Heather Nauert is the wrong choice for UN ambassador

There is room in the Trump administration for the bright, talented Heather Nauert, a former Fox & Friends host and current State Department spokesperson. Nauert easily could succeed Sarah Huckabee Sanders as the face of the White House press operation. She could be a senior adviser to the president who helps shape his messaging, from improving his Twitter game to polishing his TV image, or even acting as a top surrogate across the media landscape. She could move over to the Trump 2020 campaign — in coming months, when special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s Russia investigation may conclude, they will need all the help they can get.

Yes, Nauert has much to offer — just not as one of America’s top diplomats.

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There is no rationale for the president to put forth Nauert’s name as his nominee as United Nations ambassador. In fact, the idea seems downright silly, no matter how much Trump loyalists try to cheer his pick across the finish line.

The sad saga of the last Trump pick to lead America’s diplomatic efforts at the United Nations, Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyChina’s Uighur abuse augurs poorly for world State Dept halts cooperation with UN probes into potential US human rights violations: report The Memo: Romney moves stir worries in Trump World MORE, shows why Nauert also is a bad choice. She shares the same problem as Haley when she started in the role: a lack of any diplomatic experience or top-level expertise on global affairs.

Recently, we were given a clear example of the potential global repercussions that such lack of experience can have. Though buried in a flood of recent headlines, it was reported that Haley confessed to a private crowd at the Council for National Policy that, in 2017, she told China’s U.N. representative that the Trump administration might consider an invasion of North Korea. While we will never know how North Korea took the news, or even if the Chinese related Haley’s comments, this only could have raised tensions, and had the potential to set up a crisis not unlike those that occurred during the Cold War.

Yet, even though Haley had no national security or foreign policy experience, she at least could draw upon her leadership skills as governor of South Carolina. What experience will Nauert draw from? As the face of the State Department to the news media, she clearly must have command of the basics of many of America’s national security challenges — but shaping the message is very different than knowing the particulars behind the message. Perhaps the president will consider downgrading the ambassadorship from a Cabinet-level position, as Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoPompeo: US 'absolutely not' getting out of the Middle East Pompeo taking meeting about running for Kansas Senate seat: report Ex-US envoy in ISIS fight: 'There's no plan for what's coming' after US troop withdrawal in Syria MORE and national security adviser John Bolton reportedly have recommended.

Heading into 2019, America’s representative to that international body will face challenges that would stretch the skills of even the most seasoned of diplomats. To advance the administration’s goals, Nauert must have an in-depth understanding of all of Washington’s global challenges. She will be at the tip of the spear when it comes to what happens next with North Korea; she likely will spar with Russia at the U.N. Security Council on matters of international importance such as Ukraine or the Syrian civil war; and she will be front and center in the budding clash between America and China.

True, the skill sets, motivations and policy positions of former U.N. ambassadors have varied immensely. Two journalists have held the post: Samantha PowerSamantha Jane PowerHeather Nauert is the wrong choice for UN ambassador Khashoggi editor on Trump Saudi statement: 'This is a new low' The Memo: Saudi storm darkens for Trump MORE, a war correspondent who at least gained academic experience in public policy and global leadership before President Obama sent her to the United Nations in 2013, and John Scali, an ABC News correspondent appointed by President Nixon in 1973, who helped ease the Cuban missile crisis. Others had the necessary skills that qualified them in differing ways to serve in the post, including Bolton, Zalmay Khalilzad, John Negroponte, Susan Rice, Madeline Albright and Bill Richardson. And U.N. ambassadors such as George H.W. Bush, Adlai Stevenson and Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. clearly excelled at the job of representing Washington’s interests.  

Nauert will have the chance to show the world she is up to the challenge and prove her critics wrong; her confirmation hearings will be the first clear test of whether she possesses what it takes to succeed Haley at the United Nations. Democrats will press her on her mastery of the issues, and test her early and often in what could be “must-see national security TV.” Look for Nauert to stick to her talking points, like any good spokeswoman would do. If she musters enough support to get confirmed, however, she’ll need more than just mastery of talking points for the international game of power politics.

Harry J. Kazianis is director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest. Follow him on Twitter @GrecianFormula.