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After a week of saying barely anything about the Biden administration’s self-created catastrophe in Afghanistan, Vice President Kamala Harris finally said something late Friday only seconds before hopping a flight out the country — but not to Afghanistan.
“We couldn’t have a higher priority right now. And a particular high priority is making sure that we safely evacuate American citizens, Afghans who worked for them, Afghans at risk, including women and children,” she said minutes before boarding a plane to Singapore.
“And that is one of our highest, if not the highest, priority right now. And it’s a big area of focus for me in the past days and weeks, and will continue to be,” she added.
The trip to first Singapore and then Vietnam was scheduled last month in part to build support against China’s growing influence, but critics have argued she should have canceled it so that she could focus her attention on the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan.
In a statement to Al Jazeera, a White House official defended her decision to not reschedule the trip by claiming that the United States’ naval dominance in that region of the world remains “strategically important and economically important to this country.”
“That hasn’t changed with Afghanistan. There’s a difference between ensuring open sea lanes in Asia, which is a priority for the United States, and the continued involvement in another country’s civil war,” the spokesperson reportedly said.
Harris echoed some of this same sentiment in her remarks to the Daily Mail.
“We are a global leader, the United States. We have interests around the world. This trip has been planned, and I’m taking this trip because one of our high priorities in the context of being a global leader is our membership and participation in the Indo-Pacific region,” she said.
“And when you look at the Southeast Asian countries that we’re visiting, they are the sea of the Indo-Pacific region. We have interests there that relate to both security interests, economic interests and — more recently — global health interests,” she added.
Al Jazeera notes that Singapore is “an economic powerhouse that shares concerns over Beijing’s increasingly assertive behaviour in the region,” while Vietnam is “a vocal opponent of China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.”
Before taking off, the vice president posted a picture to Twitter of her boarding the plane:
On our way to Southeast Asia to visit Singapore and Vietnam. pic.twitter.com/DrLwSDMuhZ
— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) August 21, 2021
Tonight I will depart for Southeast Asia, where I’ll visit Singapore and Vietnam. Southeast Asia is at the center of the Indo-Pacific – a region vital to our national security, our economic prosperity, and to the health of our people.
Looking forward to a productive visit.
— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) August 20, 2021
The picture was ratioed into oblivion.
“Best way to escape comparisons to Vietnam… is to just go to Vietnam.” pic.twitter.com/uU2i8ZM5Bf
— Matt Whitlock (@mattdizwhitlock) August 21, 2021
The complete lack of self awareness here is…stunning.
— Ian Haworth (@ighaworth) August 21, 2021
Stop by Afghanistan on your way and bring some of our citizens home you abandoned.
— Ross Schumann🇺🇸 (@RossSchumann) August 21, 2021
How many Americans will be abandoned in Afghanistan before you actually care?
— Travis (@TWines4congress) August 21, 2021
Jane Fonda returns!
— Dan Gainor (@dangainor) August 21, 2021
Sooo, still nothing about Afghanistan?
— Nicole Jordan (@sQU1rr3LLy_B1RD) August 21, 2021
Among the chief complaints was that she didn’t give a damn about the crisis in Afghanistan, where at least 15,000 Americans reportedly remain trapped.
Reports have also emerged of Americans being beaten and denied entry into the airport in Kabul.
NEW: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a briefing call with House lawmakers just now said Americans have been beaten by the Taliban in Kabul, according to multiple people on the call. Austin called it “unacceptable.”
— Andrew Desiderio (@AndrewDesiderio) August 20, 2021
Additional reports emerged Saturday morning, long after Harris’s departure, that Americans were now being advised by U.S. government officials to stay clear of the airport because of “security threats.”
Latest communication from the US Embassy telling stranded Americans to avoid going to the airport and avoid the gates without a US govt rep with you.
Also encourages people to fill out the flight request form and instructs not to call the embassy about flight details or updates https://t.co/M4k0CxwHDP
— Houston Keene (@HoustonKeene) August 21, 2021
Critics also panned her lack of self-awareness. Her second destination is Vietnam. The problem with Harris visiting Vietnam is that it brings to mind the Fall of Saigon.
The Fall of Saigon was the humiliating moment in 1973 that Americans had to be airlifted out of Saigon as U.S. forces withdrew from Vietnam in total defeat.
— Conservative News (@BIZPACReview) August 16, 2021
Some, including reportedly officials within the Biden administration, say the catastrophe in Afghanistan is even worse than Saigon.
#Afghanishtan US official tells @cbsnews @finnygo many US staff involved in these operations were disheartened by the administration’s response on Afghanistan. The official described the situation in Kabul as “worse than Saigon, and worse than Benghazi, at a civilian level” +
— Catherine Herridge (@CBS_Herridge) August 16, 2021
All this criticism comes as Harris’s poll numbers show her struggling.
A Rasmussen Reports poll published Thursday showed that a 47 percent plurality of Americans believe the vice president is “not qualified” to serve as president.
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