- In Their Words
The All-In Podcast is a weekly show run by 4 very successful tech investors. They, in my opinion, do a great job talking about things like investing, capital markets, trends in tech, Silicon Valley culture, and other topics related to business. The podcasters (“The Besties” – Jason Calacanis, David Friedberg, David Sacks, and Chamath Palihapitiya) are very influential and experienced people who bring a lot of great insight. On YouTube alone, they have over 300K subscribers, get 300-400K views per weekly episode, and have about 23 million cumulative views. They are also on Spotify and many other podcasting platforms.
Even before I knew about the podcast, I’ve had respect for Chamath and Sacks in particular. Chamath was an early employee of Facebook and became an investor in other companies through his Social Capital fund. For those interested in Chamath, his path, and his reasoning, listen to Lex Fridman’s interview with him https://lexfridman.com/chamath-palihapitiya/. There’s a lot of openness, vulnerability, insight, and some novel opinions and predictions. Sacks was a founder/CEO at a software company which was acquired by Microsoft for over $1B and a member of the PayPal Mafia (group of early employees/execs which includes some names like Max Levchin, Elon Musk, Keith Rabois, Reid Hoffman, and Peter Thiel) before that. Besides the business aspect of Sacks, I appreciate that he is a non-conformist and contrarian. I greatly respect that he stands up for what he believes in and has no fear in sharing political opinions that go against the trends of political correctness and Silicon Valley’s ideological monoculture. He brings a much needed, but sometimes not well executed, balance to the political groupthink of the podcast.
Besides business, the Besties sometimes go into the realms of politics, current events, and social issues. One of the topics that they do a particularly bad job on is Russia’s war in Ukraine. The Bestie seen as the expert on this is Sacks, but all of them are along for the ride. To be clear, and I will repeat this again later, I do not have any problem with any of the Besties holding different opinions from me and sharing those opinions. They are not scamming or tricking anyone; they do not claim to be journalists (with an elevated obligation for truthful reporting) or experts on geopolitics when they have their discussions. But I do have a personal issue with the fact that they have a significant audience which views them as knowledgeable and trustworthy and they are abusing that trust by sharing opinions based on lies, misleading statements, missing context, and logical inconsistencies.
The rest of this document will discuss the specific factual and rhetorical problems with their discussion about Russia’s war in Ukraine. I’ll be looking at direct excerpts from the Besties (with the episode numbers and timestamps for each quote). I’ve only listened to audio versions of the podcasts without the accompanying video, so I could have missed additional visual info during the course of the podcast. I have not listed out every single problematic thing possible, just what I believe are key points and I will generally avoid highlighting when they bring up the same point in different instances. There are also quite a few points they make that have merit and I agree with, but I will generally not point those out. All mistakes and errors that follow in my writing are my own and fully my responsibility.
In Their Words
These statements come from genuine, natural back-and-forth discussions and it is difficult to tease apart singular quotes from longer exchanges in some cases. I encourage, for those interested, to listen to the entire sections to hear the back-and-forth discussion.
AIP YouTube Channel:
AIP Podcast Platform Links:
I will not do a breakdown for Episode 70, which came out on the day of the invasion. It is not fair to tear apart and criticize reactions from the very outset of the war when so little was known about the facts on the ground and most people in America were ignorant of the context.
Episode 71 – Mar 3, 2022
But if you advocate for slowing down or de-escalating or just taking a breath, you’re called a Putin bootlicker. You’re called Neville Chamberlain.26:45
Sometimes getting disparaged like this can make sense. This can makes sense in two ways A) You are advocating for giving Putin what he wants and the prevalent view in society is that Putin appeasement is bad B) You cannot demonstrate that Western disengagement will lead to peace and stability. Taking it as a base assumption and building your argument off that base assumption is not convincing, especially when there is an equally valid view that disengagement will lead to less peace and stability. You are requiring that people take your assumption on faith while it is demonstrable that Western non-action against Russian military invasions of its neighbors (Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine) and appeasement has led successively to more aggression, not less aggression on Russia’s part.
