Last week, the White House claimed that that an aircraft carrier strike group was on its way to the Korean peninsula from southern Asia, when in fact it was sailing in the opposite direction. Forced to defend that falsehood on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer resorted to a little creative thinking.
“The president said that we have an armada going to the peninsula,” Spicer said, referring to a April 12 Fox Business interview where President Trump said, “We are sending an armada.”
But according to Spicer, Trump’s comments shouldn’t have been taken to mean the peninsula was the carrier group’s first stop. That’s convenient, because when Trump said that, the armada in question was actually sailing the opposite direction to the Indian Ocean for joint exercises — not toward North Korea to serve as a deterrent.
“That’s a fact. It happened,” Spicer said on Wednesday, before quickly correcting himself, “it is happening, rather.”
So even though Trump’s remarks and what Spicer himself suggested during his April 11 news conference weren’t true at the time — “I think when you see a carrier group steaming into an area like that, the forward presence of that is clearly, through almost every instance, a huge deterrence,” Spicer said that day — they were still ultimately validated as far as Spicer is concerned, because the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson strike group is now (allegedly) headed toward the Korean peninsula.
“PACOM [United States Pacific Command] put out a release talking about what it’s ultimate destination was going to be and that’s where it ended up,” Spicer said. “The only question that we were asked was what signal it sends, and I think we answered that very question at the time.”
Spicer’s logic has counterintuitive implications.
Using Spicer's logic, you could say a carrier group is headed towards Antarctica so long as at some point in the future it goes southward
— Tim Mak (@timkmak) April 19, 2017
And his explanation won’t reassure South Koreans concerned the White House lacks credibility when it comes to deterring North Korea.
Hong Joon-pyo, the presidential candidate from former leader Park Geun-hye’s ruling party, told the Wall Street Journal that “what [Trump] said was very important for the national security of South Korea. If that was a lie, then during Trump’s term, South Korea will not trust whatever Trump says.”
Even officials from Trump’s own party were perturbed. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), said the confusion over the carrier group’s destination was “troubling.”
“Every time I have seen that map that shows where our naval assets are, believe me, the Pentagon knows exactly where they are,” she said in a radio interview. “So I suspect there was some just terrible miscommunication, but it should not have occurred.”