Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke (R) called the Biden administration allowing the Chinese to float a spy balloon into the United States’s airspace “an embarrassment.”
“I think it’s an embarrassment that we took no action, not even diplomatically and say, you know, ‘Warning, warning warning, don’t do this. We’re gonna follow it,’” he told Breitbart News on Friday in an exclusive phone interview.
“But just to have it drift up here, and for days loitering — I think it shows that we are ineffective,” he said.
A senior defense official told reporters Thursday said the military considered shooting it down as it drifted over “sparsely populated areas in Montana,” but that, “we just couldn’t buy down the risk enough to feel comfortable recommending shooting it down.”
As a native Montanan, Zinke scoffed at that reasoning and said “absolutely” the balloon should have been shot down over the area.
“I would have volunteered to be there and pull the trigger,” he said.
“Roosevelt County I think is the least populated in the lower 48 of any county. That’s where my family originally was from. My grandmother was a one-room school teacher out in Roosevelt County. I love Roosevelt County, but I can tell you your chances of doing harm to humans is low. And you know what, and Montanans would understand that. There’s a lot of people that probably have something in the garage that might shoot it down, too,” he said.
Zinke said the Biden administration should have stopped the balloon from even reaching Montana — home to sensitive military sites such as Malmstrom Air Force Base, which maintains 150 intercontinental ballistic missile silos.
Rather, the balloon should have taken it out over the Aleutian Islands, where it reportedly flew over before even reaching the continental U.S., he said.
“It’s a balloon, guys. This balloon didn’t get here overnight. This is not like a fast moving problem set. So certainly, we must have picked it up over the Aleutian chain and if we didn’t shame on us,” he said. “I’ve operated in the Aleutian chain, have been out there. You’re glad if you see anybody during the whole day.”
He added, “What if it was something, something that was clear and threatening? Again, this is a balloon. The balloon takes a long time to get there. You know, people have looked at it. But what if it was a formation of fighters? What if it was, you know, a ship at sea that we suspected its intention would be harmful?”
Zinke, a former Navy SEAL commander, said the balloon was a “very clear poke in the eye” from China.
“We need to make sure that one is that there’s a consequence for poking us in the eye. But when there’s no consequence of bad behavior, then really bad things can happen,” he said, citing the Afghanistan withdrawal disaster.
“We were effective in Afghanistan. That was a colossal blunder, a failure. It could have been a heck of a lot worse. And then I think that gave Putin the green light,” he said.
“And now now we have a very aggressive China in the South China Sea. And the message to them is, well we don’t know what we’re going to do. Or largely at least we can’t make a decision or or our ineptitude, of dealing with a balloon. You know, there’s a big difference between like defending Taiwan and destroying a balloon,” he said.
He said letting the balloon fly over the U.S. could raise doubts with allies.
“It also brings, you know, worldwide uncertainty — ‘Well, if the U.S. isn’t gonna get a stand up against a balloon, are they gonna stand with me as they did in Afghanistan?’”
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