December 13, 2019

Nikki Haley

Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley discusses her role in President Trump’s cabinet, and assesses the Trump administration’s handling of North Korea and Iran. Haley addresses the controversy over her recent comments on the confederate flag, and explains how the GOP should appeal to new voters. She also says the UN needs to change with the times.

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Many people think she could be the first female president, this week on ‘Firing Line.’

I wear heels.
It’s not for a fashion statement.
It’s because if I see something wrong, we’re gonna kick them every single time.
[ Cheers and applause ]
Her résumé is a string of firsts and some delicate diplomacy.
Nikki Haley was the first person of color and the first woman to become a governor of South Carolina, a Republican who took down the Confederate flag.

It’s time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds.
[ Cheers and applause ]
She then became the first Indian-American to serve in a president’s cabinet.
The ambassador to the United Nations who pushed her version of Donald Trump’s America First policy.

You are gonna see a change in the way we do business.
For those that don’t have our back, we’re taking names.

Haley says she voiced her disagreements with President Trump directly and in private.

I told him the truth.
If I saw something wrong, I said that I thought it was wrong.

With the nation facing impeachment and a divisive presidential election, what does Ambassador Nikki Haley say now?

‘Firing Line with Margaret Hoover’ is made possible by… Additional funding is provided by… Corporate funding is provided by…
Welcome to Firing Line,’ Nikki Haley.

Thank you.
It’s great to be here.

Ambassador Haley, you were the United States ambassador to the United Nations.
You were a member of President Trump’s cabinet and a member of his National Security Council.
And you were the first person of color and woman to be elected as governor to the state of South Carolina.
You’ve now written a book, ‘With All Due Respect: Defending America with Grit and Grace.’
When you first considered taking the job as United States ambassador to the United Nations, you told Reince Priebus, you wrote in your book, ‘I don’t even know what the United Nations does.
All I know is everybody hates it.’


Tell me, do you have a more or a less positive view of the United Nations now?

I think it’s interesting.
I think I understand it more, from the standpoint of here you have 193 countries that come together in the name of peace and security.
But whether it succeeds depends on how they take it forward.
And I said this to the Secretary General and to the ambassadors when I left is, if the United Nations is gonna be successful, it has to change with the times.
They have to start talking about things that are uncomfortable to talk about.
They have to talk about what Maduro is doing in Venezuela.
They have to talk about a million plus Uyghurs in concentration camps in China.
They have to talk about these things they don’t want to talk about.
To continue to talk about decades-old issues as if they’re relevant today is what makes people doubt the United Nations.

Well, I’m glad you mentioned the Uyghurs and Venezuela, Maduro.
Human rights was a focus of yours when you were U.N.
And I wonder, what helped you decide to make human rights a focus?

I think I strongly believe that every single person deserves human dignity.
And what I saw was, if a government doesn’t treat its people well, conflict will follow.
And so if we defend human rights, it’s prevention towards conflict.
You can look at what happened with the Arab Spring.
You can look at Syria.
Started with a group of teenagers that just spray-painted something on the wall against the government, and the government came in, took those kids, beat them, pulled their nails out, returned them bloody and bruised to their parents, and their parents went to the streets and protested.
How a government handles people using the power their voice dictates whether conflict will happen.
So if we always fight and defend human rights for all people, we’re actually doing prevention of conflict later.

Do you believe that President Trump cares about human rights as much as you did when you were there?

I do think he cares about human rights, because when I was going and pushing for human rights to be heard in the United Nations, he was the one that was supporting me in doing that.
So he also understands the importance of standing up for people who can’t stand up for themselves.

Would it be helpful if he expressed it as often as you did?

Well, I tried to pick up the pieces when I didn’t think the administration was saying it enough.
That’s when I tried to go and really put an emphasis on it.
And so my job was to go and support what he was doing but also add another layer to talk about the things that I thought were important that I knew he cared about.

So, when you were at the U.N., ultimately the United States ended up withdrawing from the U.N. Human Rights Council.
As I understand it, you had two main criticisms of it.
One of them had to do with who the other members of the council were.


