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Trial Balloons

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

KEY LARGO, Florida - Say the words "espionage" and "communism" to a younger generation and they might think you're talking about spy novels and Cold War history.


Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo thinks both words describe contemporary threats. During a visit to a town made famous by the 1948 film starring Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lionel Barrymore and Lauren Bacall, Pompeo told me he believes the balloon incident is a test by Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who he believes will say to himself, "My gosh, if they're not going to stop a balloon over their country, they are certainly not going to stop me from invading Taiwan."

The balloon was shot down Saturday off the South Carolina coast, a day after our meeting.

Pompeo believes data from the balloon, which flew over U.S. missile silos in Montana, was likely transmitted back to China. Speculating about bringing it down, assuming it came down in one piece, he said,, "We will know how they transmitted it and what band of energy they were using to transmit it.

Pompeo believes the only approach to China must be a strong one. He relates a story when he was secretary of state about calling in the Chinese ambassador and telling him to shut down his consulate in Houston within 72 hours because, he said, the Chinese were conducting espionage activities from the building. After the ambassador denied the allegation, Pompeo said he returned to his office and soon heard a TV report that said, "The Houston Police Department sees smoke at the Chinese consulate. The fire department is responding to flames."


Pompeo is critical of what he calls "the (Henry) Kissinger model" of engagement with China. "That doesn't work for us. They stole millions of jobs and intellectual property. We didn't remotely begin to fix this (with that policy)."

I asked him about the many products made in China, including solar panels. Does he think some of them might contain spying equipment? "There is no such thing as a private Chinese company," he tells me. "The supplier of Chinese solar panels is an extension of the Communist Party. That means there is always some risk they will use some component to do something more."

About a possible run for president, he says he will decide within "a couple of months." While saying if he does run, "I won't spend a lot of time criticizing my adversaries," what is to be made of this comment: "I hope during this election cycle the American people are prepared for serious people to talk to them about hard things that are rational. This race ought not to be about tweets, not about celebrity. We know how to make this country great."

Who could he be talking about except the tweeter and celebrity in chief Donald Trump?

Does he think President Biden is fit for a second term? "I think we can all see that (he) isn't capable of standing in front of a group and consistently and thoughtfully taking in information and responding in a rational way."


I asked him about his greatest hope and fear for the future and mentioned the record national debt, uncontrolled migration and the loss of a shared moral sense. "My greatest fear is that we will not raise the next generation to believe in (the opposite of the things) you have described, the idea that America is exceptional. We won't put crap in our schools. We won't teach children this is a racist nation, an oppressor class, that almost everything we've done in the world is evil and we need to create reparations."

He says his greatest hope is parents saying, "Enough. I hope more parents say 'no, you're not going to teach that to my kids.' Humanity is dependent upon a United States that is filled with people who are disciplined and faithful. I'm counting on our religious leaders to again be important institutions in our country."

Sounds like a trial balloon for a presidential run.

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