President Ronald Reagan's 1981 appointment of Jeane Kirkpatrick as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations did not meet with universal approval. Never before had a woman held that position. And this woman happened to be a member of the opposition party. Nevertheless, Mr. Reagan chose her as his envoy to the global institution and included her in his cabinet.
It did not take long for Ambassador Kirkpatrick to prove her mettle. Asked about the most significant change she made, she replied succinctly: "We've taken down our 'kick me' sign."
President Donald Trump's appointment of Nikki Haley as ambassador to the U.N. also was unorthodox. Not because she was a woman (those days are, happily, long gone) but because she was a Southern governor with no background in foreign policy or international diplomacy, and because she had not been a Trump supporter during the primaries, and because she would be the first Indian-American to serve as ambassador and cabinet member.
She, too, has quickly proved her mettle. It was vividly on display last week when she announced America's withdrawal from the U.N.'s "so-called Human Rights Council," an organization that, as she pithily observed, has become "a protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias."
For more than a year, she has been calling for reform of the UNHRC, making it clear that America's membership was on the line. Sadly, if unsurprisingly, "no other country has had the courage to join our fight."
This failure actually traces back generations. The United Nations was founded in 1945, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights one year later. Egregious human rights violators soon learned that membership provided immunity from scrutiny. In 2006, the commission — then dominated by Cuba, Russia and China — was shut down.
It was immediately replaced by the U.N. Human Rights Council — a new label pasted on the same bottle of vinegar. President George W. Bush declined to join but President Obama did three years later. The UNHCR's current membership includes what Mrs. Haley called a "rogue's gallery" of the most egregious and chronic human rights violators: Venezuela, China and Pakistan among them.
The half-million men, women and children killed in Syria, the persecution of dissidents and minorities by Iran's jihadist rulers, even the murder of two U.N. staffers in the (also so-called) Democratic Republic of the Congo — all this and more the UNHRC determinedly ignores.
Instead, it prefers to spend its time, energy and money (disproportionally contributed by American taxpayers) demonizing Israel.
Most governments allied with the U.S. acknowledge all this but, as Mrs. Haley noted, "only behind closed doors." Meanwhile, such influential groups as Human Rights Watch "sought to undermine our attempts to improve the Human Rights Council," as Mrs. Haley wrote in an unflinching letter to that NGO.
Mrs. Kirkpatrick, who passed away 12 years ago, would be both pleased and encouraged to see such a kindred spirt representing the U.S. at the U.N. today. I say that having been privileged to know and learn from Mrs. Kirkpatrick. She served as founding board member of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the think tank I started up just after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Though the two statesmen — I don't think either would prefer "statespersons" — come from very different backgrounds, they are both inspiring examples of the American dream pursued and fulfilled.
Mrs. Kirkpatrick was born in rural Oklahoma, the daughter of a dollar-a-day oil rig laborer. But she had brains, and the determination to put them to productive use.
Haley is the daughter of immigrants, Sikhs from the Punjab. Her father became a biology professor at a community college in South Carolina, her mother a sixth-grade social studies teacher and the founder of a clothing company. Her family encountered prejudice. Her family overcame it.
Mrs. Haley is, like Mrs. Kirkpatrick was, combative, authoritative, eloquent and elegant — a potent cocktail, one not often or easily mixed. Like Mrs. Kirkpatrick, she is the nemesis of totalitarians, leading efforts to increase pressure on North Korea, calling out Iran and Russia for facilitating the carnage in Syria, and telling the truth about the "criminal-narco state" that Venezuela has become.
Like Mrs. Kirkpatrick, she confronts the relentless U.N. bias against the Jewish state. "Earlier this year, as it has in previous years, the Human Rights Council passed five resolutions against Israel — more than the number passed against North Korea, Iran, and Syria combined," she noted last week. "This disproportionate focus and unending hostility towards Israel is clear proof that the council is motivated by political bias, not by human rights."
I'm reminded that, not long after being named ambassador, Mrs. Kirkpatrick commented to Richard Schifter, a colleague at the State Department: "I just want you to know that I think the Holocaust is possible again. I didn't think so before I came to the U.N. But I think so now."
Also like Mrs. Kirkpatrick she is a staunch defender of human rights — which is why it was necessary to exit the UNHRC; to end America's participation in this Orwellian fiction; to stop facilitating the lie that the commission does good, or even is headed in that direction.
Mr. Trump has been a controversial president. But, like Mr. Reagan, he occasionally displays an unusual knack for recognizing talent. To represent Americans at the most prominent — and dysfunctional — of international forums he chose an individual with a distinctly American voice and a precise moral compass. That deserves acknowledgement and praise, even from his most vociferous critics.