The departure of US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley at the end of the year is becoming a harbinger for the Trump administration’s foreign policy direction in the second half of his four-year term.
Experts who spoke to The National on Wednesday assessed that Ms Haley's replacement will say as much about the power struggle within the administration, as much as it would about its foreign policy outlook for the next two years.
Ms Haley's differences with national security adviser John Bolton led to her departure at the UN, sources told The National. How much say Mr Bolton will get in the next appointment at the global body could determine where the Trump agenda is headed.
Richard Gowan, a senior fellow at the UN University Center for Policy Research, called Ms Haley a “tough-minded and a politically savvy operator”.
Her ability to get sanctions passed at Security Council against North Korea in 2017, maintaining a line critical of Russia and pro-Israel while working with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to cut costs showed a consistency and skills to manoeuvre in order to drive forward US policy goals.
But, now, Mr Gowan believes that "there is a high chance that the posture at the UN will become both less opaque and more aggressive". Mr Bolton may want to replace Ms Haley with a more hawkish figure, he told The National.
“President Trump made it pretty clear that he will keep up the pressure on the UN in his General Assembly speech last month, and whoever replaces Haley will probably have a pretty clear mandate to cut UN budgets further…Mr Bolton will want a hawk in New York,” Mr Gowan explained.
But with Ms Haley’s resignation coming before the midterms Mr Bolton may only have a short time frame to nominate a hawk to this position. Mr Gowan said: “He [Mr Bolton] will try to rush a hawk through the lame duck Senate” if the Democrats make gains in the upcoming election on November 6.
Another hurdle that could derail Mr Bolton’s plans is the US President himself. Mr Trump dismissed nominating Richard Grennell, a Bolton ally, who is currently ambassador to Germany.
“Ric Grenell is absolutely someone I would consider but he’s doing so well in Germany. [I would] rather keep Ric where he is,” Mr Trump said.
A frontrunner to the position is now former deputy national security adviser Dina Powell who hails from an Egyptian background. Diplomatic sources told The National that Ms Powell wanted the position last year before she left the administration in February, and she is now being recommended by Ms Haley, according to Axios. The US news site however noted that "White House chief of Staff John Kelly and Mr Bolton are not fans and would rather Ms Powell didn't get the job".
"Dina Powell's reputation is not an ideological one, and her presence in the White House during Donald Trump's first year was reassuring to some in light of her establishment credentials and background," Michael Hanna a senior fellow at the century foundation in New York told The National.
Ms Powell played an instrumental role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process led by Mr Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner. She helped mend relations between Arab governments and Washington during her year long presence at the White House. Ms Powell also played a critical role in negotiations to release US activist Aya Hijazi from Egyptian prisons.
Mr Hanna argued that “her appointment would likely allay concerns that this would represent another step in John Bolton's efforts to control the policy process”.
But in terms of her substantive views, “we have less visibility, but during her previous stint in the administration she was heavily focused on national security issues, including Israel-Palestine, and despite the administration's outright hostility to Palestine and its representatives,” he said.
“It is unlikely that Ms Powell would replicate Ms Haley's unstinting and at times venomous approach to this set of issues,” Mr Hanna said. With the US readying to roll out its peace plan, and increasing talk from Mr Trump about the possibility of negotiating with Iran, a less ideological UN ambassador could help promote such policy.
Ms Powell was born in Cairo in 1973, speaks fluent Arabic and immigrated with her parents to Texas at the age of four. She served in the George W. Bush administration as assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs at the age of 32 then moved to New York to work on Wall Street, where she joined Goldman Sachs in 2007 as a managing director, and later to become a partner in 2010. She is close to both Mr Kushner and the President’s daughter Ivanka Trump.
Mr Trump is expected to make a decision on a nominee from a list that he said has five names in the next few weeks and before the midterms.
His daughter, Ivanka, took her name out of the running amid reports that it would violate US nepotism laws. She tweeted: "It is an honor to serve in the White House alongside so many great colleagues and I know that the President will nominate a formidable replacement for Ambassador Haley. That replacement will not be me."
But any confirmation will have to wait until Congress is back in session. Ms Haley got a whopping 96 votes for the position in January 2017, and experts agree that a more hawkish pick could face an uphill battle.
Other names being floated for the position are chairman of the foreign relations committee Senator Bob Corker, and according to CBS, former Senator Joe Lieberman. Mr Corker, like Ms Powell, is a centrist on foreign policy while Mr Lieberman shares Mr Bolton’s hawkish views on Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian issue.