To quote Inigo Montoya: I do not think that word means what you think it means. Either Kamala Harris botched this comment in the middle of a strangely conceived trip, or perhaps the Vice President wants to distance herself from the Biden administration’s stench on Afghanistan.
Not a bad idea, that:
Vice President Harris said Monday that the Biden administration is “singularly focused” on evacuating American citizens, Afghan allies and at-risk Afghans and that questions about the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan would be answered after that mission is complete.
“I think there’s going to be plenty of time to analyze what has happened and what has taken place in the context of the withdrawal from Afghanistan,” Harris said during a news conference in Singapore alongside the country’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong.
“But right now, we are singularly focused on evacuating American citizens, Afghans who worked with us, and Afghans who are vulnerable, including women and children,” she said.
Ahem. If the administration is “singularly focused” on evacuating Americans, then what is Kamala Harris doing in Singapore? Are there Americans requiring evacuation from Singapore?
The dumbest part of this statement is that the White House sent Harris to Singapore and Vietnam explicitly to prove they could sustain multiple points of focus. That’s why they took the risk of making the Saigon collapse analogy even more pertinent with Harris’ appearance in Hanoi later in the trip. The White House even leaked that rationale last week when announcing that the trip would take place as scheduled despite — or because of — the collapse in Afghanistan:
A White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the trip was proceeding as planned and Harris would be continually briefed on the situation in Afghanistan while abroad and join deliberations on next steps.
“Given our global leadership role, we can and we must manage developments in one region while simultaneously advancing our strategic interests in other regions on other issues,” the official said. “The United States has many interests around the world, and we are well-equipped to pursue them all at the same time.”
So much for walking and chewing gum at the same time, I suppose. Harris has a tougher job convincing these countries that the US has any focus on them at all. The Biden administration hopes to get Singapore and Vietnam to hang tough with them against China, but the Washington Post reports that the administration’s singular catastrophe in Kabul against seventh-century militias isn’t exactly building their confidence:
A question facing the Biden administration is how far it will be able to do that — and maintain credibility among U.S. allies alarmed by the collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan and with memories of chaotic diplomacy under President Trump still fresh. Vice President Harris’s visit to Singapore and Vietnam this week, only her second foray internationally, is emerging as a test of Washington’s ability not just to lead but counter an increasingly aggressive Beijing.
“The current narrative now is that America is withdrawing, which puts even more pressure on her trip,” said Huong Le Thu, a nonresident fellow with the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “[The U.S.] needs a win.”
If so, Harris is coming away empty-handed:
Some of the partnerships announced Monday in Singapore came without a specific start date, or were nonbinding memorandums of understanding. Chong Ja Ian, a political scientist at the National University of Singapore who studies U.S.-China competition in the region, said the developments were “incremental.”
Pledges to work together on climate change and supply chains “sound nice, but it’s the substance rather than the sticker and packaging that matters, especially at this moment,” he said. “Think about the promises made to Afghanistan from last year.”
No one trusts the Biden administration to follow through on its promises any longer, especially not after watching Biden capitulate to the Taliban — hardly a formidable geopolitical foe. More tellingly, few will trust Biden to competently look after their interests after watching the US fall apart in Afghanistan. Even our long-term allies in the West have started openly imagining a new security arrangement that foresees a non-leadership role for the US, and Europe doesn’t sit on the edge of China’s military power. It’s not difficult to imagine what’s going through minds in Vietnam and Singapore as to which Pacific power has the ability and the means to play hardball and to play it longer.
You’d better believe that they’ll be singularly focused on that question, too.