The Trump administration is suffering from another self-inflicted wound on foreign policy:
When news broke less than two weeks ago that the Trump administration was sending the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson to the Korean Peninsula, many South Koreans feared a possible war with North Korea. Others cheered for Washington, calling the deployment a powerful symbol of its commitment to deterring the North.
On Wednesday, after it was revealed that the carrier strike group was actually thousands of miles away and had been heading in the opposite direction, toward the Indian Ocean, South Koreans felt bewildered, cheated and manipulated by the United States, their country’s most important ally.
This is a relatively minor episode, but it points to several important flaws in the way that Trump and his officials conduct foreign policy. The basic incompetence on display is the most noticeable thing. A properly-staffed and well-coordinated administration would not make such an easily avoidable blunder, but this one is neither properly-staffed nor well-coordinated. A competent administration would have consulted more closely with regional allies and not done anything rash that might alarm them, but this administration isn’t competent.
Another flaw is Trump’s desire to boast and show “strength,” which is how the misinformation was able to spread far and wide. If Trump hadn’t wanted to draw attention to the “armada” he was supposedly sending, no one would have given much thought to the whereabouts of the carrier group or its destination, and there would have been no surprise or outrage when its real location came to be known. An even bigger flaw is Trump’s preoccupation with trying to intimidate North Korea into changing its behavior through a combination of ill-considered bluster and careless rhetoric from Pence and Tillerson deriding the idea of strategic patience. On substance the administration is misguided, and in both the messaging and execution of its policy towards North Korea they have proven to be inept.