U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley delivered a forceful indictment of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in what is likely to be remembered as a historic speech in the UN Security Council on Wednesday afternoon.
Haley, who has recently made headlines for her outspoken, take-no-prisoners attitude and her high esteem within the Trump administration, spoke forcefully against the latest, deadly round of chemical bombings in Syria, which killed over 60 people on Tuesday, and called out Russia for continuing to support the Assad regime.
"How many more children have to die before Russia cares?” she asked during the emergency security council meeting. “Yesterday’s attack was a new low, even for the barbaric Assad regime,” she said, after holding up photos of children killed in the attack, noting that this chemical attack was more lethal than previous ones committed by government forces.
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“The gas that fell out of the sky yesterday was more deadly, leading men, women, the elderly, and children gasping for their very last breath. As first responders, doctors and nurses rushed to help the victims, a second slew of bombs rained down. They died in the same slow, horrendous manner as the civilians they were trying to save,” she said, calling for her colleagues on the UN Security Council to condemn the attack, and leaving open the possibility that the U.S. “may” take unilateral action. She continued:
We all also know this: Just a few weeks ago, this council attempted to hold Assad accountable for suffocating his own people to death with toxic chemicals. Russia stood in the way of this accountability. They made an unconscionable choice. They chose to close their eyes to the barbarity. They defied the conscience of the world. Russia cannot escape responsibility for this. In fact, if Russia had been fulfilling its responsibility, there would not be any chemical weapons left for the Syrian regime to use...The truth is that Assad, Russia, and Iran, have no interest in peace.
The speech cemented Haley’s status as the most outspoken human rights advocate in the Trump administration. Her harsh words for Syria, Russia, and Iran stand in opposition to the approach of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and President Donald Trump, who have not spoken out forcefully in defense of human rights.
Haley has said that Trump is not dictating her actions in the UN: “He is not stopping me from beating up on Russia...He’s not stopping me from talking about the pressure that China needs to be putting on North Korea,” she told Bloomberg, adding that she thinks Russia was “certainly” involved in the U.S. election.
Given her rising star status, some observers are speculating that Haley, who is currently taking a turn as president of the security council, may one day run for president. For the time being, she’s going out of her way to make an impression: “I wear heels, and it’s not for a fashion statement,” she said during an appearance last week. “It’s because if I see something wrong, we’re gonna kick ’em every time.”