Why Is Nikki Haley Still Trump’s UN Ambassador?

It’s unclear whether she is speaking for herself or the White House.

Featured image: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley. (Source: Flickr/Creative Commons/U.S. Mission Photo/Eric Bridiers)

I went to a meeting the other night with some Donald Trumpsupporters who, like me, had voted for him based on expectations of a more rational foreign policy. They were suggesting that the president’s attempts to move in that direction had been sabotaged by officials inside the administration who want to maintain the current warfare state. Remove those officials and Trump might just keep his pledge to leave Bashar al-Assad alone while improving relations with Russia.

I was somewhat skeptical, noting that the White House had unilaterally initiated the April 7 cruise missile attack on a Syrian airbase as well as the more recent warning against an alleged “planned” chemical attack, hardly moves that might lead to better relations with Damascus and Moscow. But there are indeed some administration figures who clearly are fomenting endless conflict in the Middle East and elsewhere.

One might reasonably start with Generals James Mattis and H.R. McMaster, both of whom are hardliners on Afghanistan and Iran, but with a significant caveat. Generals are trained and indoctrinated to fight and win wars, not to figure out what comes next. General officers like George Marshall or even Dwight Eisenhower who had a broader vision are extremely rare, so much so that expecting a Mattis or McMaster to do what falls outside their purview is perhaps a bit too much. They might be bad choices for the jobs they hold, but at least they employ some kind of rational process, based on how they perceive national interests, to make judgments. If properly reined in by a thoughtful civilian leadership, which does not exist at the moment, they have the potential to be effective contributors to the national-security discussion.

But several other notable figures in the administration deserve to be fired if there is to be any hope of turning Trump’s foreign policy around. In Arthur Sullivan’s and W. S. Gilbert’s The Mikado, the Lord High Executioner sings about the “little list” he is preparing of people who “never will be missed” when he finally gets around to fulfilling the requirements of his office. He includes “apologetic statesmen of a compromising kind,” indicating that the American frustration with the incompetence of its government is not unique, nor is it a recent phenomenon.

My own little list of “society’s offenders” consists largely of the self-described gaggle of neoconservative foreign-policy “experts.” Unfortunately, the neocons have proven to be particularly resilient in spite of repeated claims that their end was nigh, most recently after the election of Donald Trump last November. Yet as most of the policies the neocons have historically espoused are indistinguishable from what the White House is currently trying to sell, one might well wake up one morning and imagine that it is 2003 and George W. Bush is still president. Still, hope springs eternal, and now that the United States has celebrated its 241st birthday, it would be nice to think that in the new year our nation might be purged of some of the malignancies that have prevailed since 9/11.

Number one on my little list is Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who is particularly dangerous as she is holding a position where she can do bad things. Haley has been shooting from the lip since she assumed office and, it has become clear, much of what she says goes without any vetting by the Trump administration. It is never clear whether she is speaking for herself or for the White House. That issue has reportedly been dealt with by having the State Department clear in advance her comments on hot button issues, but, if that is indeed the case, the change has been difficult to discern in practice.

Haley is firmly in the neocon camp, receiving praise from Senators like South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and from the Murdoch media as well as in the opinion pages of National Review and The Weekly Standard. Her speechwriter is Jessica Gavora, who is the wife of the leading neoconservative journalist Jonah Goldberg. Haley sees the United Nations as corrupt and bloated, in itself not an unreasonable conclusion, but she has tied herself closely to a number of other, more debatable issues.

As governor of South Carolina, Haley became identified as an unquestioning supporter of Israel. She signed into law a bill to restrict the activities of the nonviolent pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, the first legislation of its kind on a state level. Haley has also stated that

“nowhere has the UN’s failure been more consistent and more outrageous than in its bias against our close ally Israel.”

On a recent visit to Israel, she was applauded by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahustating

“You know, all I’ve done is to tell the truth, and it’s kind of overwhelming at the reaction…if there’s anything I have no patience for, it’s bullies, and the UN was being such a bully to Israel, because they could.”

