U.S. officials revealed a week ago, on Feb. 2, that a Chinese surveillance balloon was flying over the country. Two days later, on Feb. 4, an American fighter jet shot down the spy balloon with a missile.
Chris Miller, acting defense secretary under President Donald Trump, weighs in on the Biden administration’s decision to shoot down China’s balloon and whether he would have handled the situation differently.
“That goes back to when was it identified and when did our sensors pick up that,” Miller says of the spy balloon on “The Daily Signal Podcast,” adding: “I was a bad map reader, and people that worked with me in the military will attest to that. But I did look at the track of the balloon, and when it came over the Aleutian Islands [off Alaska], there was a lot of blue space.”
“There was a lot of doggone ocean where something could have been done,” he says. “I’ve heard that whole [Biden administration] justification: ‘Well, we didn’t want to knock it down because it would’ve fallen on somebody. Could have injured somebody or killed somebody.’ I mean, that’s a valid request.”
Let me give you this one, Samantha: You spent a trillion dollars, $850 billion, [on] defense and we did not have the capability to take control of that doggone balloon and bring it down on our own terms without having to send up a hundred-million-dollar fighter aircraft to shoot a $400,000 Sidewinder missile?
On the podcast, Miller discusses some of Biden’s comments on China during his State of the Union address Tuesday night, his thoughts on how the Biden administration responded to the Chinese spy balloon, and his new book “Soldier Secretary: Warnings from the Battlefield and the Pentagon About America’s Most Dangerous Enemies.”
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Samantha Aschieris: Joining today’s show is Chris Miller. He served as acting defense secretary under President Donald Trump and is the author of the newly released book “Soldier Secretary: Warnings from the Battlefield & the Pentagon about America’s Most Dangerous Enemies.” Chris, thank you so much for joining us today.
Chris Miller: Thank you, Samantha. I had to write a book to finally get on “The Daily Signal Podcast,” so thanks for having me. I know you were up late last night doing State of the Union, and you guys are probably just living on doggone caffeine and junk food right now. So thanks for taking the time to talk about my book.
Aschieris: Yes, of course. Now, before we actually talk about your book, I do want to talk about some comments that the president made on Tuesday night at the State of the Union address.
I want to just dive right in here and get your thoughts on specifically what the president had to say about China and the U.S.’ relationship with the [Chinese] Communist Party. He said, “Before I came to office, the story was about how the People’s Republic of China was increasing its power and America was failing in the world. Not anymore.”
Chris, given your background and your experience and your knowledge, what are your thoughts on the president’s comments?
Miller: Hey, Samantha, why don’t I be—you want me to be really politically correct and just give you some a milk toast sound bite or do you want me to tell you what I really think?
Aschieris: Tell us what you really think.
Miller: Come on. I mean, it was such—it was Orwellian, right? It was like they just violated our territorial integrity and sovereignty and flew a doggone spy balloon. Not even to mention, how many years ago was it when they hacked into the Office of Personnel Management security database and stole—how many was it? Twenty-two million files.
Are you for real? That’s kind of my frustration. That’s the point of the book, too. It’s like, oh, come on, let’s start seeing it as it is. And the politicians get going and it’s—come on. It’s like, you got to be kidding me. I mean, I stayed up. I was waiting for the foreign policy segment because that’s what we’re into. What was it, two minutes? It wasn’t a lot. There wasn’t much meat in the bones on that one, was there?
Aschieris: Yeah. He also said that today we’re in the strongest position in decades to compete with China or anyone else in the world. Do you agree with this? What are your thoughts on this comment?
Miller: Well, my thing is the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t seem to be getting the message because they fly … planes and barricade or blockade Taiwan regularly. Then we’ve got this incredible violation of our airspace. Then we’ve got the Chinese in Latin America and Africa basically buying up everything they can to gain influence as we sit back kind of observing the problem.
