United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley’s recent threat — that the United States would be “taking names” of those who vote against it in the U.N. General Assembly — summed up everything liberals and the foreign-policy establishment hate about the Trump administration. That President Trump subsequently embraced Haley’s idea in a tweet, and threatened to cut off aid to those who thumb their nose at their American benefactor in U.N. votes, only made it worse. To those who remember President Obama’s devotion to multilateralism and support for international institutions, Haley’s and Trump’s statements reek of arrogance and contempt for world opinion.
But there are two things wrong with the liberal huffing and puffing. The first is that the administration’s threats are bound to be immensely popular even among Americans who aren’t Trump fans. The second is that it is high time that someone reminded the inhabitants of the U.N. that while the U.S. may be considered the dull child in the classroom in their realm, the balance of power in the real world is very different, even on issues where Trump has supposedly isolated the U.S., such as Jerusalem and the Arab–Israeli conflict.
Haley’s threat came in a letter sent to U.N. member countries in which she urged them not to support a General Assembly resolution condemning the U.S. for Trump’s statement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. On Monday, Haley exercised America’s right to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution when a similar resolution received the approval of every other member except the U.S. Encouraged by the 14–1 vote, the Palestinian Authority and its allies will stage another vote in the GA today, which will undoubtedly pass by a huge majority, although (unlike a Security Council measure) it will have only symbolic significance.
But Haley isn’t taking the attempt to isolate the U.S. lying down. As she did in her eloquent defense of the American position before the Security Council, the ambassador said not only that Trump had done the right thing when recognizing Israel’s rights in Jerusalem, but also that other nations had no business telling the U.S. where to put any of its embassies.
Trump and Haley aren’t the first American leaders to ponder the irony of the U.S. distributing billions in foreign aid over the years to countries that have no compunction about condemning the U.S. every chance they get. Foreign aid takes a minuscule percentage of the federal budget and is, in many instances, both altruistic and very much in the interest of the United States. However, it remains unpopular. That is especially true when recipients not only lack gratitude for American largesse but actively resent their indebtedness to Washington.
Trump’s predecessor encouraged this attitude, since he often seemed more inclined to apologize for America’s sins, and to deprecate the presumption that it could teach the world a thing or two about freedom, than to make demands on international organizations. Career diplomats may loathe language they think makes the U.S. appear to be a bully. But one needn’t embrace Trump’s “America First” mantra — though the foreign-policy doctrine published under that name is more realist than isolationist — to understand that the U.S. has every right to call aid recipients and allies to account when they cross the line into unfair attacks on Washington.
Trump’s and Haley’s threats are appropriate, but they won’t be easy to carry out. Some of the nations who will cross the U.S. today in the Jerusalem vote are precisely those that even Trump wants to keep supporting. Egypt, which receives approximately $1.5 billion per year from the United States, sponsored the GA Jerusalem resolution. But since its military government is vital to efforts to resist Islamist terror, undermining it with an aid cut would be foolish.
But the disconnect between U.N. votes and real-world concerns is precisely why it is equally foolish to think that Trump’s Jerusalem decision has isolated the U.S., as the president’s domestic and foreign critics contend. Though the 14–1 Security Council vote and what will happen in the General Assembly make it appear as if the U.S. is standing alone with Israel, outside of international forums, it is actually the authors of these resolutions — the Palestinians — who are isolated.
Though much of the Arab world has paid lip service to Palestinian complaints about Trump on Jerusalem, the wave of outrage Palestinians and their supporters anticipated about the U.S. position hasn’t met their expectations. Far from matching the uproar in the Islamic world over the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed by a Danish newspaper in 2005, the demonstrations have been few in number and mostly perfunctory. Even the days of “rage” ginned up by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank have generated nothing like the violence of past intifadas.
Trump and Haley are merely seeking to correct a trend their predecessors encouraged.
Even more to the point, the main players in the Sunni Muslim world, such as the Egyptians and especially the Saudis, have made it clear to Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas that they are uninterested in backing him on the issue outside of purely symbolic U.N. theater. Reportedly, Abbas was summoned to Riyadh to be told to accept a peace deal that Trump may propose giving the Palestinians far less, especially in terms of Jerusalem, than past offers they’ve received — and rejected — from Israel. But Abbas is far too weak to even consider any compromise that might bring peace closer. Instead, he has doubled down on rejectionism, a stance that was made clear by an anti-Semitic speech in Istanbul in which he rejected the historic and religious ties of Jews and Israel to Jerusalem.
In her address to the Security Council on Monday, Haley called out the world body for its obsession with condemning Israel even while other, more urgent human-rights problems were largely ignored. Haley was correct in pointing out that a U.N. that consistently singles out Israel for condemnation is in no position to criticize the U.S. for its partiality toward its ally. For the U.S. to “recognize the obvious” about Jerusalem being Israel’s capital does no harm to the peace process. To the contrary, it is the willingness of the international community to encourage the Palestinians to keep rejecting Israel’s offers of peace that is the real problem. Coming almost exactly a year after Obama let a resolution attacking Israel on Jerusalem pass without a U.S. veto, Trump and Haley are merely seeking to correct a trend their predecessors encouraged.
The United States will be on the losing side of pointless U.N. votes this week, but it is the Palestinians who are left out in the cold by their preference for pyrrhic victories in New York over meeting Trump and the Saudis halfway in their attempts to nudge them toward peace. If Trump chooses to fire a warning shot in the direction of nations that encourage the Palestinians to persist in their futile rejectionism, he is exhibiting the sort of common sense most Americans prefer to Obama’s slavish support for the whims of the U.N. Taking names at the U.N may not make Haley popular at New York cocktail parties, but it might do more for peace than Obama’s efforts to tilt the diplomatic playing field toward the Palestinians.