Nikki Haley Picked the Right Time to Leave the Trump Administration

U.N. ambassador leaves her post just before the president’s smash-and-grab policies will take effect.

Nikki Haley is getting out just in time.

With Venezuela on the brink of collapse and renewed Iran sanctions kicking in on Nov. 5, Haley will be on her way out the U.N. door as the world comes knocking on it to call for greater American accountability and support.

Haley could handle it, of course—she gives as good as she gets. But it might just be a good time for her to be sipping mint juleps on a South Carolina back porch as this administration executes a more-assertive foreign policy—one the United Nations will not look upon kindly.

The Trump administration is actively advocating for and catalyzing regime change in several countries, but with no plans to participate in follow-on nation building.

The administration clearly is disregarding Colin Powell’s famous use of the Pottery Barn rule, “You break it, you own it.” There are plenty of plans to break Iran and Venezuela, for example, but no clear plans to take ownership for the nation building that needs to follow any traumatic or violent event in an already-struggling society.

In fact, the plans in place follow a new type of rule: call it the “Smash and Grab” — something familiar to urban dwellers who regularly suffer car break-ins, find shattered glass in passenger-side gutters, and lose valuables in snap-heists.

In the foreign-policy arena, the United States tries to pull off smashing an odious sitting regime such as Iran’s murderous dictatorship. The means? The use of proxies and allies to apply concerted force while applying joint sanctions to stop trade and revenue.

What follows the smash is the promise of grabbing valuable resources from the subject nation. In both Iran and Venezuela, the plan appears be to “take the oil.” Smash the country, grab the oil.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump lamented America’s failure to grab the oil after the United States expended so much blood and treasure to overthrow Saddam Hussein and rebuild Iraq. In fact, the United States ended up losing the entire country to Iran as Iraq’s ruling minority Sunnis were disbanded and disgraced. What replaced Hussein was an Iran-allied Shiite Iraq, a country that sold its oil futures to France and China while building a sacred bond with ruling Iranian theocrats, militias, and intelligence.

Trump rightly recognized that American sacrifice and expense there were for naught. Iraqi nation-building was a bust, and liberal democracy there still seems a pipe-dream. That policy is now shelved.

In its place? A military approach where American hardware and allied blunt force are deployed while the velvet glove of diplomacy covers a coercive fist of U.S. and allied sanctions and threats.

All signs point to an American policy and practice that will leverage willing allies and new friends in far-off regions to use their own militaries, money, and political machinations — not America’s — to achieve U.S.-desired outcomes. It’s Trump’s version of “leading from behind” that will likely leave behind a big mess.

Iran and Venezuela are oil rich and cash poor. A series of economic sanctions developed and enforced during the Obama administration—and reapplied by Trump—have worked their magic. Pressuring the Venezuelan regime has successfully brought protesters into the streets. Unfortunately, it has also sent people scrounging for food and fighting for their lives.

In Iran, a youthful and demanding populace is feeling increasingly hopeless. The Iran nuclear deal initially was received with great fanfare and high expectation in Iran. More openness to the outside world, greater freedoms at home and improving economic conditions were the Iranian regime’s implicit promise to its beleaguered people.

That promise is now broken. Trump decided to “tear up” the Iran deal and, as a result, the regime’s hopes to fill its coffers and buy off its people. The regime has no way to deliver now.

Iranians are further outraged over the Tehran regime’s rerouting of limited state resources to regional militias and matériel for SyriaLebanonIraq, and Yemen’s Houthis. America’s deepening sanctions soon are going to make Iranians feel the squeeze even more.

Smash-and-grab is a risky policy. America may get short-term results but create longer-term problems. See Libya. The chaotic and unpredictable consequences of the policy could create enough unmanageable turmoil around the world so as to affect markets and slow down nascent global economic growth. As with street criminals who work this way, what’s often left behind is shattered glass and a sense of violation and insecurity.

It is unclear if this administration has a longer-term strategy or if the global order is already so weakened that this newer and more assertive short-term foreign policy with incalculable consequences goes unchecked. One thing is certain, Nikki Haley will not be on the U.N.’s global stage to defend America’s actions or to sing this nation’s praises.

Markos Kounalakis

Markos Kounalakis, Ph.D. is a foreign affairs columnist for McClatchy News, a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, and President and Publisher emeritus of the Washington Monthly.