What is the exit ramp for Putin if we keep doing this and he is in a corner?28:28
This is an unfortunate mistake in my view. Applying a purely Western assumption and mode of thinking (that a thing like an “off-ramp”/“golden bridge” exists and is desired by Russia because that is how we would think about it ourselves) is a fallacy. Sun-Tzu quotes are almost always cool but don’t always reflect reality. We have to ask ourselves, has an off-ramp been sought by Russia? Not publically that we are aware of. The West didn’t start the war, why is it our responsibility to provide an off-ramp? Is an off-ramp the best situation (versus a military victory, or a humiliating peace, or any of the other dozen possible options) for peace and stability down the line? It might be, but taking that as an article of faith instead of exploring the other side of the argument is not convincing.
Who was deposed in a coup in 2014. A coup that was supported by our State Department and probably the CIA. [referring to Viktor Yanukovych, a former President of Ukraine who abandoned his position and fled the country to Russia]35:23
This is a Russian propaganda talking point. I’ve written an explanation about why this is not a factually supportable point of view at the link below.
The reason why he was able to seize it [Crimea] so quickly is the Russians actually have a naval base there.35:38
Russia seized Crimea without a fight in part because the Ukrainian military was broken down, ineffective, and undermined by leaders sympathetic to Russian influence. Russia also made its move during the weakest period of cohesion in Ukrainian society and institutions, during a period of turmoil and unrest. The events in Crimea and Donbas in 2014 galvanized the reform of the Ukrainian military with the assistance of Western military advisors into a more modern and motivated force. The Surkov Leaks offer a window into Russian influence operations, including the military, in Ukraine.
We could end up getting drawn into WW3 with you guys, so there’s no way we’re going to allow Ukraine to be a part of NATO. [referring to Russian reasoning around NATO and Ukraine and the possibility of border disputes]36:59
Looking at a map demonstrates that this is a red herring. Russia already has land borders with the NATO countries of Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Norway, and Latvia. Russia has non-land borders with Canada and the USA. Cheating a bit and skipping ahead to the future, Russia will gain another NATO land border with Finland imminently due to the threat of Russia’s aggressive imperialistic expansion. Russia sharing borders with NATO countries has not been a problem before. In Kaliningrad, Russia has missiles aimed at the European capitals of Berlin, Warsaw, and Vilnius located much closer than any part of Ukraine is to Moscow. What is the logical, reasoned explanation why sharing 6 land borders with NATO (including Finland soon) is ok but sharing a border with a NATO Ukraine is not ok?
Also, one sure way to avoid future border disputes for Russia is to not cause future border disputes with its neighbors. Not once in post-Soviet history has any country challenged Russian sovereignty. The problem with Ukraine is inside of Ukraine and initiated by Russia. The problem with Georgia is inside of Georgia and initiated by Russia. The problem with Moldova is inside of Moldova (Moldova and Russia don’t even share a border) and created by Russia. Also, all of those are non-NATO countries, there are zero disputes with NATO countries. Very twisted logic in “We want to continue to create border disputes but we want to do it without consequence.” This doesn’t mesh with the pretext that NATO is a threat. The implication is that Russia considers it as a threat that it would not be able to easily invade its neighbors.
Outside of Europe, Russia and NATO countries (Turkey, USA) have engaged in military action (with casualties on all sides) against each other without wider escalation.
Basically said “you guys can take a hike” [referring to Blinken’s attitude towards Russia’s stated policy demands]. Obviously that was an extremely provocative thing and the Russians invaded Ukraine days later.37:22
Russia’s attempt at diplomacy was not real. They demanded to dictate the internal and external policy matters of European countries, not just matters related to Ukraine. This was a ridiculous proposal meant to be rejected. But it was a great propaganda move because now Russian apologists, those ignorant of the details, and those with rhetorical points to make have a data point that Russia tried diplomacy.