But Haley sometimes goes far beyond trying to “tell the truth.” In February, she blocked the appointment of former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to a diplomatic position at the United Nations because he is a Palestinian. In a congressional hearing this past week, she was asked about the decision:

“Is it this administration’s position that support for Israel and support for the appointment of a well-qualified individual of Palestinian nationality to an appointment at the UN are mutually exclusive?”

Haley responded yes, that the administration is “supporting Israel” by blocking any Palestinian from any senior UN position because Palestine is not recognized by Washington as an independent state.

At various UN meetings Haley has repeatedly and uncritically complained of institutional bias towards Israel, asserting that the “days of Israel bashing are over,” without ever addressing the issue that Israeli treatment of the Palestinians might in part be responsible for the criticism leveled against it. Her description of Israel as an “ally” is hyperbolic and she tends to be oblivious to actual American interests in the region when Israel is involved. She has never challenged the Israeli occupation of the West Bank as well as the recent large expansion of settlements, which are at least nominally opposed by the State Department and White House.

Haley is inevitably a hardliner on Syria, reflecting the Israeli bias, and consistently hostile to Russia. She has said that regime change in Damascus is a Trump administration priority. Her most recent foray involves the White House warning that it had “identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime.” Haley elaborated in a tweet,

“…further attacks will be blamed on Assad but also on Russia and Iran who support him killing his own people.”

Earlier, on April 12, after Russia blocked a draft UN resolution intended to condemn the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack, Haley said,

 “We need to see Russia choose to side with the civilized world over an Assad government that brutally terrorizes its own people.”

Haley’s analysis of who is doing what to whom in Syria is certainly questionable at a minimum. And her language is hardly supportive of possible administration diplomatic attempts to mend fences with the Russians and can also be seen as quite dangerous as they increase the likelihood of an “accidental encounter” over the skies of Syria as both sides harden their positions and seek to expand the areas they control. She has also said that,

“We’re calling [Russia] out [and] I don’t think anything is off the table at this point. I think what you’re going to see is strong leadership. You’re going to continue to see the United States act when we need to act.”

Regarding Moscow’s role on the UN Security Council, she complained that,

“All they’ve done is seven times veto against Syria every time they do something to hurt their own people. And so Russia absolutely has not done what they’re supposed to do.”

Regarding Ukraine, Haley has taken an extreme position that guarantees Russian hostility. In February, she addressed the UN Security Council regarding the Crimean conflict, which she  appears not to understand very well. She warned that sanctions against Russia would not be lifted until Moscow returned control over the peninsula to Kiev. On June 4, she doubled down, insisting that the United States would retain “sanctions strong and tough when it comes to the issue in Ukraine.”

Haley is also increasingly highly critical of Iran, which she sees as the instigator of much of the unrest in the Middle East, again reflecting the Israeli viewpoint. She claimed on April 20, during her first session as president of the UN Security Council, that Iran and Hezbollah had “conducted terrorist acts” for decades within the Middle East, ignoring the more serious terrorism support engaged in by U.S. regional allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar. She stated last week that the Security Council’s praise of the Iran Nuclear Agreement honored a state that has engaged in “illicit missile launches,” “support for terrorist groups,” and “arms smuggling,” while “stok[ing] regional conflicts and mak[ing] them harder to solve.” All are perspectives that might easily be challenged.

Haley is also much given to rhetoric reminiscent of George W. Bush during his first term. Regarding North Korea, on May 16 she told reporters that,

“We have to turn around and tell the entire international community: You either support North Korea or you support us,” echoing George W. Bush’s sentiment that, “There’s a new sheriff in town and you’re either with us or against us.”

