Wednesday was a bad day for Donald Trump's ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley.
The former South Carolina governor reportedly had impressed colleagues with her diligence and smarts when she was first confirmed as ambassador early this year, so much so she was rumored to be on the short list to replace Rex Tillerson when his tenure as secretary of state comes to a merciful end.
But two television appearances in a very short time Wednesday showed Haley at her very worst, and I imagine she'll stay hidden from the public for a while.
First, CNN's Wolf Blitzer interviewed Haley about the Trump administration's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It was an incredibly poor decision for reasons we have already discussed. In defending it, Haley seemed clueless as to just why, to say nothing of the position in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the United States had just committed itself to:
“And the fact that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, no one doubts that. Their parliament's there. Their supreme court's there. Their prime minister is there. And the United States has always put embassies in the capital. And so if you look at that, this is just common sense. This is just reality.”
This administration wants to treat Jerusalem like any other capital city in the world. The problem is, it simply isn't. Pretending otherwise does not change that, and effective diplomacy often relies on the public maintenance of such fictions.
But that was not even the most clueless part of this interview. The worst was that Blitzer kept asking Haley variations on the question of whether the U.S. now considers any of the disputed parts of Jerusalem, like the Old City (where the most holy religious sites are located), to be part of Israel, and Haley kept coming back with variations of “it's not for us to say.” For example:
BLITZER: Well, specifically, does the Trump administration now consider the Old City of Jerusalem part of Israel?
HALEY: You know, what they've said is Jerusalem is the capital. We are not going to weigh in anymore on that out of our commitment for the peace process. We don't want to pick a side on this.
But the U.S. has already picked a side. The final status of Jerusalem has always been one of the biggest sticking points in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. To the Arab world, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital looks as if the U.S. just picked a side.
If the U.S. wanted to appear to not pick a side, it would have wrung some concession out of Israel or announced it was also opening an embassy in East Jerusalem as a precursor to assuming that half of the city will one day be the capital of a Palestinian state. That would have been a forward-thinking move and also at least kept up the appearance that the U.S. is still a neutral arbiter of this dispute.
It didn't do that. Hence the universal condemnation from other countries. And the rioting.
Having more or less set the peace process in the Middle East on fire, Haley proceeded over to Fox News for an interview in which she stumbled into suggesting that tensions with North Korea might keep the United States from sending its athletes to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February:
MacCALLUM: Do you think it is safe for them to go there in this environment?
HALEY: I think those are conversations that we're going to have to have. [...]
MacCALLUM: Initially, you said we have to look at it, something to that — is that a done deal? Is the United States recommending that our team goes, or is that still an open question?
HALEY: There's an open question. I have not heard anything about that.
In two sentences, she says the U.S. skipping the Olympics is up in the air but also says she does not think anyone is talking about it.
In any case, the White House walked her statement back Thursday afternoon, defusing this bomb before anyone could compare Trump to Jimmy Carter:
UPDATE: The U.S. looks forward to participating in the Winter Olympics in South Korea. The protection of Americans is our top priority and we are engaged with the South Koreans and other partner nations to secure the venues.
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) December 7, 2017
Watch Haley's entire interview with Blitzer below.