There are a few pressing questions facing the United States military and foreign policy apparatus right now. On Sunday, the Trump administration announced that it was dispatching the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group to the Middle East “to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime.” My question is what... does that mean? What’s the message? Where are the boats going exactly, are they just going to hang out in the Strait of Hormuz and dare Iran to try anything funky?
Later on Monday, we also got this:
Seems like a big deal! Seems like someone other than “U.S. officials” should be chatting about this! Elsewhere in the world, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday said that the military is making “contingency plans” for military intervention in Venezuela. Here’s my question: what uh... are those plans, man?
You know who has even better, more detailed questions about these and so, so many other matters? The Pentagon press corps, the White House press corps’ far less obnoxious younger brother. Problem is, the last time the Pentagon press corps got an on camera briefing was August 28, 2018, when James Mattis gave a televised address. That was 251 days ago. The last time an official spokesperson—the person responsible for doing this job—talked to the press en masse on camera was 340 days ago.
The Pentagon did have one on-camera briefing in that period, however: a marketing stunt for Gerard Butler’s new war movie back in October. Nice.
Starr, the CNN Pentagon correspondent, explained why on Brian Stelter’s show a few days ago, noting that defense officials have shifted to off-camera briefings, chatting with reporters about single subjects, and occasionally limited on-camera chats while traveling. The reason, Starr said, was essentially that defense officials have no clue what side of the bed the president is going to wake up on and don’t want to say anything on TV. This creates a system where we get confusing tidbits or information and wildly conflicting points iterated by different wings of the government: Defense or State Department officials saying one thing, the White House saying something else, who the fuck knows what’s actually going on.
Look at this, from earlier today. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had earlier said that Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro was prepared to step down and leave the country before the Russians intervened.
“If that’s the case?” Pompeo’s claim could be bullshit, of course, but it’s wild that the president and his various underlings can’t even get on the same page with regard to whatever line they’re trying to sell a war on. And if the people responsible for fighting that war can’t speak (relatively) openly to the press, the next two years of foreign policy could be even more of a clusterfuck than the last two.