As large crowds swarm Afghanistan’s Kabul airport to flee the Taliban takeover of the country, Vice President Kamala Harris is embarking Friday on a trip to Asia with stops in Singapore and Vietnam — ironically, the sites of previous US-UK military humiliations.
But Harris’ office has argued that the trip — planned before last weekend’s Taliban seizure of Kabul — shouldn’t be “bogged down” by the comparisons of prior calamities with today’s, including the US defeat by North Vietnam’s Communist government in the 1970s.
“We don’t want to get bogged down in the historical comparisons,” a senior Biden administration official told reporters this week.
“As Defense Department Spokesman [John] Kirby said the other day, or yesterday, you know, we’re not focused on the history of the Vietnam War. We’re focused on what’s going on today in Afghanistan and doing everything we can to have the most successful outcome.”
President Biden last month said that the US departure from Afghanistan after 20 years of war would not resemble the 1975 fall of Saigon in Vietnam. He was proven wrong when hordes of Afghan civilians rushed to the Kabul airport to flee the Taliban’s two-week offensive that retook nearly the entire country.
Harris will stop first in Singapore and then in Vietnam, where she’s expected to be peppered with reporter questions on parallels between the US departures from South Vietnam and Afghanistan. Thousands of US citizens are feared stranded in Taliban-held territory, though US officials say they don’t know how many.
Singapore, like Vietnam, witnessed one of the most stunning western military defeats when more than 80,000 men fighting for the powerful British Empire capitulated to a much smaller Japanese army in 1942. The defeat handed the Axis powers control of one of the world’s most important shipping routes.
The senior Biden administration official said, “Vietnam today is an increasing partner of the United States. And that’s why the vice president is going.”
The official insisted that Harris will remain abreast of developments in Afghanistan. Although the VP boasted in April that she was the last person consulted by Biden about his decision to withdraw US troops, she’s been conspicuously absent from public view since the lightning Taliban offensive defeated the US-backed Afghan government.
“We are all confident that she can do this trip and pursue all of these important interests while staying engaged on the subject of Afghanistan,” the official said.
“She will be receiving briefings on the road. She and her team will be constantly in touch with the team back here. And she leaves, as I say, confident that she can pursue these critically important issues for the United States in Southeast Asia while at the same time being a full participant in the Afghan policy and implementation that’s being led here in Washington.”
It will be Harris’ second trip abroad as vice president. Her trip in June to Guatemala and Mexico to enlist help in stemming a surge in illegal immigration was overshadowed by her struggle to answer questions about her refusal to visit the US-Mexico border, which she ultimately did after returning to the US.