The timing probably couldn’t be worse for the Biden administration. On Friday, Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to embark on a trip across the Pacific that will include a stop in Vietnam.
The trip – which will be Harris’ second overseas venture since taking office – comes as the current crisis in Afghanistan has drawn many comparisons to the end of U.S. involvement in Vietnam in the 1970s.
This week’s scenes of crowds gathering at Kabul’s airport and U.S. military helicopters arriving to pick up passengers at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan’s capital revived grim memories of desperate Vietnamese people trying to board U.S. helicopters as they left the embassy in Saigon more than four decades ago.
The Vietnam War era was among the most divisive periods in American history, with the long conflict factoring into Democratic President Lyndon Johnson’s decision not to seek re-election in 1968.
PRESIDENT BIDEN, VP HARRIS AVOID THE CAMERAS AS KABUL FALLS TO TALIBAN
The prospect of Harris visiting Vietnam at this particular moment raised the possibility of the worst photo op for an American in that country since Jane Fonda donned a helmet there in 1972.
As of Monday, Harris had no plans to cancel her trip, The Washington Post reported.
The Afghanistan crisis prompted President Biden to shorten his Camp David vacation. He returned to the White House on Tuesday night instead of Wednesday as he had planned.
‘Last person in the room’
In April, Harris told CNN she was the “last person in the room” when Biden decided to pull U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Last weekend, as the crisis unfolded in Kabul, Harris again met with Biden and White House national security advisers – but this time Biden was alone at Camp David while others participated remotely.
Advance work in Asia
When Harris arrives in Vietnam next Tuesday, after a stop in Singapore over the weekend, she will be the most senior Biden administration official to travel to Southeast Asia as the U.S. looks to support its allies in the region as they deal with China’s close proximity.
“She’s got a great grasp on the issues, and her trip will no doubt help to advance our interests in this vital region,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said this week in a statement to The Washington Post.
Ahead of Harris’ planned visit, Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently traveled to Japan and South Korea, while Austin also visited Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines, according to the Post.
William Danvers, an adjunct professor at George Washington University, claimed in an essay for The Hill this week that Harris’ experience as a former U.S. senator from California means “she understands the importance of ties, especially economic ties, between Asia and U.S.”
In July, Harris spokeswoman Symone Sanders said the vice president will discuss with Asian leaders details about regional security, the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and “our joint effort to promote a rules-based international order” – a reference to regional disputes over China’s claims in the South China Sea.
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In June, Harris visited Guatemala and Mexico as she sought to examine the “root causes” of the migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border following her appointment in March as President Biden’s point person on the crisis.
That Latin American trip came as Harris was facing relentless criticism for not visiting U.S. border communities that have been affected by the migrant crisis. Finally, she visited El Paso, Texas, for a few hours on June 25.
While Harris has been outside the U.S. only once as vice president, she has on several occasions met with foreign leaders in Washington. After one such instance, in May, Harris drew criticism on social media after appearing to wipe her hand after greeting South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
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