It’s easy to fool the enemy about the location of your warships. Only a highly sophisticated military power can succeed at fooling itself.

No harm, no foul, I guess, but note that none of the sources are claiming that this was deliberate deception. Apparently it was a genuine screw-up. Imagine if North Korea, spooked by reports of a U.S. armada approaching the coast, had tested a nuke or even attacked South Korea, and the U.S. … did nothing, because it didn’t have its military assets in place. Headline: “NEW KOREAN WAR BEGINS AFTER U.S. ANNOUNCES PHANTOM DEPLOYMENT.” How do you think Trump’s approval rating would be doing today?

As worries deepened last week about whether North Korea would conduct a missile test, the White House declared that ordering an American aircraft carrier into the Sea of Japan would send a powerful deterrent signal and give President Trump more options in responding to the North’s provocative behavior.

The problem was, the carrier, the Carl Vinson, and the four other warships in its strike force were at that very moment sailing in the opposite direction, to take part in joint exercises with the Australian Navy in the Indian Ocean, 3,500 miles southwest of the Korean Peninsula.

White House officials said on Tuesday they were relying on guidance from the Defense Department. Officials there described a glitch-ridden sequence of events, from a premature announcement of the deployment by the military’s Pacific Command to an erroneous explanation by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — all of which perpetuated the false narrative that an American armada was racing toward the waters off North Korea.

“Wrong-Way Trump,” they’re calling him. Well, no, not yet. But probably soon.

The jig was finally up yesterday when, er, the Navy posted a photo taken Saturday of the Vinson off the coast of Indonesia. The Times itself reported the phantom deployment to Korean waters on April 9th citing a statement by the head of the Navy’s Pacific Command: “The Vinson and three guided-missile destroyers and cruisers steamed out of Singapore on Saturday [April 8th] for their new mission in the Western Pacific.” A press release posted on Pacific Command’s website on April 10th seemed to confirm that, noting that the Vinson “will operate in the Western Pacific rather than executing previously planned port visits to Australia.” And yet, five days later, the ship was still cruising around Indonesia. When exactly did Trump and Mattis find out that their “armada” wasn’t where they thought it was? That failed North Korean missile test happened two days ago, on the 16th, when the Vinson was supposed to be in the area, but wasn’t.

The ship is now reportedly finally en route towards North Korea. A new question for the White House: If the NorKs keep their promise to start testing missiles weekly, do we make a statement by shooting one down? The THAAD anti-missile system based in South Korea could do it, but that’s still reportedly a few weeks away from being operational. The Aegis system could also do it, but those missiles are based on destroyers — like the ones in the Vinson’s strike group, which isn’t yet in the vicinity of North Korea. Here’s Trump last Wednesday talking about the “very powerful” armada he’s sending to watch Kim. Where did he think the ships were when he said this?