THERE were no Celestial plenipotentiaries in top hats and tails on a vast starboard veranda deck or instruments of surrender laid out for signatures in a poky country courthouse. Yet the Battle for the USA has been won. It must have been a nerve-racking few days for Joe Biden, briefed hourly – as he believes he was – on the invasion of the United States by a giant Chinese baboon. But that’s the least of the anxieties – reasonable or chimerical – brought to the forefront of the overwrought Western psyche by the ping-pong King Kong that was the illimitable dirigible of 2023. Tom Cruise won’t be buying the rights to the pilot’s account of how he manoeuvred a $200 million F-22 Raptor into position to deflate an $11 blimp. Not even Cruise could sell Top Gun: Vanderbilt. As a kinetic victory at least, it was the greatest achieved by the US since the invasion of Grenada. As a psy-op démarche, however, Beijing’s whether balloon exposed what the Oval Office is prepared to do and in what time frame, who dominates in deciding and which branches of government are at enmity with others. Herewith the data: Washington is prepared to do nothing, ponderousy; the Pentagon doesn’t trust the President (this one any more than his predecessor) and the CIA doesn’t trust the Joint Chiefs. Forget the photos: a Chinese tourist could get a thousand of those with a mini-drone. This was a HUMINT test that America set itself up to fail.
I say America failed – not just President Biden personally – because the balloon affair was merely a trivial symptom of systemic national decline. Russia’s Sputnik was the first analogy off the rank for commentators but O.J.’s Bronco is a better likeness: this too was a slow-speed chase where the audience as much as the fugitive was on the lam from reality. After all, when it comes to spying on Americans, the you-know-what went up in 2016; the Democrat-Big Tech-Intelligence Community Stasi has been monitoring MAGA patriots and conservatives for several years. If Biden is entitled to a defence for last week’s fiasco – even notwithstanding his collusion with domestic political saboteurs – reasonable doubt exists. It is now claimed there had also been aerial incursions during Donald Trump’s tenure. While a few of the former President’s officials see this revelation as sandbagging by administration loyalists in the Department of Defence, there is a slightly less disturbing explanation.
Namely, that one of the purposes of a spy agency is to keep some information from the executive in the latter’s – and the nation’s – best interest. The alternative is leak-able disclosure and Pavlovian demands for spectacular military responses. In addition to becoming a news cycle albatross (or a ‘wag the dog’ boon for politicians), this could easily escalate to casus belli and beyond. Depending on your outlook, what happened last week either proves that point or shows why a re-think of state secrets and democracy is long overdue. Furthermore, it happens to be true that signals intelligence can sometimes involve observing – rather than blowing up – enemy devices, crafts or conveyances. The Republican accusations of treason against the President for not imitating Elmer Fudd were a throwback to when the GOP and Fox – rather than the Democratic National Committee and CNN – were chummy with the CIA. There is no proof the most famous gasbag since the Hindenburg was a threat and no reason to believe the Nord Stream bombers suddenly saying otherwise. The CCP is the West’s number one enemy, yes, but number two are the warmongers who have done more to destroy the West over the past 20 years than all the Xi in China.
This was an accidentally live-to-air but largely meaningless crisis that everybody either got wrong, Kamala-splained or gleefully bagged as low-hanging polemical fruit. The President didn’t come out the loser because of what he didn’t do but because of all the lawless treacheries he has encouraged and countenanced hitherto. Biden is not, however, solely to blame for the overarching mess the US and its allies now find themselves in vis-à-vis China. The reason Australian government buildings are reportedly monitored by Chinese-made cameras is that Australia doesn’t make its own. And it doesn’t make its own because the ‘experts’ and predecessors of Anthony Albanese in both political parties decided making things was old hat. The economic rationalists believed ‘trade liberalisation’ would make us richer and the Old Left liked the idea of bringing Mao’s children in from the Cold War. Western ‘leaders’ refuse to discuss this meta-reality because it will take decades to claw back from the Middle Kingdom what we gave away. It seems nothing deserving of a sidewinder ever gets one in an age of curated commotions lofty and wafting.