I think it’s pretty obvious that if you take the Russians at their word that they believe, forget about whether you think it’s true or not, the same word that they’ve been saying since 2008 that this is a red line for them and that they have a serious vital national interest there. Then, you should’ve diplomatically tried to resolve this issue. Even if you believe it was a pretext, and Putin is making up this whole red line thing and his real goal is the expansion of Mother Russia or reunification. Let’s say that’s his goal. It still would’ve been a good idea for Blinken to basically declare that we are going to take NATO expansion off the table. It’s simply an affirmation of the status quo. It’s not an appeasement, you’re not giving anything up… Why would’ve that been a good idea? Because polling on this showed that the Russian people 2:1 were in favor of taking this kind of military action against Ukraine to prevent NATO expansion but they were not in favor of doing it purely for unification.37:34
The logic here is not workable. If we believe that Putin’s goal is Russian expansion, not stopping NATO expansion, then we should say we shouldn’t expand NATO? How will that stop the Russian expansion? We would only be doing something to the detriment of ourselves without stopping the actual problem. If the goal is Russian expansion and not stopping NATO expansion, then why would we remove from the table one of the only credible deterrents we have to stop Russian expansion? We are throwing away the one thing that would stop the bad thing that we don’t want to happen even though the people who will make the bad thing happen don’t actually care about throwing away the one thing? If NATO expansion is not happening and it doesn’t matter, then why would we declare it if it is just the status quo?
The point about Russian opinion polls is nonsense. Russian people don’t care about the reason, a majority will support the government regardless. They’ve been fed every reason under the sun from Ukraine is run by Nazis, to Ukraine was imminently about to attack Russia, to the USA created Covid in biolabs in Ukraine, to Russia needs to protect the Russian-speaking population, to NATO is hiding under the bed waiting to get them. The list of pretexts is endless and new ones can be created arbitrarily. None of those reasons matter and it doesn’t matter which ones (or, if any) are believed. Russian media has changed the reasoning and how they portray the situation countless times since Russia started the war. At each turn, the people support the new reason, discard the old reason, and continue supporting the government. This is a folly of applying Western thinking to a non-Western mindset. In the democratic West, there can be some popular sentiment and a government would most likely act with that sentiment because representing what the people want increases your chances of staying in office. In non-democratic Russia, the government decides to do something and then creates the sentiment to support that course amongst the people.
If this was a pretext by Putin for his expansionist dreams, you could’ve taken away that card and it would’ve changed his calculus. Would it have prevented the war? We can’t say. But in his calculus he’s got to say “wait a second, maybe the people won’t be behind this.”38:38
Again, terrible logic, that’s not how pretexts work. This reasoning opens up the world for any excuse for any action and then saying “Well, we had to see if it was a pretext or not”. Ok – so if you follow this plan and Putin still invades, what then? What is different, what changes? And again, the opinion of the Russian public is a non-factor for any foreign policy of the Russian government.
The good news too is if you would have given him that chip and said that we’re not going to let them into NATO and then he does invade, now you’ve proven that this person is in re-unification mode and he’s deranged and he’s a warmonger and this could go to other places like Finland and Poland.38:55
A continuation of the previous terrible logic of giving someone what they are demanding “just in case” without considering the implications or alternatives. One additional point that is implicit in the stated logic is “we should trust this person until he proves himself untrustworthy.” This is ridiculous in this situation on two levels. The first level is that no coherent and beneficial foreign policy can be conducted under the plan of negotiating away something very tangible and important (the security of 40 million people) based on nothing but trust. The second level is the implication that the person you are negotiating with is trustworthy as the starting point. This is the exact opposite for Russia. Russia does not honor agreements or treaties that it deems inconvenient to its interests and it blatantly lies about its actions. The starting point for any practical negotiation with Russia should be that it is untrustworthy. These points will be discussed in more detail later but Russia has violated the Budapest Memorandum by invading Ukraine, violated at least 2 but maybe 3 arms control treaties, didn’t honor the Minsk Accords, lied about not attacking Ukraine right before attacking Ukraine, lied about not using its troops to invade Crimea before acknowledging it did, lied about not sending regular army units to start the fighting in the Donbas region, lied about not providing the missile system to the Donbas separatists that shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (killing 298 people), lied about its troops not committing the massacre of civilians in Bucha (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/22/video/russia-ukraine-bucha-massacre-takeaways.html), and continues to lie to this day about its missile and artillery attacks against civilians all over Ukraine. Where is the foundation of trust?
