ICYMI: Washington Post: Opinion: Why Kamala Harris’s trip to Asia was so important

31 Aug
Key Point: “Harris was there to reaffirm that it is full steam ahead on our relationships with Southeast Asian allies in the face of China’s military, economic and cyber threats. In doing so, she underscored that rather than edging away from U.S. allies, the administration wants to draw them closer.”

Washington PostOpinion: Why Kamala Harris’s trip to Asia was so important
By Jennifer Rubin
August 31, 2021

Vice President Harris’s trip to Southeast Asia coincided with the collapse of the Afghan government and the deadly attack on U.S. forces that killed 13 Americans and scores of Afghans. It was hard to find coverage of her trip in U.S. media, which understandably was absorbed in the events in Afghanistan.

But in a surprising way, the trip underscored an argument the Biden administration has been advancing: Afghanistan is not our biggest worry. The United States has much more significant national security and economic issues elsewhere, especially in Asia. Indeed, talk of a “pivot to Asia” has been going on for 20 years, but so long as we were spending billions to fight a war that was not really possible to win, past administrations have been unable to focus on China and our Asian alliances, no matter how hard they tried.

[…]

Both in private and in public, officials in Singapore and in Vietnam expressed enthusiasm that she had kept the trip on track. Backing out would have sent the wrong signal that the administration was in retreat or did not care as much about our future relationship with Asia as withdrawing from a 20-year war.

Harris could point to a series of meaningful “deliverables” in Vietnam, such as assistance on covid-19, new commitments on green energy, security cooperation and tariff reductions.

[…]

At a news conference in Vietnam, reporters naturally asked Harris about Afghanistan, but nearly the entire event centered on expanding relations with Vietnam on a number of fronts. “I am the first vice president to visit Vietnam since diplomatic relations were established in 1995. And I believe that this trip signals the beginning of the next chapter in the relationship between the United States and Vietnam,” Harris said.

[…]

She also raised human rights in her discussions with Vietnam. She said she privately pressured officials on political dissidents and highlighted civil society players. “We’re not going to shy away from difficult conversations,” she said at her news conference. NPR reported that on the last day of her trip, she “turned her attention to issues surrounding worker rights and civil liberties … elevating activists in a region of the world known for its challenges and restrictions to human rights.” The report continued, “Harris participated in what her team billed as a ‘changemakers’ event with activists working on LGBTQ rights and climate change.” Perhaps reports of our waning interest in human rights are premature — or just wrong.

The contrast between agonizing over America’s standing and evidence of our determination to expand it was most evident in Singapore.

[…]

In a speech in Singapore, Harris briefly addressed Afghanistan, but then turned to the meat of her speech. She reiterated commitments on security and then leveled a strong rebuke against China, which she said “continues to coerce, to intimidate and to make claims to the vast majority of the South China Sea.” She emphasized, “These unlawful claims have been rejected by the 2016 arbitral tribunal decision. And Beijing’s actions continue to undermine the rules-based order and threaten the sovereignty of nations. The United States stands with our allies and partners in the face of these threats.”

Harris got strong reviews from foreign policy gurus. Jonathan Stromseth at the Brookings Institution noted:

In that speech [in Singapore] she put forward a positive vision of peace and stability, freedom of the seas, unimpeded commerce, advancing human rights — including in places like Burma — and a commitment to the international rules-based order.[…]

Stromseth argued that, “if the Harris visit is followed up by vigorous diplomacy matched with resources, then perhaps the pivot to Asia, or the rebalance policy of the Obama administration, can finally be realized as the U.S. becomes less distracted by these endless wars in the Middle East.”

The notion that allies in other parts of the world fear that the United States will abandon ongoing mutual interests because it is shedding military obligations in Afghanistan certainly was not evident in Harris’s meetings with officials in either country. State Department officials said her bilateral meetings went beyond the allotted time and estimated that 95 percent focused on issues at hand and 5 percent on Afghanistan.

