Alternative fact of the week: The misdirected aircraft carrier
Apr 20, 2017 | 1:46 PM
Trying to intimidate North Korea with a show of military might was a bad idea; pretending to do it was worse.
A few weeks ago, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was in a lather about Susan Rice, the Obama administration national security adviser and long-time Republican punching bag, demanding to know why the press wasn't going after the story of her "unmasking" of Trump aides caught up in wiretap surveillance. But we can't help but wonder whether he now has a little sympathy for her.
Last weekend, Mr. Spicer was asked during a press briefing about the Trump administration's decision to send an aircraft carrier battle group to the Sea of Japan as part of its new, aggressive posture toward North Korea. "I think when you see a carrier group steaming into an area like that," he said, "the forward presence of that is clearly, through almost every instance, a huge deterrence." The trouble is, as we now know, the U.S.S. Carl Vinson and its escorts were at the time nowhere near North Korea. In fact, the ships were thousands of miles away and headed in the opposite direction, on their way to a joint military exercise with Australia that had nothing to do with North Korea.
Mr. Spicer, administration officials later explained, was speaking from talking points, and it turns out those talking points didn't fully cover everything that some people in the administration knew at the time. Or, put another way, were in direct opposition to the actual truth. Kind of like when Ms. Rice went on the Sunday morning talk shows immediately after the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and parroted talking points about an anti-Muslim video that had already been discredited by others within the administration.
But we can be assured that as soon as Mr. Spicer learned what was actually going on, he would make a sheepish apology, right? Of course not. At Wednesday's press briefing, he did what he does best, which is to insist that whatever his boss said is true even when it quite obviously is not.
In an interview the previous Wednesday, President Trump told Fox Business Channel's Maria Bartiromo that he was "sending an armada" to the waters near North Korea. "We have submarines," he said. "Very powerful. Far more powerful than the aircraft carrier. That, I can tell you." So a week later, Mr. Spicer's job was to find a way to fit that square peg into the round hole of reality. "The president said that we have an armada going towards the peninsula," Mr. Spicer said. "That's a fact, it happened. It's happening, rather." So relax. The carrier group is "ultimately ending up at the Korean peninsula," he said. Or as Hillary Clinton might have put it, "At this point, what difference does it make?"
It makes plenty of difference, of course, if you're trying to convince the world that a new, tough guy is in charge, and he's not going to allow any provocation by a reckless leader like North Korea's Kim Jong-un go unanswered. Throwing around American muscle in an attempt to intimidate a rogue regime with nothing to lose was a bad idea. Pretending to do it is worse. That's what qualifies the case of the misdirected aircraft carrier as The Sun's alternative fact of the week.