Open Letters Review

Former US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley opens her new book With All Due Respect with a Dedication … not to her husband, her children, or her parents, but to the American people. And she closes her new book by saying that she has no idea what comes next in her life, but she’s certain that when God has a plan for her, He will reveal it. In other words, Nikki Haley plans either to run for President of the United States or to position herself to replace Mike Pence as Donald Trump’s running mate. With All Due Respect therefore immediately becomes that most oily of sub-literary productions, a campaign biography.

It certainly reads like one. At every stage of Haley’s international dealings, her versions come across as Hollywood burnishing of an ordinary diplomatic portfolio, always with the Clint Eastwood lines going to Haley herself. She relates berating President Kiir of South Sudan and then getting off a final quip:

I told him that the United States cannot and will not look away. But he could change the path his country was on; he could still fulfill the hope that had once been placed in him. It was up to him, I said. What happened next was in his hands. Kiir responded with all the right promises. But words are cheap, particularly words from dictators. As I left his office, I paused at the door and said, “Don’t make me come back.”

Self-aggrandizing is a known hazard of such books as this. What’s far, far worse is Haley’s fawning – likewise a known hazard of Trump-quisling books. When writing about Trump’s infamous Helsinki press conference alongside Vladimir Putin, in which Trump scorned the consensus of his own intelligence agencies in order to exonerate Putin of interfering in the 2016 election. “I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia,” Trump said at the time, “and I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

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In Haley’s account of the aftermath, she bravely shoulders her way past the yes-men and apathetic apparatchiks in order to give Trump the bare facts: that Russia did interfere in the 2016 election. Sure, it might not make her very popular around here to speak such truth to power, but darn it all, that’s just the kind of person she is. And it gets results: “To his credit, the president soon issued additional remarks, saying he had misspoken and that he accepted U.S intelligence agencies’ findings about Russian meddling in the election.”

This is revolting on many levels, of course: that Trump would think any sentient person on the planet would believe he “misspoke” the word “would” instead of “wouldn’t” (it’s a miracle the first room that heard it didn’t erupt into laughter), that Haley herself believes this for even a moment, or even that it really happened. In reality, Trump couldn’t stick to his own lie, adding in his “additional remarks” that “It could be other people also. A lot of people out there.” No word if Haley went charging into his office a second time.

The ubiquity of this trait in Trump-quisling books, this shaving off damning details in order to make Trump sound a bit less like a treasonous idiot, doesn’t make it any less disgusting; like their boss, all these quislings seem to want to willfully forget that sound recording equipment exists in 2019. Haley’s book is chock-full of such Trump-quisling traits; her clear assumption is that Trump will be alive and unincarcerated whenever God decides to let her know she should resume a career in politics; what other reason could there be for her – for any of these quislings – to so publicly strip themselves of integrity? Her barracuda-clear assumption that she might need Trump some day is obviously based on another assumption: that he’ll always be in a position to help her, provided she lies energetically enough in the here-and-now.

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“When it comes to actually walking the walk and calling out individual governments for violating these rights, UN members too often cast aside these beliefs,” Haley writes in one of the many, many passages of blind irony in With All Due Respect. “This is especially true, unfortunately, when it comes to calling out governments that are hostile to the United States.” Again: there is audio. Two countries decidedly hostile to the United States are Russia and North Korea – both of which have been praised and defended by her former boss on every occasion, while he simultaneously pines that he wishes his own people behaved as obediently as theirs. Haley’s blindness on such points can only be self-induced.

—Steve Donoghue is a founding editor of Open Letters Monthly. His book criticism has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, The Historical Novel Society, and The American Conservative. He writes regularly for The National, The Washington Post, The Vineyard Gazette, and The Christian Science Monitor. His website is http://www.stevedonoghue.com.