U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is expected to mark her first overseas trip by showing symbolic support for the very people whom President Donald Trump has spent so much time trying to ban indefinitely from entering the United States.
Haley plans to spend time in Turkey and Jordan, May 19 through 25, to see “how refugees are coping, day in and day out,” she wrote Wednesday in a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “‘What About the Refugees?’ The U.S. Is Doing More Than Anyone.”
“No country has invested more in protecting, housing, feeding and caring for Syrian refugees than the U.S.,” she wrote. “We have provided nearly $6.5 billion in emergency assistance for Syria since the start of the crisis. Inside Syria, some four million people benefit from U.S. assistance for essentials like food and shelter every month.”
All of that is true ― yet it doesn’t negate the ill will that Trump has displayed toward refugees, particularly Syrians.
As president, he has twice attempted to legally halt the U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days in a series of executive orders that were subsequently blocked in federal court. He twice attempted to ban the entry of all Syrians into the U.S. indefinitely.
There was also his vow to deport thousands of Syrian refugees living in the U.S. during his presidential campaign.
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Haley said she plans to visit some of the other humanitarian assistance projects that the U.S. funds as well, like efforts in support of food and education.
“The U.S. and the U.N. will continue to do a great deal of heavy lifting for these desperate people,” she wrote.
This is puzzling, since Trump not long ago threatened to slash billions in U.S. funding for the U.N., the primary international body that cares for refugees.
But he hasn’t minced words in his desire to fight the militant group that calls itself the Islamic State, and Turkey and Jordan are both strategic U.S. allies in the region. Trump met with Turkish President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan this week at the White House. Both leaders renewed their commitment to fighting terrorism.
Turkey and Jordan together are the recipients of over $1 billion in U.S. foreign aid annually, funds intended to help offset the costs of housing refugees and to fight groups like the Islamic State.
Haley’s trip also overlaps with Trump’s own first overseas trip as president. He begins a whirlwind tour of Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican and Belgium on Friday.
It’s unusual that Trump chose the Middle East as his first international destination. Previous presidents have tended to travel to Mexico or Canada first, Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said on a call Monday.
“It is striking that the president during his campaign made it pretty clear that he’d like to get out of these wars in the broader Middle East and pay attention to nation-building at home, while his first stop is the Middle East,” Abrams said.