News & Politics

Donald Trump, North Korea, And The Case Of The Phantom Armada

After a visit from Mike Pence, North Korea’s Ambassador to the United Nations said that the Trump Administration had “created a dangerous situation in which thermonuclear war may break out.” PHOTOGRAPH BY SEONGJOON CHO / BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY
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I said, ‘Look, we have ships headed there,’ ” President Donald J. Trump told the Wall Street Journal on April 12th, recounting the straight talk that he had handed to President Xi Jinping, of China, on the subject of North Korea.

“He says he knows it very well. I said not only are there aircraft carriers, we have the nuclear subs, which you have to let him know.” “Him” was Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, whom Xi, apparently, was expected to intimidate with information that has now turned out to be false.

Some degree of delusion always has to be factored in with Trump: when he referred to “the aircraft carriers” and, in another interview, with Fox Business, said that “we are sending an armada, very powerful,” he was widely understood to be referring to a single aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Vinson, and its support ships.

In fairness, the Vinson would have been powerful and provocative enough—if it had, in fact, been speeding toward the Korean Peninsula, or the Sea of Japan, or even just the Pacific Ocean, which it was not.

It was in the Indian Ocean, headed in the opposite direction, for exercises with what might be described as the Australian Armada. Just when you think you see the contours of Trump’s phantom menace, he comes up with a Phantom Fleet.

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