Now I think the demands are escalated because they’re at war … He’s lost too much, he needs to get more.42:02
It is false to say that there are demands besides NATO because Putin is too far into it. These goals were outlined on the first day of the war, when most analysts thought Kyiv would collapse in 3 days. These are not an evolution of Russia’s poor military execution.
The loss of jobs, the loss of customers, the loss of the value of his currency. You add all this stuff up, so much has been taken away, it’s very hard to see him feeling like he can come out of this ahead so he’s only going to keep plowing forward.42:30
This is an example of Western thinking in a non-Western mindset. The rulers of Russia do not care about the economic conditions of the country or the people. They are completely insulated from that both financially and politically. The people of Russia don’t care about this to an extent where policy will change either, it is a non-factor.
But the west is winning the propaganda war.51:21
I’m writing this because people like AIP, Tucker Carlson, Tulsi Gabbard, and others with broad audiences shamelessly spread Russian lies. This means that the propaganda war is not cut and dried. It must be fought or it gets lost by default.
They can bomb these cities into rubble from the sky… And they’re not because the blowback would be too bad from the West.55:30
To be fair, this statement is only wrong in retrospect, not in the moment it was made. We see that Russia did level entire cities and that there was zero blowback from the West. It took a deliberate Russian campaign targeting civilians with missile strikes starting in October 2022 for the West to provide missile defense systems to Ukraine. This had zero effect as a deterrent against future missile strikes targeting civilians (there was a practical effect of reducing the number of missiles hitting their targets). Now would be a good time to mention that targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure is a war crime and doing so for political purposes is the definition of terrorism.
There’s this school of Realism and what Mearsheimer says, and he predicted a lot of this.56:40
This is an intellectually dishonest statement. Experts predicted both outcomes, so this is cherry-picking. I have not read everything Mearsheimer has ever written or watched everything he has ever presented, so it is possible that he said Russia would invade Ukraine at some point. In 2014 he wrote an article about how stupid and unsuccessful Russia would be to try to invade Ukraine, implying it wouldn’t do so. In his famous lecture from 2015, he states both (at different parts of the lecture) that Putin is not stupid enough to invade Ukraine and that Ukraine could get “wrecked” (he does not elaborate on what “wrecked” means).
This situation in Ukraine is to the Russians what the Cuban Missile Crisis was to us. [referring to security concerns and an expansionist explanation]57:53
I wrote elsewhere (https://thelongerweekend.com/whyruinvadeua/#demilitarization) about how the security interest definition cannot be a singular negotiating point since it is the basis for any arbitrary outcome. Retrospectively, making a claim this was not about expansion is wrong since Putin claimed 4 Ukrainian provinces as Russian territory (https://www.cnbc.com/2022/09/29/russia-ukraine-live-updates.html). The Cuban missile crisis analogy disproves the point. Since its revolution, Cuba had Soviet weapons and Soviet advisors on the island (and continued to do so after the missile crisis). We diplomatically resolved the crisis based specifically on nuclear missiles deployments, without a war.
Episode 73 – Mar 24, 2022
My concern is that no one in Washington is pushing for a ceasefire.55:16
None of us can say that this isn’t being done, just not that we know of publicly. The ultimate decision is up to Ukraine and the USA has repeatedly said this (“nothing about you without you” is the stated policy). USA can opt not to supply Ukraine with money and/or weapons, but that could have major negative financial and foreign policy implications as well, and those implications must be discussed to get the complete picture. If the USA were to impose (refusing support, being an active hindrance, economic carrots and sticks, etc.) on Ukraine to accept a ceasefire that Ukraine doesn’t want, then the USA would be acting in the same imperialistic way as Russia to dictate to another country what to do. This discussion also pre-supposes that a ceasefire is the desirable end goal to achieve, but doesn’t outline an argument for why a ceasefire is better than other alternatives and the drawbacks of a ceasefire at this time.