Unsurprisingly, other countries around the world care about themselves and their regional issues. Harris was there to reaffirm that it is full steam ahead on our relationships with Southeast Asian allies in the face of China’s military, economic and cyber threats. In doing so, she underscored that rather than edging away from U.S. allies, the administration wants to draw them closer.

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Uzbekistan Independence Day

31 Aug

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

On behalf of the Government of the United States and the American people, I congratulate the people of Uzbekistan as you celebrate 30 years of sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity on September 1.

The United States greatly appreciates Uzbekistan’s focus on regional connectivity, especially in support of economic prosperity and growth across Central and South Asia.  We support Uzbekistan’s continued pursuit of bold reforms, including those in support of fundamental freedoms.  We were also pleased to provide 3 million doses of vaccine to Uzbekistan through the COVAX facility, and we will continue to support Uzbekistan as we battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

The United States looks forward to strengthening our strategic partnership with Uzbekistan and advancing our shared goals, including in bolstering regional security and stability.

DNC Statement on Voter Suppression Bill Advancing in Texas Legislature

31 Aug
Today, DNC Chair Jaime Harrison released the following statement in response to news that Republicans in the Texas House voted to pass SB 1, advancing it to the Senate and once again jeopardizing voting rights:

“Republican lawmakers in Texas have just made their latest attempt to suppress the voices of voters through the passage of Senate Bill 1, which would put up new barriers to vote and disproportionately impact voters of color. I am thankful for the leadership of Texas Democrats who have been working relentlessly to stop this legislation and whose example inspires us all to continue to live up to the good trouble my dear friend Congressman John Lewis called us to by passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the For The People Act. This fight has never been more urgent and the DNC will not rest in combating egregious Republican anti-voter efforts to strip Americans of their right to make their voices heard at the ballot box.”

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Biden Calls 13 Dead Service Members And Hundreds Of Americans Abandoned An “Extraordinary Success”

31 Aug

President Biden called his disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan an “extraordinary success” this afternoon. Make no mistake: Thirteen dead service members and hundreds of Americans stranded behind enemy lines is an abject FAILURE

Biden’s tone-deaf remarks came just hours after House Democrats BLOCKED Republican efforts to ensure transparency from the Biden Administration about the withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

The Afghanistan Withdrawal Oversight and Liability Act would require Biden to submit withdrawal reports to Congress, including one that details how many Americans remain in Afghanistan and another that discloses “any agreements between the United States and the Taliban.”

Begging the question: What are Democrats hiding?

THE FACTS ABOUT BIDEN’S FAILED WITHDRAWAL: 

  • President Biden is to blame for the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. No one else. 
  • President Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan has led to:
  • The Biden Administration has no plan to get those Americans they left behind in Afghanistan out of the country. 
  • Terrorists are now emboldened to attack Americans.
  • The catastrophic failure in Afghanistan has emboldened our adversaries and puts doubt in the minds of our allies.

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Condemning the Recent Houthi Attack Against Saudi Arabia

31 Aug

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

The United States strongly condemns the recent Houthi attack against Saudi Arabia that struck the civilian airport in Abha, wounding eight civilians and damaging a commercial airliner.

Since the beginning of the year, Saudi Arabia has endured more than 240 attacks from the Houthis, who have endangered the Saudi people alongside more than 70,000 U.S. citizens residing in Saudi Arabia.  The Houthis have also intensified their attacks inside of Yemen in recent weeks, particularly their offensive on Marib. This costly, stalemated offensive is exacerbating Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.  The Houthi attacks are perpetuating the conflict, prolonging the suffering of the Yemeni people, and jeopardizing peace efforts at a critical moment.

We again call on the Houthis to uphold a ceasefire and engage in negotiations under UN auspices.

Trinidad and Tobago’s National Day

31 Aug

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

On behalf of the Government of the United States of America, I wish to congratulate the people of Trinidad and Tobago as you celebrate your independence on August 31.

As close regional partners, our countries are working together to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and other health challenges, increase mutual prosperity through trade and investment,  and counter transnational organized crime and other threats to regional security.  Our strong collaboration through regional and multilateral institutions like the Caribbean Community and the Organization of American States allows us to strengthen democracy and security throughout the region, benefitting citizens of both our countries. 