So Haley very much comes across as the neoconservatives’ dream ambassador to the United Nations–full of aggression, a staunch supporter of Israel, and assertive of Washington’s preemptive right to set standards for the rest of the world. That does not necessarily make her very good for the rest of us, who will have to bear the burdens of imperial hubris. Nor is her tendency to overstate her case a plus for the Trump administration itself, which is clearly seeking to work its way through Russiagate–and just might be considering how to establish some kind of modus vivendi with Vladimir Putin.

If Donald Trump really wants to drain the Washington swamp and reduce interference in other nations, he might well continue that program by firing Nikki Haley. He could then appoint someone as UN ambassador who actually believes that the United States has to deal with other countries respectfully, not by constant bullying and threats. In the lyrics of Gilbert and Sullivan, she’s on my list and “she will never be missed.”

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

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BBC Panorama Team Embedded with Islamic State Partner Group

Scenes in the 2013 BBC Panorama special Saving Syria’s Children reveal that the award-winning team of reporter Ian Pannell and cameraman Darren Conway OBE were embedded with jihadi group Ahrar al-Sham which, according to Human Rights Watch, had three weeks earlier worked alongside Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra as one of “the key fundraisers, organizers, planners, and executors” of an attack in which at least 190 civilians were killed. [1]

In its October 2013 report “You Can Still See Their Blood” – Executions, Indiscriminate Shootings, and Hostage Taking by Opposition Forces in Latakia Countryside Human Rights Watch identifies 190 civilian fatalities “including 57 women and at least 18 children and 14 elderly men” killed by opposition forces including Ahrar al-Sham on August 4, the first day of the 2013 Latakia Offensive. Over 200 civilian hostages were taken. [2]

Pannell and Conway began filming for Saving Syria’s Children on 23 August 2013 [3]. The programme professed to show Syria’s humanitarian crisis through the eyes of two British doctors, Rola Hallam and Saleyha Ahsan.

On the morning of 26 August, in order “to see what medical care is available for children closer to where the fighting is”, Hallam and Ahsan travel to a frontline clinic. Pannell states (10:18):

“Western journalists have been targeted in Syria, so I have to travel with my own security. The doctors are able to be more low key and take their own vehicles.” [4]

A number of vehicles are shown setting off in convoy, including a white pickup truck with a distinctive ornament and the Ahrar al Sham emblem on its bonnet:

White pickup truck in convoy transporting BBC reporter Ian Pannell and cameraman Darren Conway on 26 August 2013 bears the former logo of Salafist militant group Ahrar al-Sham (Saving Syria’s Children, BBC1, broadcast 30 September 2013)

Stanford University’s Mapping Militants Project states that “Ahrar al-Sham worked with the Islamic State (IS) until January 2014″. The partnership would seem to be amply borne out by the scenes of Pannell and Conway’s entourage passing unmolested through an ISIS checkpoint at 11:00 in the programme. [5]

Ian Pannell and Darren Conway’s convoy approaches an ISIS checkpoint in Saving Syria’s Children

Picture12

Armed ISIS checkpoint guard filmed from rear of white pickup truck, presumably by BBC cameraman Darren Conway, Monday 26 August 2013. Up until January 2014 an alliance existed between ISIS and Ahrar al-Sham, whose logo is visible on the pickup’s bonnet.

As the convoy passes through the checkpoint Pannell narrates:

“This is an ISIS group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. This is a group that’s affiliated with Al Qaeda.”

Pannell’s words belie the links between Al Qaeda and the very group within which he and his cameraman are embedded. Wikipedia notes:

[Ahrar al-Sham] aims to create an Islamic state under Sharia law, and in the past has cooperated with the al-Nusra Front, an affiliate of al-Qaeda.

Stanford University fleshes out the picture:

Ahrar al-Sham has been coordinating operations with its closest ally, former Al Qaeda (AQ) affiliate Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (Tahrir al-Sham), formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Nusra), since late 2012, and both groups are part of the Jaysh al-Fatah umbrella organization.

