By Roger Kimball
here’s Laocoön when you need him? News that the Chinese have a huge balloon loitering high above the middle of the country—just where, wouldn’t you know, we have a bunch of ICBM silos sited—reminded me about the reaction of the ill-fated Trojan prince when he saw the gigantic wooden horse sitting on the beach in front of Troy. At the beginning of book two of the Aeneid, our hero, with a heavy heart, accedes to Queen Dido’s request that he tell her the story of Troy’s downfall and his ill-starred voyage to her court. Infandum, Regina, iubes renovare dolorem: “O Queen, you bid me renew an unspeakable grief.”
But he does as she asks, beginning with the story of the Trojan horse. The Trojans were divided in their opinion about the monstrous equine. Some thought it was a Greek gift or trophy or memorial to commemorate their departure. Laocoön knew better. Rushing down from the town to the beach, he cried
Poor Trojans, have you lost your minds? . . .
‘You think they’re gone? Are any Greek gifts given
Sincerely? Don’t you know Ulysses better?
The Greeks are hiding in this wooden gadget,
Or else this is a siege machine they’ve built
For spying or alighting on our homes,
Or some such trick. Don’t trust the horse, my people.’
Then comes the famous line: timeo Danaos et dona ferentis: “I fear Greeks even when they are bearing gifts.”
Well, nobody thinks the Chinese are bearing gifts. But the response to that minatory skyborne bladder has ranged from Laocoön-like alarm to amused indifference. The Pentagon says it doesn’t think the blimp poses a threat, but then the Pentagon is home to General Mark “White Rage” Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd “Stand Down” Austin. Not much joy from that Keystone-Kop quarter.
News that a second Chinese balloon—I wonder if these dirigibles have the likeness of President Xi painted on them—is wafting about somewhere over “Latin America” (not a terribly precise designation) raised eyebrows, but again not much is known about its purpose. The Chinese said the first balloon was an errant weather balloon that was blown off course and wound up over highly sensitive American military installations. Imagine that.
As for the second balloon, is it over Mexico, Tierra del Fuego, or somewhere in between? If Mexico, that’s not far from Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, all of which feature abundant military installations. I believe most observers suspect, as I do, that the balloons are not meteorological but espionage tools. Or maybe something more sinister. According to the Pentagon, again, the balloon carries a surveillance pod “large enough to be concerning if there were a debris field,” which is why, the Pentagon also said, it decided not to shoot it down. (But isn’t there a lot of empty space across the fruited plain?) Instead, they have made their concerns known to the PRC, more or less, I assume, the way that Hans Blix made his concerns known to Kim Jong Il in “Team America.” In what is sure to have been a crushing blow to the Chinese, our version of Hans Blix, Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled his trip to China at the last minute. So there.
(News has just arrived that later Saturday afternoon fighters from U.S. Northern Command shot down the balloon off the South Carolina coast. Of course, Biden let the balloon traverse the entire continent before taking it out.)
I’m serious about the “crushing blow,” by the way. I’m sure the Chinese were looking forward to having another opportunity to humiliate Blinken as they did in Anchorage shortly after the Biden Crime Family Chief Capo took office.
Some news reports say that China is embarrassed by Balloongate because it is attempting to repair relations with the United States. Well, some news reports will say anything. More pertinent, I fear, are the many reports from American military and political observers that China is listing more and more bellicose. I don’t agree with Mike Pompeo’s neocon penchant for invading other countries, but he is right that Biden’s weakness “assures Chinese aggression.”
It is worth remembering that during Donald Trump’s first term as president (note that I say “first term”), America and indeed the world was a more pacific place. Russia did not invade Ukraine. Iran was bottled up. The Abraham Accords brought peace to the Middle East. Amazing.
How did he do it? By taking a page from Ronald Reagan’s playbook. Next to “Make America Great Again” (and perhaps laments about “fake news”) the phrase that one heard most often from the Trump campaign and, then, the Trump Administration was “peace through strength.” It was born of Trump’s understanding that weakness is provocative and destabilizing while recognized strength encourages peace and social order.