Why was that important?

Well, I think that you know, what had happened was the Human Rights Council became a place that human rights abusers went to so that they wouldn’t be called out.
When you’ve got Saudi Arabia, when you’ve got Venezuela, when you’ve got the Democratic Republic of Congo sitting on the Human Rights Council, it automatically disqualifies it from being anything related to human rights.
And then the second thing was, you know, you have all of these issues happening in the world, but they have one agenda item that focuses solely on Israel.
And so the Human Rights Council really was a place to do Israel bashing and for human-rights abusers to hide and keep anyone from calling them out on it.

In fact, as you point out in your book, the Human Rights Council criticized Israel 10 times as much as it criticized countries like Iran.

It did, yes.

So then, how do you answer your critics who say that you value American leadership and American leadership is important in the world, so how do you continue to emphasize and focus on human rights if you withdraw from the organization whose central purpose is to focus on human rights?

We had literally hundred– over a hundred meetings, trying to reform the Human Rights Council, and everyone, for the most part, agreed with us that it was an embarrassment.
But no one would go out publicly and say it.
And the last straw for me was, they came back to me and said, ‘But the United States is the last great hope for the Human Rights Council.’
And I thought, ‘Why would we legitimize something that’s such a farce?’
We can fight for human rights.
We don’t need a farce council to do that.

In your book, you also write that the U.N. — not just the HRC but the U.N. — has a long, ugly history of anti-Israel bias.
You have many examples in your book, including in 1975, when the U.N. declared that Zionism was actually equivalent to racism, and the U.N. ambassador at that time was Daniel Patrick Moynihan who came on this program with William F. Buckley Jr.
a year later to discuss that.
I’d like you to take a look and react.

On the Zionism matter, that was another interesting day, and it’s been very badly reported that if you resist these nations, they will get angry and never forgive you and so forth.
Well, in fact, they were angry and had never forgiven you in the beginning, partly because it was cost-free.
The proposition that Zionism is a form of racism, racial discrimination, it is an outrage.
A lie.
We are still the most important country in the world, and they know it.

Well, it’s — I think they do know it.
And I think that the knowledge of it is sometimes a temptation to tweak our tail on the grounds that they can do so with relative impunity, which has been, historically, something that you have greatly resisted.

My question to you is, did you encounter this attitude that Moynihan discusses about a concern about angering nations who would vote against Israel?

I think that when I came in, it was just so amazing at how abusive these countries were to Israel.
And, to me, what was important was that we had the backs of our allies, and Israel’s a bright spot in a tough neighborhood.
And what there was, was a habit of just beating Israel down because they could.
And I think it was just after the 1967 war when they realized that they couldn’t defeat Israel on the battlefield.
They decided to try and do it at the United Nations.
And I thought it was so important that we stand up for them and let them know we weren’t going to let them do that any more.

There are some critics who would say that you were overly focused on Israel.
How do you reply to them?

I think the United Nations is overly focused on Israel.
All I did was defend it whenever they were called out.

Do you think that the U.N.
is an effective actor in international relations?

I think the U.N. can be an effective actor, and the perfect example is what we did with North Korea.
When we passed those three sanctions that really pushed them to the negotiating table, that was a sign that the United Nations can do good things.
When they go and continue to have these irrelevant meetings on issues that aren’t really our main focus in the world, that’s when they become irrelevant.

So then, on North Korea — So, in recent days, Leader Kim Jong-un has visited Mount Paektu on horseback.
It’s a backdrop that is used for propaganda, and oftentimes, it foreshadows a policy development or an event, an upcoming event.
What do you think is going on in North Korea right now?

I think he’s trying to push our buttons.
I think he’s trying to get us to move on the fact that he wants us to lift the sanctions.
Any sort of posturing is not going to get us to move, and we have to make sure we hold the international community together in isolating North Korea.
There’s only one way out for them, and that is for them to be willing to denuclearize.
At this point, they’re asking us to do what they’ve asked multiple times before, and we’re doing something different than we’ve done multiple times before, which is standing strong, saying, ‘We’re not gonna lift the sanctions until we see better actions from you.