[how many of us woke up and said that] we need to risk recession, famine, and war to destabilize and topple the Russian regime? When did this become a vital American interest? Nobody at the beginning of the year thought this was an important goal of America.1:02:00
The problem with this statement is it removes Russian responsibility. It is framed in a way to show that America actively decided to do something to undermine Russia as an end goal. The only person who woke up and thought that war, famine, and recession were worth the risk to destabilize a foreign country was Putin. And he is the only person who acted on those thoughts. Russia is the only entity that can remove its troops and stop attacks against Ukraine. Russia is the only invading country and the only country that has the ability to make a peaceful situation; the responsibility is fully with Russia.
Sacks uses framing like this in multiple spots throughout multiple episodes. I will highlight this multiple times. In all fairness, Sacks does acknowledge at various points that Russia is the aggressor and the responsibility for the war rests on Russia. However, even with this acknowledgement, he still aggressively pushes the viewpoint that American diplomacy failed to prevent this war and America/Europe are responsible for ending this war by stopping support for Ukraine, not that it is Russia’s responsibility to stop its invasion.
What can the USA do? The USA can stop providing weapons and money to Ukraine. That is certainly a choice we can make and we would have to weigh the potential positives and negatives (future Russian invasions, loss of American respect amongst allies and opponents, etc.). Such an action might convince Ukraine to stop fighting, or it might not. Ukraine will decide the best approach for itself given a particular situation. It would be immoral and maybe not possible for America to dictate to Ukraine that it surrender if it doesn’t want to. Following this argument, assuming we cut Ukraine off from help and Ukraine continues to fight, what do we do? Do we invade Ukraine to force them to stop fighting against the Russian invasion? This is of course not a serious question or statement, but if you advocate for this argument you must be prepared to accept that Ukraine will not surrender even without American help. Then what? What is the goal? To stop the war? To stop American involvement?
The Russian government is not an end goal, this is a strawman. The Russian regime is the only thing that can destabilize the Russian regime. It can do so without our help and it also probably won’t do so with our help. Reducing Russian military capacity certainly could be a natural outcome (maybe even an American goal since Russia presented the opportunity to do so?) but that is also fully under Russia’s control and responsibility. Russia just needs to go home and their military capabilities stop getting reduced.
There were things we could’ve done to prevent or to avoid this war and American diplomacy completely failed.1:03:15
This is something I half agree with. America was certain that Russia was going to invade even when the Ukrainian government wasn’t so sure https://www.businessinsider.com/ukraine-predicted-no-attack-2-days-before-russia-invaded-2022-2 . We could have deployed a NATO Rapid Reaction Force to Ukraine in January 2022 for joint training with the Ukrainian military. Russia would view this as highly escalatory, but also a projection of strength to ward off an attack. American troops were in Ukraine doing training before the war and were withdrawn before the war since the USA was sure an attack was coming https://www.cnbc.com/2022/02/12/pentagon-orders-departure-of-us-troops-in-ukraine.html. What if we did the opposite to project strength? NATO could’ve started a Membership Action Plan for Ukraine many years ago and offered an interim defense promise (like the UK did for Sweden and Finland recently while they wait to officially become members). Meeting a potential adversary with strength changes their calculations. It makes it much more expensive to take aggressive action. Meeting an adversary with weakness makes it much more likely that aggressive action will be taken.
The reason was that it gave the United States an opportunity to topple Russia.1:04:02
Consider for a moment what is being said: a powerful country with well-developed statecraft was tricked by the USA into invading its neighbor by the USA taking the nefarious action of… taking no action to maintain the peaceful status quo. Not only is it nonsensical, it also deprives Russia of its agency as a decision maker. It is also nonsensical because the exact opposite has happened and the Russian government has consolidated power at home, it hasn’t been weakened.
There’s been a civil war going on since 2014 in this Donbas region between Ukrainians and these Russian speakers.1:07:58
A feature of Russian propaganda is that it seeks to inject talking points that muddy a situation. What’s been going on has not been a true civil war, it is more accurate to call it a Russian invasion of regular and irregular troops to install local leaders under the political control of Moscow. Initially, there were some locals who stormed some government buildings and declared they were in charge. They failed to get traction or support from the populations of Luhansk and Donetsk until Russian army and intelligence personnel showed up to back them up. That is a foreign invasion, not an organic civil war. And the statement made on AIP muddies that reality.
