“We are sending an armada,” President Donald Trump told a TV news interviewer last week about the US response to provocations from North Korea. “Very powerful. We have submarines. Very powerful, far more powerful than the aircraft carrier.”
Actually, a fleet of US warships — an aircraft carrier accompanied by two destroyers and a cruiser — had been deployed, but in the opposite direction from the Korean peninsula. They were headed for a naval exercise with Australia.
For a few days it had seemed that after raining Tomahawks on Syria, Trump was prepared to punish North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who had stepped up missile launches and firings in a thinly disguised attempt to test the new administration.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said having the US warships in the Sea of Japan within striking distance of North Korea gave Trump “options in the region”. Other US officials sounded issued equally dire warnings.
The flotilla, led by aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, had left Singapore for an undisclosed destination on April 9, just days after Trump ordered missiles into Syria, and it was assumed to be headed for the Korean peninsula. But it was actually on its way for a prescheduled exercise with Australians, some 5,600 km away.
This would have gone unnoticed but for a picture of Carl Vinson posted online by the US Navy, sailing south through the Sunda Strait, which separates the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra. It was taken on Saturday, and the White House said it was in the Sea of Japan.
While House officials have since said their account was based on “guidance from the Defense Department”, according to The New York Times.