As Air Force Two prepared to take off for Germany, Vice President Kamala Harris made her way through the plane handing out heart-shaped Valentine’s Day cookies. It was good practice for her trip to the Munich Security Conference, where her mission will be to assure European allies that the United States still loves them.

Arriving in Munich even as House Republicans block military aid to Ukraine and former President Donald J. Trump vows to encourage Russia to attack “rogue” NATO allies, Harris has the unenviable task of telling them European leaders not to worry too much about such things. . And he faces the challenge of proving Trump and his supporters wrong about the value of alliances.

While the meetings she and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will have in Munich will aim to calm European leaders, the speech she will deliver at Friday’s conference will be aimed as much at the American audience at home. Without mentioning Trump by name, the officials said, she plans to use the platform to forcefully rebut the former president seeking to regain his former position, arguing that international partnerships are critical to American security, not a burden to be dismissed lightly. .

It will also be a chance for her to prove herself on the world stage in an election year in which her running mate, President Biden, faces questions about his age. While no one in the White House would say this too openly, Harris’ challenge in the campaign is to demonstrate that she is up to the job so voters don’t worry about the re-election of an 81-year-old president who would be 86 at the end of a second term.

“I am ready to serve. There’s no doubt about it,” Harris told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published this week. Anyone who interacts with her, he said, “walks away fully aware of my ability to lead.”

Munich has been a favorite platform for Harris to try to show that for years. In 2022, he spoke just days before Russia invaded Ukraine and called it a “defining moment” for the world. Last year, he used the conference to accuse Russia of “crimes against humanity” in Ukraine, raising the diplomatic risks of war.

He was already planning to speak this year about the dangers of American isolationism even before Trump said at a campaign rally last week that, if elected again, he would not only not defend NATO members attacked by Russia if they “didn’t pay ” enough, but would even “encourage” Russia to “do whatever it wants” with its allies. The resulting furor made his issue even more salient.

A White House official, who previewed the speech on condition of anonymity, said she would use it to denounce the “failed ideologies of isolationism, authoritarianism and unilateralism” represented by Trump, and argue that his approach to foreign policy could lead to a world of disorder She will focus on what the official described as four options: global engagement versus isolationism, international rules and norms versus chaos, democratic values ​​versus authoritarianism, and collective action versus unilateralism.

Perhaps most importantly, she will try to convince world leaders that she and Biden will win in November despite growing doubts among European leaders and analysts, who are already thinking about the contingencies for a second Trump presidency.

Former Representative Jane Harman, a California Democrat who traveled on Air Force Two with Ms. Harris, said the vice president will be forced to explain the intransigence on Capitol Hill to approve more aid to Ukraine, even though, according to the In most assessments, it has bipartisan support. most. “The real villain is Congress, which thrives on blaming the other side for not solving problems,” Ms. Harman said. “Trump exploits this brilliantly, although he hates to give him credit.”

But many Europeans also remain unsure about Ms Harris herself, arguing that she has yet to forge a clear identity. “Does she have any opinions and any particular knowledge?” asked François Heisbourg, senior adviser for Europe at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “Who is she?” He said she didn’t mean it “as a pejorative,” adding, “It’s just bewildering.”

Harris will have the opportunity to define herself in a series of meetings with world leaders. She is scheduled to meet separately with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine and Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany on Saturday, sessions that will likely focus on how Ukraine can resist Russian forces while awaiting American military aid that may or may not arrive.

European officials increasingly predict that the American withdrawal could lead to further Russian aggression. German and Estonian officials have said Russia could attack a NATO member within five to eight years, while Denmark’s defense chief estimated the danger window at three to five years.

The sombre mood in Munich will require intense American reassurance, analysts said. “If hand-wringing were an Olympic sport, we would give out a lot of medals,” said Heather A. Conley, president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a group that promotes the transatlantic relationship. .

Acknowledging European uncertainty, the White House announced Thursday that Biden would host President Andrzej Duda and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk for a joint meeting at the White House on March 12. It will be their first meeting since a centrist-progressive coalition was formed. won the election in October, toppling a nationalist government seen as aligned with Trump.

“The leaders will reaffirm their unwavering support for defending Ukraine against Russia’s brutal war of conquest,” the White House said in a statement announcing the visit. “The meeting also coincides with the 25th anniversary of Poland’s accession to NATO and underscores the shared strong commitment of the United States and Poland to the NATO alliance, which makes us all safer.”

By Sam