We could’ve had that [referring to a settlement] too. There was a deal called Minsk 2 since 2015 that simply hasn’t been implemented.1:10:18
This is not grounded in reality and Minsk 1 and Minsk 2 are complicated topics. Cease fire agreements were not abided by any side. Ukrainian politicians fought against the political provisions, claiming it would give Russia a large amount of political influence within Ukraine. Russia did not withdraw its troops or weapons. Russia would also not engage in negotiations with Ukraine on several matters like hostage returns, claiming that it was not a participant and the agreement was between the Donbas “republics” and Ukraine only. How exactly is there a path to peace with Minsk 2?
He [Zelenskyy] said we’re either going to get a peace deal or World War 3. And I’m listening to this thinking “wait a second”, that is a pretty scary posture for him to be taking. And furthermore, who appointed him leader of the free world? The decision to have WW3 is not his decision. He is not the President of the United States. We did not vote for him. We may think he’s heroic. We may think he deserves our support. But he does not get to turn this into WW3 for us. The American people did not choose that.1:12:27
This is deceptive, negative framing in my view. Consider the full quote from Zelenskyy here https://nypost.com/2022/03/20/zelensky-warns-of-world-war-iii-if-peace-talks-with-russia-fail/ . Consider whether Ukraine has the capability to start “WW3” (what is WW3 in this context?) somehow and America must abide by this decision somehow (as AIP implies). Pushing a bit further, what does this argument actually mean? Can France decide to have WW3 and we would abide by that decision? Can the rest of the world decide to have WW3 and if the USA refuses, then there isn’t WW3 and everybody goes home? There are many permutations of these questions based on how Sacks framed his argument, and almost none of those permutations make sense.
I’m not saying we can dictate the outcome, but we can push for a negotiated settlement.1:16:20
Again, this point bears repeating. What does it mean to push for a negotiated settlement if one is not desired by Ukraine? The Ukrainian people think it is better to fight than to be controlled by Russia https://www.iri.org/news/iri-ukraine-poll-shows-strong-confidence-in-victory-over-russia-overwhelming-approval-for-zelensky-little-desire-for-territorial-concessions-and-a-spike-for-nato-membership/ . A disclaimer must be given, take all opinion polls for what they are and be aware of their flaws.
Ok, what does the USA do and where does it lead in this scenario? Would we invade Ukraine to get them to stop resisting the Russian invasion? Do we only want to see a settlement if we are providing aid, and if we stop providing aid then we don’t care? Then what is the follow-on effect to our foreign policy and credibility? This line of thinking not only leads to some pretty ridiculous conclusions, but is based on assumptions that AIP hasn’t proven true.
Why is pushing Ukraine to a settlement the best outcome? Does it make the USA safer or richer? Does it increase peace in the world? Does it provide for a certain and stable economic environment? There are good arguments for “yes” and “no” to those questions, but AIP doesn’t consider that there are alternatives to the fundamental assumptions of their arguments.
Episode 84 – Jun 22, 2022
Wars that go on and on have a tendency to escalate.1:08:48
So let’s follow this logic; if your goal is to de-escalate, you would try to shorten the war. One way to do that is a negotiated settlement without a desired military condition, which doesn’t look like a realistic option and requires the agreement of your opponent so we don’t have direct influence on this. The other way is to achieve a certain military condition (not requiring the agreement of your opponent) and then negotiate a settlement. Ukraine wants the condition that there are no Russian troops within its borders and that its government is independent from Russia. Ukraine’s opponent does not agree with taking action to implement this condition. We can directly influence this by providing military equipment and economic aid. The sooner the success conditions are met, the sooner the war is over, the less escalation there is. AIP doesn’t explore this alternative.
