduce Pyongyang's exports by $1 billion, which is approximately a third of its revenue from exports. There is a total ban on its coal and minerals exports, which are key to keeping its nuclear and missile scientists at work.
North Korea sees "the international community standing with one voice," Haley says. "China didn't pull off. Russia didn't pull off. All of the Security Council and the international community said, 'That's enough. You've got to stop it. It's reckless. It's irresponsible.' The international community really laid down the groundwork of saying, 'We're not going to watch you do this anymore.'" Un's provocations have even exhausted the patience of China, his enabler and patron.
The prospect of pocketbook pain is always persuasive, and North Korea's blustery response arrived as if on cue. "North Korea will make the U.S. pay dearly for all the heinous crime it commits against the state and the people of this country," the state-run media warned. Military intelligence services reported that just days ago, the state was moving anti-ship cruise missiles into position off its eastern coast in anticipation of action.
"They're gonna threaten, they're gonna do all of these things," Haley says of the bluster, "but we're not gonna run scared from them. ... China stepped up and said, 'We will follow through on these sanctions.' ... And now, we have to just stay on them to make sure they do that. ... Our job is to defend not just the United States but our allies. ... we have to protect our friends, and we're going to continue to do that.."
This is not the kind of talk the rest of the world is accustomed to hearing from the American ambassador to the United Nations. Haley reported for duty at a United Nations that was puzzled and despondent over the defeat of Hillary Clinton. Many regarded her as a patronage payoff by the new president; they said that her term at the U.N. would be just another entry on her resume and that she would leave for the speaking circuit to cash in on political celebrity. "No one at the United Nations," said one professor pundit, "will think Nikki Haley is someone to talk to who will be either knowledgeable or close to the president."
He missed by only a mile. Perhaps buoyed on such modest expectations, she has prospered at the U.N., working hard to build close relationships with other delegations, particularly those of America's European allies. Over the first months of her tenure, she earned the respect of other delegates that enabled her to rally support for American positions on Syria and North Korea.
Her frequent and aggressive scolding of Russian support for Syrian President Bashar Assad earned her a reputation for leading, as well as following, American policy. She squelched the long-standing Russian goal of making Russia the moral actor in the Syrian civil war. And she still won Russian support for the sanctions vote.
Little more than a year ago, she seemed unlikely to be a part of a Trump administration. She clashed with then-candidate Trump on the eve of the South Carolina primary, having said sharp things about him and endorsed Sen. Mario Rubio. "During anxious times," she said, "it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation."
Trump unleashed a Twitter attack. "The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!" he tweeted angrily. But that was forgotten by both of them when Trump assembled his Cabinet. He needed someone who knew how to speak up, even to him. She learned in South Carolina, as only a governor can, how to twist arms to rally support.
Someone asked her the other day whether she had to twist a lot of arms to bring Russia and China along on the sanctions vote. She replied: "Yes, we did."