The most transparent administration in history has done it again.
We first learned about the balloon on Thursday, February 2, as it was over the skies of Montana. As slowly as it was moving, you almost had to wonder where in the hell it came from and how long it had been there. Thanks to a bit of journalism from Bloomberg, we now have that answer: It entered American airspace a week ago.
As it turns out, US authorities were well aware of the unidentified object that had entered American airspace on Jan. 28, that had then left and re-entered over North Idaho on Tuesday. But with such a high-profile trip at stake, keeping it on the down-low was key.
By the time the thing became visible in Montana, President Joe Biden had already been briefed and the White House was scrambling to decide whether to blast it from the sky.
The gravity of the situation was only exacerbated by Montana being home to Malmstrom Air Force Base, which houses a large portion of the US’s Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The Biden team was in a tizzy, it seems, trying to figure out what to do. Shoot it down? Let it go? Make a statement? Keep it quiet? They were indecisive, which is part of the reason they seemed to be caught off guard when the incident became public – what’s more, the Chinese embassy in Washington was apparently just as taken aback.
As the balloon continued to hover over the Big Sky state on Wednesday, Biden huddled with his national security team to receive a detailed briefing on the balloon. The president argued for shooting the object down, but was urged against doing so by his most senior military advisors.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark A. Milley insisted that such a move would put civilians at risk.
The president ultimately decided to let the balloon continue on its way as the US sought answers from the Chinese embassy in Washington, but they struggled to obtain satisfactory responses. US officials said they were baffled by China, which itself appeared to be caught off-guard by the bizarre incident.
The U.S. response since the balloon was brought to the public’s attention has been nothing short of reactive, though, as if they really had just learned about it on Thursday like the rest of us. All we knew is that they were sure it was a spy balloon and that they had no intention of shooting it out of the sky.
But that’s where the decisiveness ended. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to travel to China for a diplomatic summit – and it wasn’t until mere hours before he was set to depart that Biden canceled Blinken’s trip. The fact that the balloon was nearing the airspace of Malmstrom is even worse, and prompted no action whatsoever, it seems.
Granted, it does sound like a lot of things were going on behind the scenes, but that just makes the lack of action–or even a half-assed attempt at crisis management–seem even worse. It’s like they did not even consider that the balloon would be discovered, which is odd, considering it’s within our atmosphere and a lot of people have telescopes.
The handling of the situation just seems to be as bizarre as the situation itself. There’s no reason to think that the Chinese were gathering any intelligence they couldn’t get from satellites flying much, much higher. There’s also no reason to think that the Chinese would be stupid enough to assume that we wouldn’t notice something like a giant balloon flying in our airspace.
But, there’s also no reason to think we wouldn’t do something about it. At no point under any circumstance would China, Russia, or any other geopolitical foe hesitate to shoot down an American spy balloon if it entered their airspace, and they would not hesitate to publicly condemn the U.S. for violating their sovereignty in a big, public statement.
But the Biden administration was paralyzed with indecision. That’s a terrible, terrible quality to have in the face of something like this. Even if the balloon was basically worthless as a tool of spycraft, you don’t just let a foe gently glide over your nation’s airspace.