Then help me understand something that happened at the U.N. this week, because at the U.N. this week, the United States blocked a U.N. Security Council meeting on North Korean human rights.
It is really hard to imagine Ambassador Nikki Haley blocking a United States — or, a U.N. Security Council meeting on North Korean human rights.
What do you suspect that’s about?

We actually held meetings on human rights, and it made them so upset that we did it.

And they said that if you hold this meeting, this will be considered a provocation.
That doesn’t seem to me to be something that would have scared you away.

Well, I just don’t think that we bind at threats.
I mean —
So, why did we here?

You know, I think that they went ahead, they did have a meeting on North Korea.
They had it on the ballistic missile testing and what they’re doing.

But not on human rights.

I think they should’ve had it on human rights.
I think it’s really important that we continue to call out North Korea for how they treat their people.
Every dollar that goes into North Korea doesn’t go to feed its people.

If you had been there, why they have done it that way?

I would’ve pushed back.
I would’ve pushed back and said, ‘We have to address this.
We have to keep fighting for the people in North Korea who want a better life.’

Do you suspect it was a negotiation happening behind the scenes, between, you know, President Trump and his national security team?

It’s hard for me to know what’s going on there right now.
I would guess that they did show signs of threats and they did want to have the United States pull it down.
I just would advise — be very careful.
Don’t listen to the threats.
The second we start listening to the threats, they think they’ve got an in with us.

You know, another place where you were very active when you were U.N. ambassador at the — U.S. ambassador to the U.N. — was with respect to Iran.
Since the recent protests in Iran have begun, more than 1,000 people have died.
One of the criticisms of withdrawing from the Iran deal was that we were leaving our allies hanging, and that the United States might not actually be able to put adequate pressure on Iran alone in order to force them back to the negotiating table.
Does this demonstrate that, actually, American sanctions can work by themselves and American leadership can work on its own?

Well, I think it was important for us to lead in the way that the United States said, ‘We’re not gonna turn a blind eye to all this bad activity by Iran.’
Just because you get involved in a deal, if the deal’s not working, you don’t stay in it because of your own ego being part of the deal.
You get out of it and say, ‘This isn’t working.
We’re gonna change it.’

Do you think that there is a chance that they will come back to the negotiating table?

We know Iran is in a worse spot than they were before they signed the deal in the first place.
So they are feeling the pressure.
They could make one of two decisions.
They can either go the extremist, dangerous route that we know that they’ve done before or they can come back to the negotiating table.
The best way for us to hope that they come back to the negotiating table is for our allies to join in isolating them like we did with North Korea, to where they don’t have anywhere else to turn.
And I think we’re getting close to that.
As long as they have an out, they’re gonna try and push back as much as they can.
But we have to remember the United States doesn’t respond to fear, the United States shows strength.
United States needs to lead, and the United States needs to remind the rest of the world why Iran is dangerous and why we have to make sure that we isolate them in every way that we can.

Another question for you.
The New York Times editorial board, which has reviewed so many Trump officials and cabinet officials, wrote when you left the administration… First of all, I’ve rarely heard such a laudatory New York Times editorial about a Trump administration official.
But do you view that, in hindsight, as what your role was, to explain President Trump to the world?

I wanted them to know what the United States was for, and I want them to know what we were against.
And I didn’t want there to be any gray area.
I didn’t worry about them liking us.
I worried about them understanding and respecting us.
And so whether that was explaining the actions of the President or whether that was explaining why it was so important to the American people, I felt that was my job.

You were a bit of a translator between the U.N. and the U.S.
I remember in your book, you wrote about how you told the President to think of the U.N.
as church.


That it wasn’t a rally.


Here’s a clip of the President at the U.N.
Let’s take a look.

