I don’t know what else hardcore Trump critics could want rhetorically than what Haley serves up here. She blames Moscow squarely for the nerve-agent attack in Britain, reaffirms the “special relationship” and America’s “absolute solidarity” with the UK, then runs through a few other humanitarian nightmares on Russia’s resume for good measure. NATO isn’t mentioned but this isn’t the forum for that. It’s the UN Security Council, whose credibility she calls into question explicitly if it fails to punish Russia for the Skripal poisoning. Which it will, of course, since Russia, as a permanent member, has a veto over any action.
And yet hardcore anti-Trumpers like David Frum were killing POTUS earlier today for his supposedly weak response to the poisoning.
Trump has not tweeted about Salisbury nerve agent attack. No statement of support for UK on his most personal medium of communication. No endorsement of May's two speeches in House of Commons. https://t.co/x4q8o5Zndn
— David Frum (@davidfrum) March 14, 2018
I assume Haley’s strong statement will be spun away as evidence of disjunction on Russia within the administration, with the president going one way while his intel chiefs and top diplomats go another. It’s impossible to believe, though, that her remarks weren’t vetted at the White House beforehand given how firmly she commits the U.S. to Great Britain’s side of the dispute. She’s all-in here. Surely she wouldn’t do that without official approval in Washington, lest it put her on the wrong side of the boss — who’s in a firing mood of late, let’s remember.
Her statement is more forceful than the White House readout of Trump’s phone call yesterday with Theresa May, but that was reasonably strong too:
White House readout of President Trump's call with British PM Theresa May: pic.twitter.com/00s7myuCZi
— Trey Yingst (@TreyYingst) March 13, 2018
The U.S. stands in solidarity with the UK and Russia must answer for the Skripal attack. If you want to parse the readout closely, you might note that it leaves some wiggle room to argue that while the Russian government may have developed the nerve agent that was used, it wasn’t necessarily the Russian government that ordered the attack. But Haley’s remarks today eliminated that possibility. The U.S. is blaming Russia, period.
In fact, per the Times, the White House is sensitive to perceptions that it’s going soft on Russia over this episode in light of the Russiagate probe and Trump’s weird kid-gloves treatment of Putin in the past:
At times, White House officials said, Mr. Tillerson’s behavior verged on insubordination. The administration, for example, was extremely cautious in responding to reports that Russia was behind the deadly nerve-gas attack in Britain. But when Mr. Tillerson was asked about it in Africa, he said, “It appears that it clearly came from Russia.”
His statement infuriated the White House, which had crafted its talking points with lawyers at the State Department to keep the United States in lock step with Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain. Instead, an official said, Mr. Tillerson made the White House look like it was soft on Mr. Putin, which he insisted was not the intention.
That might explain the tenor of Haley’s remarks today. The White House, irritated that Tillerson had gotten ahead of the UK in pummeling Russia, now wanted to play catch-up after May formally accused Moscow of the Skripal attack. So they told Haley not to hold back in her UNSC statement. Just a theory, but worth considering.
I assume the new spin from devout “collusion” true believers will be either (a) it doesn’t matter what Haley says since only Trump truly speaks for the administration or (b) it doesn’t matter what anyone says since actions speak louder than words. Punish Russia in a meaningful way. Everything else is farts in the wind. There’s some truth to both points but they also amount to goalpost-shifting: The accusation as of this morning was that the White House hadn’t been nearly as vocal as it should be in siding with the Brits and directly blaming Russia for the nerve-agent operation. Well, here you go.
Exit question via Omri Ceren, noting the hand-wringing yesterday among some Trump critics over Tillerson’s firing: How can Trump be a Russian stooge for firing T-Rex when he was supposedly a Russian stooge for hiring him in the first place?
Update: The White House put this statement out after Haley’s speech today (and after I finished the post above). Again, what more could you want?
NEW: White House issues statement in support of the UK: "The US shares the UK's assessment that Russia is responsible for the reckless nerve agent attack on a British citizen and his daughter, and we support the UK's decision to expel Russian diplomats as a just response.” pic.twitter.com/H29owJQJZl
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) March 14, 2018