Stanford also records that one of Ahrar al-Sham’s co-founders, Abu Khalid al-Suri, who was killed in 2014

acted as Al Qaeda’s (AQ) representative in Syria and was charged with facilitating reconciliation among regional Islamist militants.

The FDD’s Long War Journal website reported in 2013 that Spanish investigators had identified Al Suri – real name Mohamed Bahaiah – as “one of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted couriers”

Bahaiah is a longtime al Qaeda operative who worked as a courier for the terror network. Spanish authorities think he may have delivered surveillance tapes of the World Trade Center and other American landmarks to al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Afghanistan in early 1998.

In addition to being a senior member of Ahrar al Sham, Bahaiah today serves as [current al-Qaeda leader] Ayman al Zawahiri’s representative in the Levant.

At the wheel of Pannell’s convoy car in Saving Syria’s Children is the programme’s credited Fixer/Translator Mughira Al Sharif. On the same day Al Sharif posted an image to Instagram expressive of the camaraderie between the Panorama team and the Ahrar al-Sham “security” men who accompanied them. It is possible that these men were among those who had participated in the mass slaughter and kidnap of civilians in Latakia twenty-two days earlier. [6] [7]

(Above) Fixer/Translator Mughira Al-Sharif driving Ian Pannell’s convoy saloon car in Saving Syria’s Children. Pannell is second from right. (Below) Al Sharif poses with two of the Ahrar al-Sham men in an Instagram post of the same day, describing them as “friends”. The post was subsequently deleted.

Later the same day Pannell and Conway travelled with Hallam, Ahsan and Al Sharif to Atareb Hospital, Aleppo where they were on hand to record harrowing scenes of the alleged victims of an alleged incendiary attack in footage which formed the dramatic climax of Saving Syria’s Children. (See links below for discussion of these sequences).

In May 2017 it was announced that Ian Pannell was leaving the BBC to join ABC News [8] as a senior foreign correspondent, stationed in London. In a note to staff ABC News President James Goldston paid this tribute:

He has an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time…

Notes

[1] The five groups which Human Rights Watch identifies as primarily responsible for the August 4 attack are:

– Ahrar al-Sham

– Islamic State of Iraq and Sham

– Jabhat al-Nusra

– Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar

– Suquor al-Izz

[2] The report states:

Eight survivors and witnesses described how opposition forces executed residents and opened fire on civilians, sometimes killing or attempting to kill entire families who were either in their homes unarmed or fleeing from the attack, and at other times killing adult male family members, and holding the female relatives and children hostage.

[3] “Mr Pannell has confirmed that his “journey” began on 23 August 2103 [sic]. The visit to the frontline clinic occurred on the morning of 26 August”, BBC Editorial Complaints Unit Final Report, 19 May 2014 (p2 of PDF download). Full complaints correspondence with the BBC re: Saving Syria’s Children is logged here.

[4] Pannell’s narration in the sequence from 10:28 to 11:40 is as follows:

Western journalists have been targeted in Syria, so I have to travel with my own security. The doctors are able to be more low key and take their own vehicles.

The war in Syria is now in its third year. Sectarian differences and extremism have taken hold on both sides and the conflict threatens the stability of the region.

Travelling around Syria has never really been more dangerous, both foreign journalists and foreign aid workers have been targeted, some have been killed. We’re just going through a checkpoint now, put the camera down a bit.

Rival rebel factions now fight each other as well as the government. Lawlessness prevails and areas that were once safe can become dangerous almost overnight.

This is an ISIS group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. This is a group that’s affiliated with Al Qaeda. Increasing numbers of Jihadis have come into Syria, they’re setting up checkpoints so it means that any foreigners in particular travelling around the country, run the gauntlet of these checkpoints every few miles or so.

And the worst thing about driving around is that you’re never sure what lies behind the next corner.

