As the AP noted here yesterday, countries in the region are looking at Trump as, to quote the AP, “Unpredictable. Unhinged. Dangerous.” Consider that this is in a confrontation with Kim Jong-un. North Korea under the Kim dynasty has specialized in extremely provocative, high risk gambits. Thirty four years ago, they blew up several members of the South Korean cabinet in a bomb attack in Rangoon. Kim Jong-un apparently just had his half brother killed in a poison attack in Kuala Lumpur. Trump has strong competition in the unpredictable and unhinged and dangerous department.
But what’s really driving anxiety and anger is this issue with the confusion over the whereabouts of the Carl Vinson and its carrier strike group. As I argued yesterday (and as I think is consensus opinion), the false impression seems to have been more a matter of internal confusion than intentional deception. But the South Korean press and public seems to see it very differently. Headlines in South Korea are saying that Trump lied and as this article in the Times put it, “South Koreans feel cheated after U.S. Carrier Miscue.”
Of all Trump goofs and scandals, this seems to be one of the more innocent ones in terms of intent. Maybe we’ll learn otherwise but I don’t think this was intentional. But when you’re talking tough and getting into stand offs over nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and a major global city vulnerable to overwhelming artillery fire, you’ve got to have your shit together. You need clarity about what you’re doing and you need to be know what you’re doing and appear to know what you’re doing. Deception is an inherent part of military affairs. Strategic ambiguity is too. But if you’re going to be bluff or deceive, you need to make sure people think you were doing it on purpose. Small errors and confusions can have very, very big consequences. We can parse different quotes from the White House and Pentagon and see how the confusion arose. But step back. When you find out that the global hegemon ‘said’ its ships were in one place when they were actually thousands of miles away, that seems either weirdly duplicitous or stupid in a way that invites mockery or fear.
You can read the rest at Talking Points Memo.