KEELEY: The Undiplomatic Underestimation Of Heather Nauert

Gregory Keeley National security analyst
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The political and media hubris regarding President Trump’s nomination of Heather Nauert for U.S. ambassador is as predictable as it is tedious. Somewhat surprising however, is that the chattering classes — the courteous prevaricators, the obsequiously well-mannered yet mendacious diplomats, reporters and academics, did not see Ms. Nauert coming.

In October, following the resignation of Ambassador Nikki Haley, I was interviewed by Yellow Hammer News, Alabama’s leading political outlet. Heather Nauert was one my two picks to replace Haley — after Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, whose relationship with President Trump, disqualified him from the job. I said at the time:

A dark horse, I think, is the undersecretary for public diplomacy at the State Department. Heather Nauert: she’s formerly of Fox News, and she’s been in that position for a couple of years. She really understands Russia. She travels with the secretary of State to the U.N., across the world …. She would be a great choice.

The pundits and politicians conveniently overlook the fact that Nauert has held down two of the most demanding jobs at the State Department, concurrently: under secretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs and department spokesman. She is responsible for public diplomacy in 275 overseas U.S. embassies and foreign missions; oversees the global engagement center and guides the U.S. agency for global media.

Nauert tackled the challenging and grueling workload with grit, professionalism and grace, against a backdrop of international upheaval, predicated by of eight years of diplomatic apology and foreign policy indecisiveness. An ambassadorial baptism of sorts, unrivalled in decades. A belligerent Russia, an emboldened Iran, state sponsored terrorism, an unstable Korean Peninsula, Syria, Hezbollah, South Sudan, Yemen, unrest in Europe, and a bombastic China occupying the South China Sea. 

Nauert stepped into the breach and has the battle scars to prove it. She was not born into the role, nor did political, blue blood family connections play a part. She earned her nomination to lead the U.N. mission for the United States. 

The role of U.N. ambassador has morphed somewhat in the last decade. America’s top United Nations diplomat is America’s global spokesperson. Nauert has been at the forefront of foreign policy and execution at Foggy Bottom for two years. Granted, she has not been reading academic papers, lolling around a Senate office, or advocating a cause célèbre like many of her predecessors — she has been at the head table of American diplomatic power. 

The U.N. ambassador’s first charge is to protect and project American will, values and power. They must clearly and explicitly edify and disseminate America’s tenets, principles and ideals; stand up for the weak when the cause is just; and punitively call out nation states that support international terrorism, menace global norms and flout human rights. Nauert has proved herself formidable. She survived, and despite adversity, thrived in the wake of the tumultuous Tillerson tenure. Importantly she has earned the personal trust of the President of the United States. In turn, she must mold her own team. Dispense with the political holdovers and surround herself with trusted advisors and advocates.

Ambassador Haley was widely criticized when nominated. Democratic Delaware Sen. Chris Coons charmingly stated that Haley could not possibly be effective. The U.S. ambassador to the international body should be an “expert on international affairs,” Coons said, “not someone who will be learning on the job.” Haley won strong support despite having zero foreign policy experience. Conversely, Nauert is the fourth most senior officer at the Department of State. Coons has been eating humble pie cold.

Ambassador Haley’s comment is revelatory. “At the United Nations, the number one comment I get is they’re just so happy to see the United States lead again.” If Nauert can build a loyal, savvy team; stare down the excessively bureaucratic, globalized naysayers; defend America’s values and ideals; stand with Jerusalem against the anti-America, anti-Israel viper pit of the U.N. and do it with poise, she will be a long way toward a successful tenure as ambassador. Nauert has been underestimated before.

Greg Keeley (@DreadnaughtUSA) is managing partner of Dreadnaught and retired lieutenant commander who served in both the U.S. and Australian Navies. LCDR Keeley also served as a NATO & ISAF spokesman, and as senior adviser to the vice chairman of the House Armed Service Committee and chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee in the U.S. Congress.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.