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Why Trump's confusion about missile defense is so dangerous

"We have missiles that can knock out a missile in the air 97% of the time," Trump boasted this week. Reality, however, points in a very different direction.
TOPSHOT - US President Donald Trump addresses the 72nd Annual UN General Assembly in New York on September 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARYTIMOTHY A....

During his latest Fox News interview, Donald Trump briefly addressed the burgeoning crisis with North Korea, and expressed confidence in the United States' position. "We have missiles that can knock out a missile in the air 97% of the time," the president boasted on Wednesday, "and if you send two of them, it's going to get knocked down."

As the Washington Post explained this morning, this is plainly wrong.

The president speaks with confidence but descends into hyperbole. No single interceptor for ICBMs has demonstrated a 97-percent success rate, and there is no guarantee using two interceptors has a 100-percent success rate. Moreover, the military's suggestion that it could achieve a 97-percent success rate with four interceptors appears based on faulty assumptions and overenthusiastic math.The odds of success under the most ideal conditions are no better than 50-50, and likely worse, as documented in detailed government assessments.

This is not, however, one of those "let's all laugh at the foolish man in the Oval Office" moments. Because if the president actually believes what he told a national television audience about the efficacy of the existing missile-defense system, his confusion may carry serious consequences.

It's possible, of course, that Trump was simply lying. It certainly wouldn't be the first time. In fact, under these circumstances, I'd find it slightly more comforting if the president were deliberately trying to deceive the public -- because the alternative is that Trump genuinely believes we have a 97% chance of shooting North Korean missiles out of the sky before they could hurt anyone, which isn't even close to being true.

This matters because the president has taken a radical posture towards the nuclear-armed rogue state, rejecting diplomacy, and by some measures, taking steps that appear designed to taunt Kim Jong-un into launching a first strike. If the president's dangerous strategy is shaped by his belief that North Korean missiles can be successfully intercepted nearly 100% of the time, his approach rests on a dangerously faulty assumption.

In other words, it's never a good idea for U.S. national security policy to be based on the delusional beliefs of an easily confused amateur.