So, yeah, I guess that’s my problem right now, is the lack of consistency with the policy. I’m all about deception and all that, but when you’re dealing with somebody like Chairman Xi [Jinping] in the Chinese Communist Party, … there has to be some red lines just laid out very clearly to them, what is important to us and what we can accept, and I don’t think that’s been done yet.
I’m venting too much. Sorry, you triggered me. It’s like, holy cow. The president says we’re going to defend Taiwan and then we’ll have the secretary of state say, “Well, the policy hasn’t changed.” Secretary of defense comes up with something else. If I was in China, I’d be pretty confused. I like the madman theory sometimes, but clueless and lost man theory of strategy probably is not the one I think we should be using.
Aschieris: This speech comes just days after a Chinese spy balloon floated across the United States. As our audience members know, as you know, it was shot down on Saturday. How do you evaluate the Biden administration’s handling of this balloon situation that we saw unfold over the last couple of days?
Miller: I can’t tell what’s going on. It seems like everybody’s doing the CYA routine because the story seems to change every time John Kirby or some other figure goes out to—Well, I guess [Transportation Secretary Pete] Buttigieg did it on Sunday, whoever they send out to try to describe what’s going on. General [Glen] VanHerck. I just get more confused and it’s kind of one of the themes in my book, by the way, is accountability.
Right now, this is pretty important to me, that the military’s really good about lessons and learning, trying to learn from their mistakes. What I’m concerned with right now is everybody’s just trying to cover their butts and we need to get to the bottom of this. Were our defenses not sufficient to identify the balloon? That’s fine. That’s all right. Somebody just tell us what’s going on so we know what to do going forward.
Aschieris: Yeah, definitely. And I also wanted to get your thoughts on their call to wait to shoot it down a few days versus shooting it down when they first found out. Did you agree with that call? Would you have handled it differently if you were in their position?
Miller: That goes back to when was it identified and when did our sensors pick up that. I was a bad map reader and people that worked with me in the military will attest to that. But I did look at the track of the balloon, and when it came over the Aleutian Islands, there was a lot of blue space. There was a lot of doggone ocean where something could have been done.
I’ve heard that whole justification: “Well, we didn’t want to knock it down because it would’ve fallen on somebody. Could have injured somebody or killed somebody.” I mean, that’s a valid request.
Let me give you this one, Samantha. You spent a trillion dollars, $850 billion in defense, and we did not have the capability to take control of that doggone balloon and bring it down on our own terms without having to send up a $100 million fighter aircraft to shoot a $400,000 sidewinder missile? I mean, that’s kind of what we need to be talking about is, holy cow, what are we spending all this money for if we can’t take down a simple balloon without having to doggone shoot a missile into it?
Aschieris: As I mentioned at the top of the interview, you served as acting defense secretary under former President Donald Trump. How do you think he and his administration would’ve handled the situation if they were in it?
Miller: President Trump’s instincts on national security were really, in my view, spot on. I can’t speak for the president. Has he said anything how he would’ve handled it? I think he probably … would’ve taken that thing down.
Well, actually, I got to tell you, I don’t think the Chinese would’ve done something so provocative with President Trump because they didn’t know—I mean, he’d been pretty strong against them. Was he using economic power? I guess I’ll tell you. I hadn’t really thought about that. I don’t think they would’ve tried that under President Trump.
Aschieris: Yeah, there were obviously some rumors that there were Chinese spy balloons that were detected, but they didn’t know about until after the Trump administration. But so far those haven’t been confirmed. There’s kind of a changing storyline there as well and whether or not that actually happened or not, we’ll have to see.
But more broadly speaking, how do you evaluate the Biden administration’s handling and President [Joe] Biden’s handling of the threat from the Chinese Communist Party?
Miller: Like I said earlier, it’s inconsistent. I don’t really know what our policy is. I don’t know what our strategy is. It seems like a little bit of following on with President Trump’s strategy, which was to compete economically. But I don’t think I could tell you exactly what it is. So it’s really difficult to comment on how the administration is doing.
