A week ago, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group was being diverted from its scheduled operations in Australia to head directly for the Korean peninsula amid ever-increasing tension surrounding Kim Jong Un’s nuclear weapons program.
Reports substantiating his claim came in from the Pentagon, and media outlets all over the world reported on this dramatic development that could potentially be a precursor to a pre-emptive military action intended to remove Kim Jong Un’s nuclear capabilities. Sources within Japan’s self-defense force reported their own destroyers would be joining the Carl Vinson battle group, demonstrating a shared posture of preparation and deterrence in the face of North Korea’s unceasingly aggressive remarks. Even Donald Trump himself told Fox Business News that he was sending “an armada” of powerful warships to the region.
And it appears it was all just a song and dance.
The Carl Vinson and accompanying ships are indeed en route to the Korean peninsula, but they’re not expected to arrive until next week.
The White House declined to comment as to how such a mix up could have taken place, claiming that Spicer and the rest of Trump’s staff were only acting on information provided by the Pentagon. The Pentagon responded to requests with a muddled story about confusion and errors – providing the media that was used to propagate this story with nothing more than the political equivalent of shrugged shoulders.
The misinformation, or honest error the White House and Pentagon both neglected to correct, might not have come to light had it not been for a photograph surfacing on Monday of the 97,000 ton USS Carl Vinson sailing through the Sunda Strait that divides the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra, four days after Spicer said it was on its way to North Korea.
Of course, the announcement that the USS Carl Vinson and accompanying ships were headed for North Korea also came during a tense series of discussions between the United States and China, who has been the focus of Trump’s latest strategy to manage North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
North Korea, unsurprisingly, responded to the news by volleying a series of threats of pre-emptive nuclear strikes and calling the deployment “nothing but a reckless action of aggression to aggravate the tensions in the region.”
The U.S. Navy could hardly be considered at fault, as they have no obligation to the press or public to reveal the exact location of their military assets at any given time – as doing so could cause serious security ramifications. However, in the multiple press conferences that have been held since the initial announcement, including ones where Sean Spicer and national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, were asked directly about the decision to deploy the USS Carl Vinson to the waters off the coast of North Korea, one would think they could have offered a correction once they were made aware that battle group was actually more than three thousand miles away from where they claimed it was heading.
It stands to reason, then, that the announcement and subsequent press conferences were a part of political theater intended to apply pressure to North Korea, and likely, China – who has acknowledged the need for them to play a more active role in addressing the threat presented by North Korea’s nuclear weapons since President Xi’s meeting with President Trump last week.
By making the announcement, the White House may have managed to stir up all the right players without actually having to follow through on their aggressive claims. The strike group will still arrive in the waters off the coast of the Korean peninsula sometime next week, but the desired result may have already occurred – with media outlets and foreign governments alike reacting to a half-truth to full effect.
Conversely, it may well have been an honest mistake exacerbated by a lack of transparency and potentially even incompetence… but that begs the question: would you rather a government that lies to you to manipulate geopolitics, or one that doesn’t know what it’s doing with nuclear aircraft carriers?
Neither option seems particularly alluring.
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