Biden's Critics Have a Theme: Shoot Down the Balloon

Pentagon is so far resisting the idea
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 3, 2023 2:05 PM CST
Biden's Critics Have a Theme: Shoot Down the Balloon
A high-altitude balloon floats over Billings, Mont., on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023.   (Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP)

China has admitted that the balloon first spotted high above Montana is one of its own. Beijing insists it's a wayward weather balloon, while the US suspects it's a spy balloon. Whichever is the case, a theme has emerged on the right. "SHOOT DOWN THE BALLOON," former President Trump posted on his Truth Social platform, per NBC News. And he was far from alone. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene agreed with Trump, as did GOP Sen. Tom Cotton and many others. US officials have said they don't want to risk the debris hurting people, but GOP Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted that "it was a mistake to not shoot down that Chinese spy balloon when it was over a sparsely populated area." The two-fold theme on the right is that this would not have happened on Trump's watch, and that President Biden is soft on China. (Despite moves like this one.)

So why not shoot it down? CNN collects this response from an unnamed senior defense official:

  • “We have to do the risk-reward here. So the first question is, does it pose a threat, a physical kinetic threat, to individuals in the United States in the US homeland? Our assessment is it does not. Does it pose a threat to civilian aviation? Our assessment is it does not. Does it pose a significantly enhanced threat on the intelligence side? Our best assessment right now is that it does not. So given that profile, we assess the risk of downing it, even if the probability is low in a sparsely populated area of the debris falling and hurting someone or damaging property, that it wasn’t worth it.”

In an analysis at the Washington Post, Aaron Blake sounds a similar note of caution, pointing out that "espionage generally exists in something of a gray area between countries," meaning that "it's largely tolerated with the understanding that everyone does it. Taking aggressive action to prevent it could be met with a response—and potentially a disproportionate one—that you dislike even more." At least one high-profile figure on the right is wary about shooting down the balloon. "You have to also think that China may be trying to bait the United States into disputes over appropriate rights," Rep. Matt Gaetz told Steve Bannon on the latter's podcast. If we shoot it down, "does that give China some sort of pretext for China to take some action?” (More US-China relations stories.)

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