We extend our congratulations and best wishes to the people of Trinidad and Tobago as you celebrate your 59th year of independence.

Joe Biden Abandons Hundreds of Americans In Afghanistan; He Has Failed Us As Commander-In-Chief

31 Aug

President Biden has failed America as our Commander-in-chief. Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan came to an end yesterday, and contrary to previous promises, Biden abandoned hundreds of Americans behind enemy lines in Afghanistan. 

During an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos just 12 days before, Biden promised,” if there’s American citizens left, we’re gonna stay to get them all out.” 

That was a LIE. 

BIDEN HAS FAILED AS COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF: 

  • President Biden is to blame for the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. No one else. 
  • President Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan has led to:
  • The Biden Administration has no plan to get those Americans they left behind in Afghanistan out of the country. 
  • Terrorists are now emboldened to attack Americans.
  • The catastrophic failure in Afghanistan has emboldened our adversaries and puts doubt in the minds of our allies.

It’s simple: We don’t leave Americans behind. President Biden failed to get every last American out of Afghanistan that is unacceptable and un-American. 

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FACT CHECK: Republicans Keep Telling Lies About Afghanistan

31 Aug

Republicans have been on every side of the Afghanistan debate – advocating for an endless war, sending more troops, pulling our troops out, supporting the withdrawal but then opposing it. But one thing has remained consistent – they’ll keep telling lies about President Biden’s withdrawal because they know that the American people overwhelmingly support his decision and wanted to get out of Afghanistan.  

CLAIM: The Biden administration is not vetting Afghan refugees. 

FACT: Republicans are recycling the same xenophoic playbook that cost them the House in 2018. The reality is that refugees go through a thorough multi-step vetting process before reaching the United States.

  • Axios: “Afghans fleeing Kabul aren’t supposed to reach America’s shores until they’ve passed a multi-step vetting process — 14 steps, in the case of some interpreters and others who helped the U.S military.”

CLAIM: The United States left $83 billion worth of weapons in the hands of the Taliban.

FACT: Nope, not even an ounce true. $80 billion is the figure for ALL of the money spent on training and sustaining the Afghan military over 20 years.

  • Washington Post: “No, the Taliban did not seize $83 billion of U.S. weapons”
  • Washington Post: “U.S. military equipment was given to Afghan security forces over two decades. Tanks, vehicles, helicopters and other gear fell into the hands of the Taliban when the U.S.-trained force quickly collapsed. The value of these assets is unclear, but if the Taliban is unable to obtain spare parts, it may not be able to maintain them.”

CLAIM: US forces shared a list of names of Afghan students with the Taliban.

FACT: Again, another blatantly false, and debunked claim.

  • Glenn Kessler, Washington Post Fact Checker: “American University of Afghanistan is denying a NYT story that said the university president said the US military shared a list of names and passport info with the Taliban. ‘The Times report is false. AUAF’s president made no such a statement,’ statement says, asking for correx.”
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Inaugural International Day for People of African Descent

31 Aug

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

The United States joins others around the world in commemorating the first International Day for People of African Descent.  This day was created to promote the extraordinary contributions of Africans and members of the African diaspora around the world and is an opportunity to focus on eliminating all forms of discrimination against people of African descent.  The United States continues to support the International Decade for People of African Descent through shared goals of recognition, justice, and development.

This Administration has elevated racial justice and equity as an immediate priority, promoting it across federal government agencies, policies, and programs, including our engagement at the United Nations.  The United States strongly supports the creation of the UN Permanent Forum for People of African Descent.  We must get at the root of the challenges and address structural racism while acknowledging the intersections of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, religion, and national origin.

As we celebrate the contributions of people of African descent across the world and in the United States, we also take solemn note of the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition on August 23.  It is only by facing the painful truth of our past, and not shrinking from our current responsibilities to address systemic racism, that we will forge a better future.  Today, the Department of State honors the dignity, equality, and contributions of all people of African descent in the United States and in communities around the world.