After the initial debate among GOP presidential aspirants, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is clearly the darling of the hawks who have given us debacles in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Ukraine. Indeed, the laudatory assessments of her debate performance among conservatives in the pro-war news media seemed to be a sophisticated, highly coordinated propaganda campaign.
The key feature that Haley and her cheerleaders have in common is an unwillingness to consider any alternatives to the policies that have brought America and the world so much grief. Congenitally hawkish New York Times columnist David Brooks stated that he had previously considered Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), but that he now had concluded that Haley was the best candidate to thwart not only Donald Trump but broader undesirable trends in the Republican Party.
He left little doubt that those trends mainly involved foreign policy. “Haley dismantled [Vivek] Ramaswamy on foreign policy. It was not only her contemptuous put-down: ‘You have no foreign policy experience and it shows.'” Brooks was especially pleased because, “She took on the whole America First ethos that sounds good as a one-liner but that doesn’t work when you’re governing a superpower. Gesturing to Ramaswamy, she said, ‘He wants to hand Ukraine to Russia, he wants to let China eat Taiwan, he wants to go and stop funding Israel. You don’t do that to friends.’” In other words, Haley loyally mouthed the interventionist cliches that Brooks and other neocons refuse to question.
Brooks’ colleague at the Times, David French, was even more enthusiastic about Haley’s debate performance and at least as vitriolic toward Ramaswamy. “When Nikki Haley mustered all her experience and knowledge as America’s former ambassador to the U.N. and all the moral clarity of traditional American resistance to Russian tyranny, she decimated Vivek Ramaswamy’s populist isolationism. She won on style and substance and reminded voters why she was once considered a Republican rising star.”
The always reliable pro-war Wall Street Journal editorial board tried to embrace Haley and former Vice President Mike Pence with roughly equal fervor. “Pence often seemed like the adult in the room, especially on foreign policy. He and Nikki Haley pounded Mr. Ramaswamy for his willingness to withdraw support for Ukraine.” Ms. Haley “made the moral case against Vladimir Putin’s depredations.” Being an “adult” in the Journal’s view apparently requires ignoring evidence of Ukraine’s corruption and authoritarianism as well as dismissing the risks of confronting a major power having 6,000 nuclear weapons over a country with minimal strategic or economic importance to the United States.
Haley’s actual level of foreign policy maturity can be judged by another of her simplistic comments about the Ukraine conflict. “The American president needs to have more clarity, they [presidential candidates] need to know the difference between right and wrong. They need to know the difference between good and evil.” She criticized Ramaswamy and another skeptic of continued U.S. military aid to Ukraine, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, for lack of such moral clarity and then added a cheap shot; “This guy [Putin] is a murderer and you are choosing a murderer.”
Fox News highlighted Clinton administration adviser Mark Penn’s favorable assessment of Haley. Penn contended that Haley’s debate performance was impressive and that she was clearly the best choice to be Secretary of State in an incoming Republican administration. Penn’s comment highlighted the continuing bipartisan nature of the pro-interventionist foreign policy blob.
Haley would be a reliable front woman for the war machine in nearly every respect. She favors a rabidly hostile policy toward Russia along with an equally unthinking posture of support for Ukraine. Indeed, she criticizes President Joe Biden for being “far too slow and weak in helping Ukraine.” That is a strange and troubling comment, given that the United States has given Kiev more than $130 billion in assistance.
But that is not the only arena in which Haley’s virulent hawkish orientation emerges. In a speech to the American Enterprise Institute, she even criticized Donald Trump for being insufficiently hostile to China. “We must act now to keep the peace and prevent war,” she said. “And we need a leader that will rally our people to meet this threat on every single front…Communist China is an enemy. It is the most dangerous foreign threat we’ve faced since the Second World War.”
As if simultaneously pursuing confrontational military policies against Russia and China were not enough, she also embraces utterly uncompromising policies toward both Iran and North Korea. Haley even favors putting U.S. Special Forces into Mexico to battle the drug cartels. “When it comes to the cartels, the Mexican president said yesterday we don’t want the U.S. to do anything. Well, you know what? You tell the Mexican president, either you do it or we do it. But we are not going to let all of this lawlessness continue to happen.”
What comes through clearly from both her rhetoric and policy positions is that Nikki Haley has no sense of the limits of U.S. power or the dangers inherent in America’s strategic overextension. A lengthy list of conflicts and tensions around the world all seem to be existential moral struggles requiring maximum U.S. engagement in her world view. Her approach invokes images from World War II and the worst years of the Cold War. It is a thoroughly obsolete and ahistorical approach.
Haley and her pro-war fan club epitomize a dangerously faulty perspective regarding U.S. foreign policy. Moreover, it is apparent that they have learned nothing from the spectacular failure of their recommendations in the post-Cold War era. Instead, they insist on doubling down on that blundering strategy, and dismissing any alternatives with the silly allegation that they amount to isolationism. To her hawkish supporters, Nikki Haley is a thoughtful, mature leader, but her casual recklessness likely would be a catastrophe for America and the world.