Nikki Haley’s tenure as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was always something of a tightrope walk. A vocal critic of President Trump during the 2016 campaign and a popular governor known for tamping down tensions rather than escalating them, Haley’s acceptance of a role on Trump’s team seemed like a questionable fit. Haley’s tenure at the United Nations — which, we learned Tuesday, will conclude at the end of the year — was a bit rocky, with the ambassador often publicly disagreeing with the president she served. On the whole, though, Haley carried out Trump’s agenda.
During a press event in the Oval Office at which her resignation was announced, Haley showed that she was still willing to advance Trump’s message, using language that echoed his claims about his administration’s foreign policy — with a twist.
“Now the United States is respected; countries may not like what we do, but they respect what we do,” Haley said about Trump’s time in office. “They know that if we say we’re going to do something, we follow it through. And the president proved that, whether it was with the chemical weapons in Syria, whether it’s with NATO saying that other countries have to pay their share, I mean — whether it’s the trade deals, which have been amazing — they get that the president means business, and they follow through with that.”
The twist there is that Haley, unlike Trump, modified her description of how the United States is respected. Trump often simply asserts that the United States is now once again respected, a claim that seems hard to square with skeptical views of Trump all over the world. This month, we noted that in only four countries — not including the United States — is his approach to foreign policy viewed positively.
This was crystallized by Trump spurring laughter from the audience at the U.N. General Assembly during a speech there last month, a response that seemed to catch him off guard.
But views of Trump and the opinions of U.N. delegates are not what Trump’s talking about, and Haley made clear it’s certainly not what she’s looking at, either. Trump’s blunt assessment of views about the United States are easier to dismiss than Haley’s more nuanced one. After all, if our country has cowed its opponents, wouldn’t they then dislike it?
Data from the same Pew Research Center analysis used for the map above gives us a more nuanced look at how the United States is viewed internationally.
We looked at two metrics.
The first was how willing people in other countries were to say that the United States “plays a more important and powerful role as a world leader today compared to 10 years ago.” In several countries, Pew asked the same question in 2016, allowing us to compare how views of the United States as a powerful world leader have shifted since before Trump’s presidency.
The second metric was favorability: Was the United States seen more or less favorably than before Trump began his term in office? Here we compared each year’s values to those in 2017, the first year of Trump’s administration.
So consider Canada.
Compared with 2016, Canadians are less likely to say that the United States is more powerful and important on the world stage than 10 years ago (the red bar) and much more likely to say that the United States is less important and powerful (the tall gray one). At the same time, the percentage of Canadians viewing the United States favorably plunged from 2016 to 2017 and further still in 2018. (We also show net favorability change — that is, Canadians who view the United States favorably minus those who view it unfavorably.)
This picture is at odds with Haley’s presentation. The United States is viewed more negatively but also as less powerful than it was viewed pre-Trump.
But that’s just Canada. Now look at France.
In France, people are more likely than two years ago to say that the United States is important and powerful as a world leader, even while favorable views of the United States declined.
This is the claim that Haley makes. We’re seen as stronger, even if people don’t like us.
In Australia, the picture is a bit different.
The United States is viewed as stronger relative to two years ago — and its favorability has even rebounded a bit after dropping during Trump’s first year in office.
Germany and Britain also are interesting. Germany follows the same pattern as France.
In Britain., the United States is seen as stronger relative to two years ago, while the country is viewed about as favorably now as it was last year.
Perhaps the most interesting example is South Korea.
Not much change in favorability under Trump, but a big shift in how people viewed the United States' international power. This survey was completed in the spring of this year, before Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, so it’s not clear whether these views might have shifted.
The picture that results from these numbers is a complex one. That’s probably the best takeaway from Haley’s comments: Her presentation, while more nuanced than Trump’s, is still pretty hard to validate. Who is Haley even talking about? Citizens? Leaders? It’s not clear.
That vagueness and the mix of numbers above are why the assertion about respect is a nifty bit of rhetoric that’s embraced by Trump. It’s a handy bit of rhetoric for Haley, too, as the person responsible for carrying out what Trump wanted to see from the United Nations — and as someone who might be looking toward a future that includes more politics.