In fairness, there is a fundamental assumption to the previous scenario and this assumption may not be true. We can assume that if a country begins an invasion to achieve some political goal and it becomes militarily unable to achieve either its military objectives or its political goal (or the probability of doing so becomes miniscule), it will stop the invasion. Specifically in this case, the assumption is that if Russian troops are pushed completely out of Ukraine, then Russia will stop the war against Ukraine. Unfortunately, this could be an invalid assumption. With the stated Russian goals of toppling the Ukrainian government (“denazification”) and conquering the Ukrainian land (Putin does not use the word “conquer”, he uses the word “restore”) appearing to be militarily unachievable, the internal Russian rhetoric for why the war is being fought is changing. Now the internal propaganda is that Russia is defending itself against the rest of the world which doesn’t want to see Russia exist. The internal legitimacy of the current regime also hinges on the success of the war to show any tangible result. Remember, in a non-democratic country like Russia, “replacement” as a head-of-state could include being blown up, shot to death, poisoned, or defenestrated. To avoid one of the outcomes mentioned previously, the current Russian head-of-state must keep the war going regardless of success/failure or else risk losing legitimacy.
My view on it is we have to tell, we have to instruct our treaty allies, not to engage in these types of dangerous actions. [referring to Lithuania blocking the flow of goods through its borders into the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad]1:10:45
Sounds like advocating Russian style imperialism for the USA. Countries should be able to control their own borders. Doesn’t make us very friendly to our allies if we start requiring consultations or approvals on these kinds of policies?
Russia has completely worked around it. Their economy effectively is thriving… The ruble is at a five year high.1:15:55
If you look at the numbers from this point in time, what is being said would appear to be true. But the nuance is missing, and it is very important. The numbers looked great because Russia implemented capital controls and eliminated a free exchange market for its currency. Tada! All-time highs! Welcome to Iran or Venezuela. The official numbers didn’t correspond to the reality on the street; rubles were worthless if you wanted to buy something not being sold in rubles.
When we stopped allowing trading in the securities of Russian companies, we yanked away $400 billion of market cap that was held primarily by pension funds and retirement funds in the US and Europe. And gave that value to Russia for free. We basically said “Here you go, here are all these securities. We are no longer allowed to trade in them so guess what, you guys can trade in them.”… We ripped the stock out of retirement funds and we gave it to the Russians and said “here you go Putin, take all of these securities for free, enjoy.”1:16:30
I don’t understand whether the argument is valid or not. Does freezing securities equate to transferring securities? I am truly curious. If somebody who is knowledgeable on this can confirm or refute the way it is being explained here, I would very much appreciate it.
We had all these false hopes around strengthening the Western alliance by allowing this war to happen.1:18:04
Absolving Russia of responsibility for Russia invading a country is a message that the Russian government and media would love for people in the USA to spread within the USA. It feeds into Russia’s victimhood complex propaganda. If it isn’t abundantly clear, only Russia invaded Ukraine and only Russia can send its troops home.
… they are making money. And they are making more because certain people can’t buy and they’ve got to drive the price up elsewhere.1:19:44
It is true to say Russia is still making money, but the way this is framed is that Russia is making MORE than before. China and Russia are buying oil at steep discounts so the profitability of those transactions is lower than before even if the volume is the same or higher. It is also important to specify what kind of transactions, some oil export product revenues went up, some went down. This was known at the time of this statement. Looking back retrospectively, Russia’s GDP significantly contracted.
Episode 85 – Jun 29, 2022
It starts to get colder. Russia’s depriving Europe of [natural gas]. Where’s the oil going to come from? OPEC is basically still stiff-arming the United States with respect to expanded production capacity. Why? Because they didn’t like the way we were strong-arming them and a whole bunch of other topics. Where do we stand? You can have $180 barrel oil by November, December when it is cold not just here but in continental Europe.1:12:00
Predicted oil going to $180 per barrel. In reality, oil (looking at the OPEC Basket) topped out at $120 at around the time this episode came out then dropped to $80-90 in November, December. This was a bad prediction, which is ok, but this laid the foundation for some of their thinking which they did not revise, revisit, or explain in the subsequent episodes.
We need to put this war to bed. The unfortunate consequence is that right now if we want to fight a proxy war, there is no elegant off-ramp that I see.1:12:35
The war is about a people in a free, democratic country fighting for their freedom and sovereignty against an invading authoritarian dictatorship. They are not asking for the USA to fight, just to help with aid (which we can do with old, retired military equipment being stored and eating our tax dollars with maintenance and storage costs as well as more modern equipment). They actively want to be our ally and partner in the future. Unlike some kleptocratic authoritarian dictatorships elsewhere in the third world, Ukraine doesn’t just want our money, they want our help to be like us in the future.
