One of the last major speeches that Nikki Haley made before the United Nations Security Council prior to yesterday’s surprise resignation was one where she stated with certainty that Russia was going to aid the Syrian Arab Army in a military operation in the notorious Idlib Governorate. As such, Haley made her customary threats that the US would intervene militarily if a Russo-Syrian operation in Idlib were to take place.
While Haley’s customary hubris appeared to indicate that the US was ready and willing to use its military might in order to retard the progress of a Russo-Syrian onslaught in Idlib whose opening salvos were imminent, Russia’s Ambassador to the UN gave no indication that such an operation was imminent. In this sense, Russia called Nikki Haley’s bluff and Russia clearly won. Yet, it was not only Russia that won.
Nikki Haley’s “fake news” regarding her assumption of an automatic Idlib operation by Damascus and Moscow was further exposed when after the 7 September meeting in Tehran of the Astana Group of Russia, Turkey and Iran, Russia’s Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu stated that no such operation in Idlib would take place. The following week, the Russian and Turkish Presidents met to solidify an agreement to create a demilitarised zone in Idlib which would divide Ankara backed rebels from troops loyal to Damascus while groups mutually classed as terror organisations would be targeted by both Russia and Turkey in a cooperative effort. This agreement to effectively divide Idlib into international zones of influence clearly took the wind of the America’s sails and Nikki Haley’s in particular. Furthermore, the only class of person who would have been surprised by such an agreement is someone who has no understanding of the modern partnership between Turkey and Russia. Nikki Haley was one such individual.
While Donald Trump said little about Idlib and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared more focused on matters in north east Asia than those in the Middle East, it feel to Nikki Haley to persuade the United Nations that Syria and Russia were about to unleash hell on Idlib and that the world (including and especially Turkey) should rally towards Washington’s side as a result. While Russia and Turkey are enjoying their best relations since the era of Ataturk and Lenin, the idea that Ankara and Moscow would work on a win-win compromise for Idlib, one incidentally also backed by Iran and the Syrian government was clearly something that passed Nikki Haley by during every stage of the run-up to the “battle of Idlib” that never was.
When the Idlib agreement was revealed, it fell to the US State Department to quietly endorse the deal that had previously been formally applauded by not only Russia and Turkey but also by Syria, Iran and a majority of rebel groups in Idlib. To put it frankly, both NATO member Turkey and US rival Russia boxed the US into a corner. All the while, the agreement for peace and de-escalation left Nikki Haley’s credibility in tatters.
The same day that the Idlib agreement was made, Israel conducted an attack on western Syria during which Syrian anti-aircraft missiles accidentally downed a Russian aircraft. The result of the incident was that (surprisingly to those who misunderstand Russia’s partnership with Israel) Russia actually intensified its dialogue and cooperation with Tel Aviv while also granting Syria its long standing request for S-300 missile defence systems which are vastly more advanced than the older equipment Syria had been using.
This event further emphasised America’s impotence as it had no role in influencing the complex but very open Russian partnership with Israel while at the same time, the events led Russia to strengthen Syria’s weapons systems which if anything will make future would-be US attacks on Syria all the more difficult.
Because Nikki Haley has always acted less like a diplomat and more like a hawkish foreign minister, by her own standards she failed in terms of both predicting and influencing events. In respect of predicting events, she got matters completely wrong on Idlib. All the while Russia drew closer to both Israel and Syria simultaneously in spite of hysteria from various dishonest media outlets indicating the opposite.
Thus, Nikki Haley let down the hawkish elements in the US who wanted to perversely encourage a Russo-Syrian offensive in Idlib in order to justify further American aggression in Syria, while she also let down strategists in Washington who are desperate to retard the progress of the still growing Russo-Turkish partnership. At the same time, in spite of declaring herself Israel’s best friend at the UN, the incident involving a downed Russian plane during an Israeli attack on Syria proved to be a matter over which the US had no influence.
While multiple domestic factors may well be behind Nikki Haley’s resignation ranging from her own anti-Trump political ambitions, rumours that she authored an anti-Trump letter published in the New York Times stating that a high level White House official was working to undermine Donald Trump, a largely ignored expenses scandal, to rumours of an adulterous relationship with the US President; the timing of her resignation may have been because as America’s most robust public advocate for military intervention in Syria, she let her own side down.
While Haley has excelled at making threats and insults towards Syria, Russia, Iran, Venezuela and previously the DPRK, her total misunderstanding of the mature win-win partnership between Russia and Turkey exposed her as a supremely gifted spokeswoman for war but a totally ignorant and ultimately failed diplomat.