WASHINGTON: In an otherwise tempestuous administration that has seen frequent personnel changes at the top level, Indian-American Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, is seen as a trusted hand who has won President Trump’s confidence, to the extent that she is often spoken of as a possible Secretary of State.
There are occasions when she has even gone against the man she opposed early in the presidential election cycle, such as disagreeing with his idea for a Muslim-ban. And on Russia, she has frequently pushed for a harder line than Trump would allow.
On Monday, Haley found that she had not only gone out on a limb with her hard line on Russia, but also how temperamental her boss could be, when the White Housepublicly repudiated her announcement that tougher sanctions were on the cards. The President, it was revealed, was not ready for it and the matter was still under consideration. "Trump throws Nikki Haley under the bus," was an oft-heard expression following the debacle.
Trump’s Russia rollback added fuel to the already raging speculation about why he is inexplicably soft on Moscow to the extent of undercutting his aides, intelligence agencies, and security mavens. Jokes abound of his fondness for Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and the liberal media, particularly late night comedians, have gone to town about how he is compromised by Moscow and is a stooge of Russia.
Beyond the comedic aspect of the speculation, comments by the former FBI Director James Comey that it is possible the American President is compromised, has reheated the rumor mills.
In this case, it is reported that Haley had cleared her announcement on Russia sanctions -- made on Sunday talk shows – with Trump before the President changed his mind. "She has a tendency to clear her remarks with Trump personally before she makes them. It seems entirely possible that she got Trump to sign off on saying more Russia sanctions were coming on Sunday morning, and then the White House got cold feet (possibly because Trump suddenly felt the need to exert his influence over the process)," the Washington Post reported.
On Monday, a senior administration official told news agencies that Haley "got out ahead of things this time" and Trump has delayed imposing additional sanctions on Russia and is unlikely to approve them unless Moscow carries out a new cyber attack or some other provocation.
The official said Trump had expressed concern that if the administration did not proceed cautiously, tensions between Washington and Moscow - already at their worst since the Cold War - could escalate dangerously.
Trump supporters say the President is being goaded into a confrontation with Russia by sections of US national security establishment and the media, and while sanctions are still under consideration, it will only come after due deliberation.
"The president has been clear that he's going to be tough on Russia, but at the same time he'd still like to have a good relationship with them," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said.
But the jokes just won't stop. And the implicit admonishment that Haley had overreached meant another cabinet official who is now out of whack with the President.