Last Friday, just before President Joe Biden left for another of his many long weekends away from the White House, reporters vainly asked him about the Chinese surveillance balloon that had been meandering around in U.S. airspace since Jan. 28. Our commander-in-chief offered no response beyond a smirk and a vacant stare. The “spy balloon,” as it has been dubbed by the media, is a good metaphor for the Biden administration’s foreign policy — lighter than air and potentially dangerous.
Unlike Biden’s foreign policy, however, the spy balloon had a discernible objective. This became clear when it spent an unnerving amount of time last week hovering over Montana’s Malmstrom Air Force Base, “which houses a large portion of the US’s Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles,” according to a Bloomberg report. In other words, the balloon was being used by the Chinese to gather military intelligence in order to assess our national-defense capacity. And what of the president? He finally broke his silence Saturday morning when reporters questioned him again: “We’re going to take care of it.”
This cryptic response turned out to mean that, after roaming around American air space for more than a week collecting and transmitting military intelligence to the Chinese government, the balloon would finally be shot down over the Atlantic after it had finished that data-gathering mission. According to various news reports, it was destroyed by an F-22 off the coast of South Carolina shortly after 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Why did Biden dawdle so long when action could easily have been taken when the balloon was over the uninhabited areas of Alaska or Idaho? As usual, Biden’s disjointed answer won’t provide much comfort to the public:
On Wednesday, when I was briefed on the balloon, I ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down, on Wednesday, as soon as possible. They decided — without doing damage to anyone on — on the ground. They decided that the best time to do that was as it got over water, outside — within our — within the 12-mile limit. They successfully took it down. And I want to compliment our aviators who did it. And we’ll have more to report on this a little later.
This statement to the media contains some disturbing elements. First, Biden suggests that he was initially briefed on the balloon on Wednesday. The problem with this claim is that it entered U.S. air space in January, as reported in the Bloomberg article quoted above: “US authorities were well aware of the unidentified object that had entered American airspace on Jan. 28.” This means either that Biden is guilty of another of his trademark whoppers or, even worse, that his military advisers hid it from him for several days. The latter explanation seems eminently plausible considering that “they decided” when to shoot it down.
Regardless of who made the call, the decision to allow the balloon to traverse the entire continent before destroying it was allegedly based on the desire to avoid collateral damage if debris happened to fall on a populated area. That claim, however, is simply not credible. During its first four days over the U.S., there were vast stretches of virtually uninhabited territory over which it could have been shot down with no serious possibility of collateral damage. It could also have been shot down over water even before it entered U.S. air space in Alaska. As former Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army Gen. Jack Keane told Fox News:
Remember, this was approaching the United States over water. It was approaching the Aleutian Islands over water. And we had plenty of opportunity to take it down then. And that’s when it should have happened. We had to be tracking it from mainland China across the Pacific Ocean, and we had plenty of warning to put together an operation that we are conducting now on the East Coast that should have been done there.
Keane goes on to point out that we have alert aircraft in Alaska whose principal mission is to prevent unauthorized penetration of U.S. air space by foreign aircraft. If we had competent leadership in the White House, the spy balloon would never have made it to Alaska. But that’s the problem, of course. As Robert Gates, former defense secretary in the Obama administration, famously observed, “[Biden] has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” Our commander-in-chief has certainly lived up to this reputation during his first two years in the White House.
This has been particularly true where China is concerned. Indeed, Biden’s obvious weakness almost certainly emboldened Chinese President Xi Jinping to send the surveillance balloon our way in the first place. Moreover, this is by no means the first time Xi has tested Biden and found him wanting. As recently as December, China conducted strike drills in the sea and air space around Taiwan. Also in December, a Chinese jet buzzed a U.S. aircraft flying over international waters in the South China Sea. The spy balloon was just the latest in a series of taunts. Only a fool would buy the Chinese claim that it arrived accidentally:
This is entirely an unexpected situation caused by force majeure and the facts are very clear. China always acts in strict accordance with international law and respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries. We have no intention to violate and has [sic] never violated the territory or airspace of any sovereign country.…
Some politicians and media in the US have hyped [the balloon] up to attack and smear China.
This illustrates the level of contempt that Xi has for Biden and his administration. It’s more than likely that, after meeting Biden in Bali, Xi wanted to find out if our commander-in-chief was weak enough to allow the spy balloon to meander unmolested over U.S. territory and still send Secretary of State Antony Blinken to China on a make-nice mission. He now knows that invading our sovereign air space goes virtually unpunished, and thus far Blinken has merely postponed his China trip. Blinken has, however, denounced the spy balloon as “irresponsible.” This no doubt shook them up badly in Beijing.
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