I think we have to go back to the original problem, which was the debacle, which was our withdrawal from Afghanistan. … I figured we open up the archives in 50 years, if the Chinese give us access in 50 years to their national security council meeting notes or their Politburo notes, we’ll see that they saw that, our failure there in Afghanistan, as an opportunity to probe the United States and figure out—I think they probably saw it as weakness and we saw that because the incursions against Taiwan just went off the charts after that. So I really don’t know the answer to your question. Really interested in it, though.
Aschieris: Yeah. I know you brought up your book earlier, and I want to dive a little bit deeper into your book and what it’s about. I know it was just released on Tuesday, Feb. 7. So our audience members, it’s out there if you want to go by it. It’s titled, again, “Soldier Secretary: Warnings from the Battlefield & the Pentagon about America’s Most Dangerous Enemies.” So, without giving away any spoilers, can you tell us about your book?
Miller: Yeah, I mean, kind of says it all right there. Here’s what I was trying to do. Instead of these horribly boring books that public figures write—usually they have a ghost writer. They don’t write them. I wrote this book, I had a partner that helped me.
But what I really wanted to do, my concern is there’s a separation between our armed forces and their citizenry that they are sworn to protect. What I wanted to do was kind of tell some stories in an entertaining manner that were accessible to the American public, and also accessible and maybe remind veterans or people in the armed forces, maybe they’d get a chuckle about it, but try to draw out some larger lessons about how we do national defense and how these decisions are made.
So the idea is try to bridge the gap between those that serve and those they serve. That was my biggest problem with, after 1/6, where Jan. 6 and all the misinformation that went out about the military from various factions, I was, like, “Man, the American citizenry really needs to know more about these great people in the military.” That was the goal of the book. Hopefully it’s a little bit entertaining.
Aschieris: Yeah. No, I am excited to read it. It should be a really interesting read. Specifically talking about these warnings, again, I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but if you could maybe say or preview one or two specific warnings that you hope that readers will take away from the book and maybe the most important one that you think is needed to deter our dangerous enemies that you talk about.
Miller: Well, I know it’s going to be a heretic, particularly with Heritage and everybody, but I think it’s doggone unbridled military spending without a plan, that more isn’t better. And I really worry that—we bankrupted the Soviet Union because they couldn’t keep up with us technologically. I feel like the Chinese are probably doing the same thing to us. They’re giving us the impression that we need to invest in all these gold-plated weapon systems and all this stuff. In reality, they probably aren’t going to be that effective operationally and I think they’re probably doing a different strategy. I think we need to get much more sophisticated and savvy about that.
So that’s one of the threats. But the real thing is accountability. It’s disappointing to me to see that we lost the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. We definitely met our strategic objectives against terrorist groups, ISIS and al-Qaeda. But fundamentally, strategic overreach is my concern right now and I think as the world is sorting itself out, it’s probably better to come back home and think about how we want to go forward.
There’s some recommendations in the book about different operational concepts and strategies that I just wanted to be a little bit provocative and maybe provide some fodder for additional discussion and decision-making.
Aschieris: Yeah, definitely. Chris, just before we go, do you have any final thoughts?
Miller: No. Thanks for what you guys are doing. Thanks for having me on, taking the time. I hope I didn’t bore everybody to death. But yeah, man, I just really wanted to hopefully tell a story that is accessible to people and not in the typical CYA way that a lot of political figures do. I really highlight the things I learned and the mistakes I made as opposed to trying to rose-colored glasses on it.
Aschieris: Well, Chris Miller, thank you so much for joining us today. We really appreciate it and your insight. Again, he is the author of “Soldier Secretary: Warnings from the Battlefield & the Pentagon about America’s Most Dangerous Enemies.” Chris, thanks so much.
Miller: Thanks, Samantha. Great talking to you.
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