In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.
America’s — So true.
[ Laughter ] Didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s okay.
[ Laughter ]
As you hear the General Assembly laughing at President Trump… There’s a recent Pew study that suggests that America’s standing in the world after the last 3 1/2 years has actually declined among many nations.
There is a sense that a once steadfast belief in the dependability of the United States with our allies has slipped.

Other countries need to understand it’s not the United States’ role to carry the weight of the world.
They have to do their part.
So we’ve had hard discussions with our brothers and sisters in Europe and around the world that just expect us to do for them with no partnership in return.
And so, having them step up in NATO and having now what was four countries paying their share now being nine countries paying their share, that tough love needed to happen.
The other side of it is, we have to have the backs of our allies.
They need to know that when we’re in the foxhole, we’ve got their back.
And that’s why that Syria decision was so important, because when the Kurds have lost so much blood in the name of fighting terrorism, we have to stand with them.
We have to let them know that that bloodshed mattered.
And I’m glad the president decided to leave troops there, whether it’s to guard the oil or for other reasons, because for intelligence purposes, but also for the fact that that partnership, we have to let them know it meant something.

I agree with you that that’s the message the world needs to hear, but I’m not sure they’re hearing it, which is, I think, what’s reflected in this Pew study, that our standing still has slipped.

Sometimes when you lead, people don’t like it.
But we should make sure that they know we’re gonna stand in allegiance with our allies, but we’re gonna have tough love with our brothers and sisters to know we’re in this together and we all have to sacrifice and pull weight.

Another one of your predecessors at the U.N., Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, appeared on this program with William F. Buckley Jr.
in 1985 and addressed the question of whether, given all of its problems, the United States should leave the U.N. altogether.
What do you say to that?

I think it depends on whether the U.N. is relevant.
As long as they are willing to talk about the hard issues, the United States should stay part of that discussion.
But as it is now, they have to start looking at the burden sharing, they’ve got to start moving with the times, they have to be flexible to realize they’ve got to change.
It’s not the United States that needs to change.
It’s the United Nations that needs to change with where the world is today.
And so I think it’s ‘to be decided,’ based on whether we are getting a return on our investment.
That’s what I always fought for was for the American people to get a return on our investment for being in the United Nations.
We give a lot of money.
We’ve got to get something back for that.

Do you think it should always be an open question whether we’re part of it?

I think we should continue to push the United Nations to be relevant, and if they’re not gonna be relevant, I don’t think we always need to be a part of it.

I’d like to shift gears.
While you were governor, a white supremacist killed nine South Carolinians in the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
It was really how you navigated the aftermath of that event that caught the attention of the country, as well, because the issue of the Confederate flag had been one that had been debated for a long time in South Carolina, but nobody had been able to remove it entirely until you were governor, and you were able to successfully bring together people from all sides of that debate in order to reach a conclusion that everybody agreed upon.
In a recent interview, that debate was rehashed.
That debate was opened back up, and you have recently written an op-ed in ‘The Washington Post’ about what you said in that interview.
Help maybe clarify and answer this question about how the killer hijacked the flag from people who saw it as service and sacrifice.

Well, I think it’s interesting, and it shows the times that I’ve literally said the same things for all the years since.
But now in the outrage of media and the sensitivity of political correctness, suddenly everybody has a problem with what I’m saying.
What I said was, the reason this was so hard was, we needed a 2/3 vote to bring the flag down.
I saw an opportunity to make something right.
The Confederate flag, I’ve said from from the very beginning, never should have been there in the first place, but because it was there, I saw the opportunity that maybe we could have a conversation about bringing it down.
But in order to bring a compromise, you have to be able to respect the views of your people.
There were two different sets of people.
One set of people saw the Confederate flag as pain and racism and slavery.
The other set of people saw it not as racism but as heritage and sacrifice and service.
If I had gone and condemned those people that saw it that way, that flag never would have come down.
Instead I had to acknowledge the thoughts of both and say, ‘But now it’s time for our state to move forward.’
And through those actions, I called for the Confederate flag to come down, and it came down.
And, you know, if you go around vilifying people for their views, they’re not gonna listen to you, much less work with you.
I needed to let them know, ‘I understand that that’s how you feel.’
Not how I feel, but I understood that’s how they felt.
And we had to find a way for them to feel like they were part of this decision for the betterment of South Carolina.

