In a very lame appearance on CNN's State of the Union on Sunday, Biden Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg gushed that the military had done a "terrific" job regarding the Chinese balloon, and generally praised his boss's handling of the matter.
But one member of the show's panel had a decidedly different take.David Urban, a CNN commentator and former adviser to Donald Trump, called the balloon:
"A three-story, giant middle finger floating across America, courtesy of the Chinese government, right? And I think that's really what Americans take umbrage at. The notion that the Chinese can come here and just say, f-you, we're going to do this, and you can do nothing."
My own experience suggests that Urban accurately described the reaction of many Americans to the incident. I live just up the coast from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where the shootdown took place. Our local airport here was covered by the ground stop and temporary flight restriction. And the circling jets and the shootdown were clearly visible from the beach here.
Many local residents posted photos and videos of the event, along with their comments on it. And the prevailing sentiment clearly seemed to be: what the [ahem, heck] took so long to shoot the balloon down?
Question: how long do you think a US balloon flying over China would have lasted in the air?
As Marco Rubio said earlier in the show:
"Beyond just the ability to collect information, it is the ability to send a clear message, and that is, we [China] have the ability to do this, and America can't do anything about it. If they're not going to be able to stop a balloon flying over US airspace, how is America going to come to your aid if we invade Taiwan, or take land from India. Or take islands from the Phillipines or Japan."
Bottom line: Biden's handling of this was a troubling display of weakness to America's friends and foes alike.
Note: whereas Buttigieg was very upbeat about Biden's handling of the balloon matter, "Mayor Pete" ducked several of Jake Tapper's questions.
- Could he say what was recovered? "I really can't."
- Was the balloon able to gather sensitive info and send it back to China? "I don't know all the ins and outs of what this balloon was doing or what its capabilities were."
- The presumption is that the Chinese were able to gather intelligence: "That's way out of my lane."
- When did the Biden administration first learn about the spy balloon entering US airspace? "I really can't speak to that."
Then why on Earth did CNN book this man?
Here's the transcript.
State of the Union
9:44 am ET
JAKE TAPPER: Marco Rubio, earlier on the show, basically that he has a lot of questions. And one of them is, why did it take so long for President Biden to disclose this to the American people?
JONAH GOLDBERG: Yeah. I think we've got to separate some things out. First of all, I know we're stuck calling it a balloon. It's a drone. It's a spy drone, right? It just has a different mode of transport.
Second, the military significance, intelligence significance of this, really wasn't that big. But the diplomatic and political significance of it was. And I think it's perfectly fair to ask these kinds of questions. I mean, this thing—I've been to Alaska many times—it flew over the heart of Alaska. There's a lot of unpopulated places, he could have shot it down then.
And this is like what always happens when you catch a spy. Everyone knows we spy on China and China spies on us. But when you catch them, it's embarrassing. It's a diplomatic and political thing you have to deal with.
TAPPER: Do you think this overshadows President Biden at the State of the Union?
KAREN FINNEY: No, not at all. Particularly given that they shot it down. And I'd say, if anything, just sort of watching the conspiracy theory mania crank itself up on the right wing, I was reminded, this is why we voted for Joe Biden. Because imagine if this had happened under Donald Trump. And it would be more hysteria. And it is, he was a grownup, he made a decision about what was right for the American people, to keep people safe, the ability to capture what was left, and to try to learn what we can from it.
TAPPER: You're shaking your head.
DAVID URBAN: So look, I think it's a -- I agree. On the military significance, intelligence significance, probably nil. On the geopolitical stage, a little embarrassing.
We had a three-story, giant middle finger floating across America, courtesy of the Chinese government, right. And I think that's what really, really Americans take umbrage at, right? The notion the Chinese can come here and just say, f-you, we're going to do this, and you can do nothing, right?
And I think if the president would have come out early on and had a press conference, like Senator Rubio had said, and said, listen, here's what we know: we shut off, we jammed this, they're not collecting anything. We're going to shoot this down when it's safe. Had done a much better job messaging it, on the messaging part, I think America would have been much better off. I think they blew it on that.