The China Balloon Syndrome
A Chinese surveillance balloon floats over the United States for a week. No action is taken, until the outcry makes taking it down necessary. A second is over South America, a third was over Hawaii. President Biden says it happened under President Trump. After former Trump administration officials said that didn’t happen, Biden countered they were “discovered” after Trump left. What explains all this?
To start with, China just tested Joe Biden, and he failed. China had put a spy balloon over Hawaii, and the president – we now learn – did nothing about a device about a dozen miles in the air leisurely traversing the United States and presumably sending images in real-time back to the Chinese military. U.S. airspace goes to 62 miles up.
Why was it not shot down? We’re told only that “debris” might hurt someone, or that it was innocuous, and hence no need for action. These were tenuous, if not false, excuses for inaction. Debris would have been minimal and could be engineered into empty spaces. Satellites see things, but a spy balloon 100 times closer sees more.
As for “no need,” well, only if you want more spy balloons next month and see no danger in the precedent, which is to say, the possibility of one day facing a possible chem, bio, radioactive, or EMP threat. Otherwise, you shoot it down fast, as you would a Chinese fighter or bomber.
We did not do that. Why not? The explanation apparently is that the Biden team is timid, afraid to upset China, and believes this provocation will be viewed as a mere “incremental” violation, one they can let slip if not noticed.
Except that Americans saw it with their own eyes, so we were treated to predictably partisan and self-serving crisis management: Biden’s team quickly said they had “discovered” it, were “monitoring” it, would decide what to do next. Meantime, the secretary of state immediately waffled on postponing his planned trip to China.
Biden’s team wrung their hands, said little, did less, and hoped this would just drift away. The outcry was significant, so they finally decided to shoot the offending balloon down over the ocean, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken bravely delayed his trip.
The courage quotient in this White House, Biden’s Pentagon, Department of Homeland Security, and State Department, is stunning – for its absence. Are we to imagine no one thought of the possibilities here? Are we to imagine we only consider planes or missiles a threat?
So, the Biden team finally shoots the Chinese spy balloon down over the ocean, while China mumbles, lies, and carries on. But this is where the “scandal within scandal” begins. Under the gun to explain themselves, Biden and his team belatedly says “three Chinese balloons” were over the U.S. under Trump. Almost every highly cleared Trump intelligence and national security appointee (more than a dozen) flatly deny that.
This leads to the next hard-to-believe deflection. Biden’s team says the Chinese balloons Trump did not shoot down were only discovered after he left office. What?
Yes, they say it happened then but was only “discovered after” Trump left, which is probably why no one had heard about it. This is hard to credit. Are we to believe that NORAD’s 24/7 operations center was asleep – that China dared cross Trump, and we only saw the spy balloons after reviewing the tape?
All this sounds increasingly absurd, throws water on solid facts, damning, indefensible, and which should require – in an accountable republic – high level resignations. Here are the big, real questions.
First, if any spy balloon from China really floated over the United States during Trump’s time and not one appointee was briefed, do we have an “intelligence deep state” – which is either pro-China or which so feared Trump’s penchant for action that they withheld that? Exactly who knew what, when, and said nothing?
Second, if the balloons were over the U.S. under Trump, and NORAD or the intelligence community did not see them in real time, why not? That is a major intelligence failure. How did that happen? Third, either way – and regardless of which scandal is worse – the Chinese spy balloon in U.S. airspace should have immediately been brought down. Would we wait on a fighter, and say debris worried us?
China has learned a key lesson, and it cannot be unlearned. Biden will hesitate, deflect, do almost anything to avoid confrontation with China, even allow penetration of U.S. airspace. None of this will make Taiwan feel good, or Japan, Australia, the Philippines – or any U.S. ally.
Communist China’s deliberate penetration of U.S. airspace is not a non-event, not inconsequential, not something to pretend did not happen. And it should have instantly triggered a shootdown.
Who will be held accountable for this fiasco? What will China do next? This is not a small error, passing oversight, or victory – nor was the disastrous U.S. exit from Afghanistan. This is another layered scandal.