My question, I think, is to the heritage-not-hate crowd.
You know, there’s a certain timing of, in the early ’60s, when Confederate symbols began to reemerge throughout the South — after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, before the Civil Rights Act — when the South was, frankly — or, elements of the South were, frankly, trying to resist the federal government forcing racial equality upon them.
You know, as a woman of color who grew up in the aftermath of that, how do you square that with the heritage-not-hate messaging?

Well, I mean, I think it was hard.
I mean, in South Carolina, it was very tough because this issue had been debated for decades.
And so when you have them — You know, it was their view that this was their heritage, and they thought that —
Even though that heritage was resurrected explicitly around a time of resisting racial integration.

Oh, absolutely it was, which is why the Confederate flag never should’ve been there in the first place.
And so having that conversation of ‘You can respect your heritage but you can do it in a museum and not out in front of the statehouse,’ but more than that, what I tried to communicate to the people of South Carolina is, no one should drive past that statehouse and feel pain.
And if someone, if a child looks up at that flag and feels pain, we’re doing something wrong.
And that was the goal.
That was, at the end of the day, was to make sure that the pain I felt growing up as a brown girl in a black-and-white world shouldn’t be the same pain of a child growing up today looking at that statehouse.

Gonna ask about the future of the Republican Party.
You talk about your son from time to time, and I think about the millennial generation and how they think about politics.
Where the Republican Party is now is not in a place where it’s speaking to the generation of your son.
The values, the sensibilities.
What is it going to take to motivate and capture the imagination of your son’s generation to the ideas that you espouse as a Republican?

Well, I think that — First of all I think the next generation, I have so much hope for, because I go around and talk to high school and college kids.
They know the power of their voice.
They’re gonna use it.
We have to make sure we get the right information in front of them so that they have the facts to do that.
But I think the Republican Party should always want to get better, and I think, in order for the Republican Party to get strong now, they have to go places that are uncomfortable to go.
They have to talk to people they’ve never talked to before.
You know, I know that when I go to the Indian-American communities or the Jewish communities, in so many ways, they espouse Republican values, and they believe in Republican values.
But because we’ve never shown up to them, because we’ve never gone and listened to them, there’s less likelihood that they come and join our party, and I think we need to start communicating differently.
We need to really put ourselves out there and explain why we believe what we believe.
But more importantly, before we say that, we need to listen to what they care about and then put our values with what they care about.
And I see that in the younger generation that we do have this group of strong, young Republicans that get it.
But we have to lift them up so that they can go out and tell the rest of their friends, as well.

With all due respect, to borrow a phrase…

…this doesn’t feel like what the leadership of this party is doing right now, what you just described.

Well, I think that it should not be about one person.
It should be about an entire group of people saying what we care about.

The bully pulpit of the presidency is the most important sort of speaker phone that we have, and that megaphone is not broadcasting the solution that you just outlined.

And I think we have to do that.
I think that we — if we take our voice and our way of doing things and match it with the results of this President, I think that’s how we bring the Republican Party back.
And you may not agree with his style, and I tell people that all the time.
His style is not my style.
But his results are my results.
Those are the things we want.
We want more people to have jobs.
We want to see the economy continue to grow.
We want to have a strong standing in the world as we move forward.
We want to take on the next problems of the next generation and handle it with strength and with dignity and with grace.
And so there is a way to come out of this where we can continue to have our values but change the style and communication in the way we do that.

Is the title, ‘With All Due Respect,’ intended to be a message to young women?

I think it became a message to young women, and what I hope it reminds young men and women is, no one is going to protect your integrity but yourself.
And when something happens that even tries to undermine it, you have to speak up.
You have to fight for yourself.
Because if you don’t fight for yourself, no one else will.

Nikki Haley, thank you for coming to ‘Firing Line.’

Thanks so much.

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