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Feehery: It didn’t take 99 red balloons, just one to prove Biden’s weak leadership

A person reads a newspaper in Chinese wiith the front page photo of the balloon that was shot down
Associated Press-Damian Dovarganes
Business owner “Annie” weights down copies of the Chinese Daily News newspaper showcasing pictures of a suspected Chinese spy balloon, in the Chinatown district of Los Angeles Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023. The balloon’s presence in the sky above the United States before a military jet shot it down over the Atlantic Ocean with a missile Saturday has further strained U.S.- China ties.

Balloon-gate has thrown Joe Biden off his game right before his first State of the Union with Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) standing behind him with the Speaker’s gavel. 

The president will have to explain to the American people why he let a Chinese surveillance balloon drift slowly across a wide swath of the United States, presumably taking more than just tourist pictures.  

In March 1983, the West German band Nena released a single entitled “99 Luftballoons,” which was translated later to “99 Red Balloons.”

The song was inspired by the story of five high school kids who released 99 aluminized Mylar balloons in the Las Vegas area and set them afire with a red flare to make them look like a big UFO.   

Nena’s guitarist, Carlo Karges, saw balloons in the sky at a Rolling Stones concert in West Berlin in 1982, and he wondered to himself what would happen if those balloons floated over into Soviet airspace in East Berlin. He eventually came up with the story of how two kids release 99 red balloons into the air, which through a comedy of errors and political over-reaction unleashes a nuclear holocaust.  

The German version of the song topped the charts in America, unlike the English version. Apparently, the American people liked the tune better than the anti-war message.

It is hard to say if the latest Chinese balloon was an innocent mistake or if it was a planned effort by the communist leaders to probe America’s defenses. There are some reports that the Chinese have flown balloons over America in the past, although Trump administration officials deny any knowledge that it happened on their watch. And we know that China has reconnaissance balloons flying over Central and South America.  

I don’t know if we use balloons to do our surveillance, but I assume we spy on the Chinese just as they spy on us.  

But the furious reaction to balloongate says more about the Biden administration than it says about the fact that the Chinese are spying on us.  

What exactly is the Biden administration’s position on China?

Is the president compromised because of his son’s deep business relationships with top Chinese officials? 

Are the Chinese emboldened because of Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan? 

Are we girding for war, as was predicted by one of the president’s top military advisers?

Will Biden ever lift Trump-era tariffs on Chinese products?  

Is President Biden strong enough to negotiate from a position of strength when it comes to our ongoing cold war conflict with China, or will we be bullied by those who see such a war as not only inevitable but favorable?

I am of the position that war with China is not in the interests of the American people or the rest of the global community. I believe it is unwinnable for either side.  

But I am also of the opinion that we best negotiate from a position of strength.

That means we need our military to focus on war-fighting not wokeness.

That means we need to strengthen our economy with smart energy policies, favorable tax policies and better trade policies.  

And that means we lead by example when it comes to preserving freedom here in America and abroad. 

Joe Biden has failed on all these fronts. Our military is preoccupied with wokeness. Our energy sector has had to deal with a hostile administration. Biden is pushing to increase corporate taxes, which will encourage companies to move abroad again. He has no trade agenda. And at every stop, with his vaccine and mask mandates, he has followed the Chinese example rather than fight it.  

I am not panicked by the sight on one Red Chinese balloon. But I can understand why the American people are, given the lackluster leadership of President Biden.

Feehery is a partner at EFB Advocacy and blogs at He served as spokesman to former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), as communications director to former House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and as a speechwriter to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).

Tags China-US relations Joe Biden Kevin McCarthy spy balloon

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