U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Vietnamese Defense Minister Phan Van Giang inspects an honor guard in Hanoi, Vietnam, July 29, 2021.

Lost trust in the US? One country differs.

The abrupt US exit from Kabul may seem like Saigon 1975. But Vietnam today still holds strong trust in the US as leader of world order.

For many of its friends and allies, America’s chaotic exit from Afghanistan has not only drawn parallels to the 1975 U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam; it has also dealt a similar blow to U.S. credibility as a trusted power. Yet it says something about the resiliency of America’s global role that one of its friends – Vietnam itself – has said nothing about lost trust since the Aug. 15 images of helicopters lifting people from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. In fact, on Aug. 24, Hanoi will play host to Kamala Harris, the first U.S. vice president to visit Vietnam since 1975.

The visit will help further seal the warming – and healing – of postwar ties between Vietnam and the United States that began 26 years ago with the normalization of official relations. While the ruling Communist Party largely ignores U.S. promotion of human rights and democratic values, Vietnam sees Washington as a reliable friend – “a leading partner” – in upholding world order.

The two are working closely to counter China’s military encroachments on islands in the South China Sea – including Vietnam’s own islands. The U.S., for example, has helped beef up Hanoi’s maritime forces, while in 2018 Vietnam allowed an American aircraft carrier to dock at Da Nang.

The U.S. has become Vietnam’s largest export market, while the U.S. has helped Vietnam deal with the pandemic. The closeness of their ties is reflected in the fact that Ms. Harris’ only other stop in Southeast Asia will be Singapore.

The relationship may well serve as a symbol of the ability of the U.S. to bounce back as a steadfast leader after its historic mistakes during the Cold War and the war on terror.

The war on terror has yet to be won, but as former U.S. diplomat wrote for the Atlantic Council on Aug. 17: “As it turns out, U.S. strategy during the Cold War – supporting freedom and resisting Soviet communism – succeeded, even in the face of Washington’s blunders in Vietnam and elsewhere. We must have been on to something about the attractive power of freedom and about the resilience of the U.S.-led liberal international system – and the United States itself.”

A healthy debate has begun in the U.S. on what it did wrong – and right  – in Afghanistan. A similar debate after the Vietnam War (or what Vietnamese call “the American War”) eventually led to a revival of U.S. preeminence, including its role in the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. As a country based on ideals, the U.S. can often lose sight of those ideals – and lose the trust of allies. Vietnam experienced both sides of that America. Perhaps it knows something more than other countries.

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