To understand former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, it is important to know two things. First: She wants to run for president, as a Republican. Second: In order to do that, she needs a base. Any base. Specifically, whatever “base” is currently ascendent, in Republicanism, because it is a lot easier to latch onto someone else’s base than attempt to big-idea your way into your own.
Nikki Haley is the more ambitious version of Lindsey Graham, and she will suck up to anyone and wave the flag of anything if it helps her land her next gig. She has both-sides her way around the racism of the Confederate flag like a trooper, and as often as necessary. When Trump called on her to be a toady, she was the toadiest toady a toad could ask for.
Casual surfers of politics will no doubt bristle at these characterizations, but long-timers? We know. Oh, we know. Nikki Haley would sell Lindsey Graham’s mother for pocket change, and vice versa, and both of them will latch on to Donald Trump for as long as Trump has power and then ditch him, like Graham ditched the dying Sen. John McCain, the very hour their Most Loyal Ally is no longer politically useful.
So there is your explanation for Haley’s claim, on The Sean Hannity Show, of course, that “The only ones mourning the loss of [Iranian military leader] Soleimani are our Democrat leadership and Democrat Presidential candidates.” She tweeted the clip herself, just to make damn sure it got as much publicity as she could muster; between that and the studiously sub-literate enunciation of Democratic you can presume she had rehearsed it beforehand.
It is also the exact play attempted by the Bush administration and neoconservatives against those that opposed the Iraq War. Been there. Done that. This fellow over here is inarguably and unquestionably bad; you therefore support him unless you support whatever it is we decide to do about it, no matter how stupid, damaging, falsehood-infused, costly, and outright full-on murderous our own “plan” to deal with him is. And that, my children, is why Freedom Fries were an actual goddamn menu item in the actual halls of supposed power. Among other things.
We cannot judge whether Haley is intelligent enough to know that she is lying, when conflating voices opposed to the strategy of assassinating a top member of a foreign gov-ern-ment to “mourning the loss” of that particular man. In the Trump era of Republicanism, it is not a given. It is slightly more likely that she does not care either way; she is playing for a base, and right now Donald Trump and Fox News are the dual owners of the most rabid, least questioning, least reality-constrained base. Fox is currently humping the idea that not supporting an all-out shooting war with Iran as the latest New Thing is tantamount to treason. It is part of the network’s overall program of slick and shallow fascism, the one that led to an idiot manchild wiping the floor with every “conservative” contender, and Nikki Haley wants her camera time so here she is, and here we are.
The actual opposition to the drone strike near the Baghdad International Airport is based on a simple chain of logic. Whatever Soleimani’s hidden roles and actions might have been, he was unequivocally a recognized senior member of a foreign government. He was executed by bomb, and in recognition of the likelihood of other casualties.
The explicit message of the American strike, plainly stated, was that America’s new policy is that senior members of foreign governments are legitimate assassination targets. It does not take a great strategic mind to suss out why this might be an extraordinarily dangerous policy doctrine to put weight behind. Other nations could most certainly make an international argument that members of our own government count as terrorists, by whatever definition they themselves chose to use. Other nations could absolutely point to the Soleimani strike to make the case that setting bombs in foreign capitols to take out specific, named U.S. administration members count as legitimate “military” operations intended to “prevent” future conflicts, not assassinations or terror attacks. This is not a game the United States would relish playing—but it is the one we have invited.
And all of this stands aside from the rather more fundamental near-term question of whether the attack would, as seems to have been intended, provoke a response that could be used as pretext for a war the conservative policy establishment has been demanding for a solid half century now.
Surely former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has been long aware of the ramifications of assassination as foreign policy. That is what we would all say, if it had not been previously and meticulously proven that Republicanism now values jingoism over all else and if the conservative movement had not actively purged anyone who so much as smelled of expertise or even simple book-learning, as they dribbled out ever-more-conspiratorial claims and talking points. She may indeed be dull enough to believe that those contemplating the future implications of U.S. actions are “mourning” the loss of a murderous man; her actions are certainly meant as a demand that Americans ignore those implications outright, or risk being targeted as book learners themselves.
Nikki Haley wants to be a Dear Leader herself, one day. She will do whatever damage she needs to if it inches her closer to that goal; if it means joining Sean Hannity to demonize any American who dares form their own opinions, rather than following the ones prewritten for them and displayed onscreen in bulletpoint form while the hour’s talking hairdo mugs and shouts, she will do it. She will do it and then some.