Haley Uses Twitter to Mix Public Diplomacy and ‘The Americans’ Quips

  • ‘It’s a great day to binge watch ‘The Americans,’ she tweeted
  • UN envoy has challenge of winning support for Trump priorities

When a snowstorm shut down parts of the U.S. East Coast last month, Nikki Haley, America’s top diplomat at the United Nations, found time to get close to some Russian agents.

It’s “a great day to binge watch ‘The Americans,’” Haley wrote on Twitter, referring to the television drama about Russian spies living in the Washington suburbs during the Cold War.

Nikki Haley

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

It was a bold attempt at humor in the midst of congressional and FBI investigations into potential ties between President Donald Trump’s inner circle and Russia during the 2016 campaign. But it wasn’t out of character: Since taking office in January, the former South Carolina governor has used her Twitter account to mix public diplomacy and tough talk on global hot spots with chatty nuggets from her off-duty life. 

“Nikki Haley has a lot of latitude at the UN because she is part of the core team and trusted by the president,” said Peter Yeo, president of the Better World Campaign and a vice president at the nonprofit United Nations Foundation.

Haley’s tweet

twitter.com/nikkihaley

Representing Trump’s “America First” agenda can be a hard job at the UN, an organization the president has called a “club” where people go just to “have a good time” instead of fixing problems. On Monday, the 45-year-old Haley was more diplomatic as she took over the rotating presidency of the Security Council, deflecting criticism that the Trump administration is vowing to slash funding for the UN and for foreign aid generally by focusing on accountability at the world body.

Scorched Buns

“My job is to show the American people value at the UN,” Haley told reporters. “All member states know what we are for and know exactly what we are against and when we think something is wrong, we should make it clear what we think is very wrong and handle it accordingly.”

Perhaps in a bid to win over both the UN bureaucracy and New Yorkers, the conservative Haley has been liberal in sprinkling sometimes self-effacing nuggets from her home life into her official Twitter feed. She has joked about her (lack of) cooking skills, showing a photo of burned cinnamon buns with the comment "I had one job... #CantCook #StickToWashingDishes".

Haley’s Twitter followers also know about her musical tastes, from Sia to Hozier and pioneering 1980s female rockers Stevie Nicks (“After a full day of meetings in DC, the train ride back listening to Stevie Nicks was just what I needed”) and Joan Jett. Her tweet on Jett came hours after North Korea conducted one of its provocative missile tests.

Haley’s tweet

Source: twitter.com/nikkihaley

On March 8 she wrote, “On what will be an intense day on N. Korea and Syria, this was a sweet way to start the day...‘Thinking Out Loud’ by Ed Sheeran. Happy Wed!”

While she has recounted trips to New York restaurants and shared photos of her dog Bentley, Haley’s Twitter diplomacy isn’t all about soft power.

Early Victory

Haley also has used her Twitter account to advance her agenda at the UN, where she has pledged to take a tough look at what good is being accomplished and whether the U.S. gets its money’s worth from the approximately $8 billion it spends annually on the UN and its affiliated agencies.

On her first day on the job, she vowed that “for those who don’t have our back, we’re taking names.” She boiled that down to the Twitter hashtags #USUNStrong #Taking Names.

She scored an early victory last week, when the Security Council voted to trim personnel and spending on its most expensive peacekeeping mission, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (She tweeted with the triumphant hashtag #ANewDayAtUN.) Haley has promised similarly tough reviews of the 15 other UN missions, three of which are winding down.

When a top UN official published a report in March comparing U.S. ally Israel to an apartheid state, Haley called UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres demanding the report be removed. A day later, the report was withdrawn and the Jordanian diplomat behind it had quit, to Haley’s applause in a tweet.

‘Beating Up’ Russia

On Russia, Haley has taken a different posture from Trump, who repeatedly expressed his admiration for President Vladimir Putin. In her first public remarks in the Security Council in February -- and in a tweet that day -- she condemned Russia for aggressive actions in Ukraine and insisted that U.S. sanctions on Moscow would remain, a point that’s been echoed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis.

When pressed about her tougher language on Russia versus that of her boss, Haley said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that “he is not stopping me from beating up on Russia.”

Haley, the avid Twitter poster, also scoffed at the notion that world leaders and UN diplomats may be unnerved by Trump’s more provocative tweets. “Foreign leaders are picking up the phone and calling him if they have an issue,” she said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday. “They’re not sitting there texting me and saying, ‘What was this tweet about?”’

Haley’s mix of bluntness and charm, in person and online, has won early praise in some quarters. Her actions at the UN have made her “the most effective foreign policy spokesperson in the Trump administration, vigorously taking on Russian aggression in Crimea and the Ukraine, North Korean missile and nuclear mischief, and Syrian crimes against humanity,” retired Ambassador Donald Bliss, who heads the United Nations Association’s Washington chapter, wrote to his members March 15.

Her folksy approach may help other diplomats relate and ultimately work with Haley on a range of difficult issues she’ll have to tackle on the Security Council, from North Korea’s nuclear weapons program to addressing rising fears of famine in Africa.

“Her personal tweets show that she is a good and decent person who is trying to make the most out of New York and cope with challenges that many diplomats can sympathize with,” Yeo of the Better World Campaign said.

Out of Touch?

Yet sometimes those postings can make Haley appear out of touch. In late January, as immigrants and refugees were stranded around the world because of confusion over Trump’s initial executive order limiting entry to the U.S. -- and just after Iran conducted a medium-range missile test -- Haley wrote about her husband driving up to New York with the family’s pets, including two frogs and a fish. (“We are all Together again!”)

Haley’s real test, at least for diplomats and UN staff, will be how she navigates Trump’s demands for spending cuts to UN and foreign aid programs. More than 100 groups sent Congress and Haley a letter in late February urging sustained support for those efforts.

“The world is currently facing upheaval on a range of fronts,” according to the letter, whose signatories included Human Rights Watch and Refugees International. The U.S. should “avoid counterproductive actions, such as withholding financial support for the UN, that will only isolate the U.S. from its international partners.”

Trump’s proposed cuts, which Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said were “dead on arrival,” will also test Haley’s skills navigating the competing demands of her boss and the appropriators in Congress. During her Senate confirmation hearing she said she didn’t believe in “a slash-and-burn of the UN.”

“Haley understands Congress will get a chance to weigh in strongly,” Yeo said. Now, “the budget action has moved to Congress, where there is nuanced appreciation of the role that the UN plays.”

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