[5] Despite Pannell’s assessment (10:47) that “travelling around Syria has never really been more dangerous” it would appear that Conway is able to hop between vehicles with impunity in the immediate vicinity of an ISIS checkpoint. At 10:55, seated in the rear of his saloon car, Pannell states “we’re just going through a checkpoint now” and instructs the cameraman – presumably Conway – to “put the camera down a bit”. Seconds later, in footage presumably also shot by Conway but filmed from the rear of another vehicle (the white pickup truck), we see an ISIS guard inspecting vehicles at a checkpoint.

Picture6

Ian Pannell presumably instructing his colleague, cameraman Darren Conway, to “put the camera down a bit” on the approach to an ISIS checkpoint.

Picture13

Scenes filmed from a different vehicle, ostensibly moments later, as the convoy passes through the ISIS checkpoint. The footage is presumably also shot by Saving Syria’s Children’s sole credited cameraman Darren Conway, seemingly indicating that he has moved freely between vehicles in an ISIS held area.

[6] In 2012 Al Sharif was photographed bearing the standard of the now defunct Idlib Martyrs Brigade:

Instagram, 13 August 2012 (subsequently deleted)

Another of Al Sharif’s Instagram photos is jarring when one considers that it was uploaded on 27 August 2013, the day after he had driven Pannell’s car through the ISIS checkpoint and, later, supposedly witnessed appalling carnage as dozens of child victims of an incendiary attack were rushed into Atareb Hospital:

Mughira Al Sharif uploaded this jocular image celebrating “the formation of the special battalions” one day after he had been present at Atareb Hospital, Aleppo, supposedly witnessing the aftermath of an incendiary attack on a nearby school playground in which scores of children had been killed or horrifically burned. https://www.instagram.com/p/dhg4o4GV5a/

These images and other material were submitted in a 2014 appeal to the BBC Trust which argued that Al Sharif’s involvement in Saving Syria’s Children breached BBC Editorial Guidelines. In rejecting the appeal the Trust’s Editorial Standards committee did not deign to address the point.

Some of Al Sharif’s more recent Instagram images demonstrate the prestigious connections he currently enjoys:

With Omer Korkmaz, chief advisor to Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.

A post shared by M.Sh (@mughira1503) on

[7] The identity and/or role of other uniformed and/or armed or professionally equipped individuals filmed by Darren Conway and others at Atareb Hospital on 26 August 2013 remains unclear:

Militarily attired male with microphone headset (See https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/#european)

Two militants who transported a female alleged incendiary attack victim to Atareb Hospital. (See https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/#black-dress)

Yusuf Zou’a, formerly a commander of the Ansar Brigade and military commander of Jabhat al-Nusra ally Jaysh al-Mujahideen (Army of Mujahideen). Zou’a was killed circa August 2016. In this scene Zou’a refers to “seven martyrs and about 50 wounded from the religious college for women and girls”, in stark contrast to the scenes recorded by Darren Conway and screened in Saving Syria’s Children, in which the overwhelming majority of alleged victims are adolescent males. (See: https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/#Halabhttps://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/#_ftn21http://en.mehrnews.com/news/118834/Syrian-army-establishes-control-on-a-number-of-positions-in-Aleppo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1siwEfWixw&feature=youtu.be)

Male of European appearance carrying a camera. In other scenes (e.g. top right in montage immediately below) he can be seen using a walky-talky. Saving Syria’s Children editor Tom Giles has stated that he has “no idea” who this man is. (See: https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/western-male-filmed-at-atareb-hospital/)

At least seven individuals can be seen using walkie-talkies in scenes filmed at Atareb Hospital or at Urm al-Kubra, the location of the alleged incendiary attack. (See: https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/2017/04/03/who-are-these-men/)

Individual bearing emblem of the Free Aleppo Governorate Council at 35:06 in Saving Syria’s Children. According to a 2014 MENASource blog post “The Council formed in March 2013 to provide services and administrative assistance for civilians living in free areas of Aleppo Province”.

[8] “ABC News is the news division of the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), owned by the Disney Media Networks division of The Walt Disney Company” – Wikipedia

All images in this article are from the author.

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