The Air Force finally shot down a Chinese spy balloon over Myrtle Beach.
In the course of history’s great power competitions, something like this would usually be relegated to a footnote. We need only remember the 1960 U-2 incident, or the U-2s shot down during the 13-day Cuban Missile Crisis. Spying is a fact of international affairs, and spying is punishable by death.
Yet in our strange time, this one small, stupid incident gives us so many lessons about how the American government really works today. We see the weakness of political leaders, even the President himself. We see the role of anonymous leaks in a press that is utterly dependent on anonymous sources, however unethical that actually may be for real journalists. We see the fecklessness and utter uselessness of Congress. We see the utter waste of our defense programs, and the cheap and easy ways our enemies can completely derail us militarily and politically. The lessons go on and on and on.
Let’s recall how this happened. The United States observed the entrance of the spy balloon into American airspace Jan. 28, as well as its drift into Canada on Jan. 30, and its return to American airspace on Jan. 31. A guy in Billings then noticed the balloon from his driveway on Feb. 1. The news hit social media, and then it hit the legacy media. It was only then that it became a concern for our political leaders.
President Biden says that he was briefed about the balloon on Feb. 1. He says that he ordered the military to shoot it down “as soon as possible.” The president said that his advisors determined not to shoot it down over land for fear of hurting those on the ground. Thus the balloon was allowed to spy on our country until the afternoon of Saturday, Feb. 4.
This hesitation provoked an uproar among Congressional Republicans, making it a partisan issue. Out came the defenses of the Biden Administration, and, inevitably, leaks and statements from anonymous sources in Washington.
The leak was that this had happened three times under the Trump Administration. See? Trump is weak on China, too. Nothing to see here.
But then some of Trump’s worst enemies, John Bolton and Mark Esper, publicly disputed this leak. It seemed like the leaker was lying and the media was reporting lies, which happens on a regular basis.
Then White House spokesman John Kirby had to admit that, actually, no one in the Trump administration had known about Chinese spy balloons entering American airspace. Only when the Biden Administration took office did anyone figure out what had happened. Kirby refused to explain how. NORAD even confessed that it had not picked up on the balloons. The leak proved completely self-defeating, and the Biden administration ended up looking even worse.
The reaction in Congress was also revealing. Democrats circled the wagons, as always, and defended the President. The media tried to make the story about “Republican attacks” rather than about, say, our greatest geopolitical rival openly spying on us with the consent of our military. Rather than defend the indefensible, Chuck Schumer attacked Republicans as “political.”
As for the Republicans, freshman Senator Josh Hawley, who is up for reelection, immediately called for an investigation. Not legislation, not using the purse power, but post-hoc oversight that doesn’t change anything.
Meanwhile the Biden administration delayed the visit of Secretary of State Antony Blinken to China. This is the Biden administration’s idea of deterrence.
Another telling detail: it was an F-22 that shot down the balloon. The F-22 used the call-sign FRANK, in a nod to World War I ace Frank Luke, Jr., who downed 14 German spy balloons. Hilariously, this is the only confirmed kill in the history of the $67 billion F-22 program ($300 million per plane). This is no Frank Luke, Junior.
Finally (whew), having done far too little, far too late (again), Joe Biden bragged about shooting down the balloon, just as he brags about everything. Nature had taken its course. The circle of life (of a modern political story) was complete.
To review: the government only cared about a Chinese spy balloon in American airspace after the public found out about it. The president of the United States was effectively overruled by the “experts” in the bureaucracy. Anonymous bureaucrats leaked extremely misleading information to the media in an effort to discredit Donald Trump. We faced the prospect of nuclear war for no good reason. A toothless Congress is incapable of legislating and settles merely for “oversight.” Democrats continued their war on the truth and Joe Biden bragged despite embarrassing himself and the country. This story has just about everything you need to know about American politics in our time.
Then, there’s more. The military announced, just days later, that China now has more intercontinental ballistic missile launchers than we do. China continues to overtake us.
Meanwhile the great power competition continues, history and reality being utterly indifferent to the various sensitivities of the modern West. Tik Tok is a spy balloon in the pockets of millions of American teenagers, who publicly denounce their parents for cancellable offenses such as imagined racism or transphobia.
In 1983 the West German band Nena had a worldwide hit with their song 99 Luftballons, which in the original imagined balloons being mistaken for weapons of war and triggering a nuclear war, which ends the world. Such a scenario is not impossible.
When the nuke goes off, we will all be arguing on Twitter about pronouns, memes, or “Republicans pouncing.”
J.D. McCarr is a freelance writer from Boston.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.