This is not Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya where the USA went in and blew everything up without anyone wanting us there. On a moral level (admittedly, this is an unfair and extremely cynical interpretation, but we need to look at it from this perspective to see what some possible interpretations could be), AIP is saying that we should swat away Ukraine’s outstretched hand because it is bad for the Bestie stock and investment portfolios. I believe that this is wrong on a moral level and this is also wrong on a factual level. The economy of the USA was going south before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Inflation was a major problem due to a decade of recklessly printing money and energy prices started rising since Biden got elected as President and enacted policies that reduced our overall supply and access to our own energy sources. Politically speaking, I find it disappointing but predictable that the Besties advocated for the election of a person who caused energy prices to start going up instead of the person whose policies caused energy to be cheaper and more abundant. And they don’t acknowledge their culpability in that pain now.
To be fair on the moral argument, some may say that the right thing to do is the one that benefits us since America has a responsibility to Americans. I think this is a reasonable argument, just not one that I agree with in this case. It falls flat for me because it doesn’t consider future negative costs of allowing Russia to dictate the resolution of its imperial conquests on its own terms.
A statement like the one given by AIP could also be a rhetorical gift for anti-capitalists. They can easily say that these fat cats in a capitalist, free society would choose to put tens of millions of people under an authoritarian yoke of a geopolitical adversary if they believed it would be better for the profitability and economic growth of their investments. Framing is everything…
… and if this war is never-ending, and the famine, and the impact on 40 million people that Friedberg predicted is actually going to happen in the next 6 months, this is going to feel quite chaotic to people around the world. So we do need to put this war to bed for sure.1:13:23
Again, nothing wrong with bad predictions. But you owe it to your audience to call yourselves out in the future for your bad predictions, state how being wrong on something would shift your fundamental stances/beliefs, and explain what actually happened instead of your prediction.
The deal that we’ve talked about on previous shows… The broad construct here even before the war began. There were three pieces to it. Number one was that Ukraine had to remain a neutral state as opposed to being brought into NATO and having American troops, weapons, and bases on Russia’s border. That was always a red line to them. And in exchange for neutrality, Ukraine would get security guarantees. Piece number two, is in the eastern region where you had these Russian speakers, their rights would be respected and that they would have some autonomy. And again, that was something that Ukraine agreed to under the Mink Accords but it was never properly implemented. And the third piece is that Russia got to keep Crimea which again was a fait accompli that happened in 2014. Smart observers of this conflict have been outlining that 3 point plan for over a year. And that is what we’re going to end up with. The only difference is, that it’s going to be implemented by force and Ukraine is going to be destroyed in the process.1:13:42
The points Sacks brings up are disingenuous and based on how Russian propaganda presents the situation. The points around Minsk 2 are mentioned elsewhere. The rights of Russian speakers in Eastern Ukraine were not threatened or violated in 2014, this is pure Russian propaganda that AIP is shamelessly spreading. There was no Ukrainian military effort in Eastern Ukraine until Russia deployed troops and intelligence personnel in Luhansk and Donetsk. Another term for that is “foreign invasion”. Ukraine not joining NATO is, again, not an argument that can be taken at face value. Also, what is the value of a security guarantee in 2022 if the one given in 1994 (Budapest Memorandum) was already violated?
Writing this half a year later, it is not possible to say in absolute terms that this will turn out wrong. But it seems incredibly wrong so far.
The idea that this war was not predictable or could not have been predicted is simply false because many experts did predict it. And they did tell us exactly what was going to happen. And the reason they knew it was going to happen is because Russia has been saying, since at least 2008, when there was this Bucharest Summit and NATO declared its intent to bring Ukraine into NATO, the Russians have been saying that is a red line.1:16:43
This is, again, intellectually dishonest. This is retrospectively going back, looking for validation of predictions for the outcome that did happen, and then saying it was obvious because the experts predicted it. To be intellectually honest, it must be mentioned that experts also predicted that Russia would not invade Ukraine. The Ukrainian government itself did not believe it was going to happen when it did.
Saying this is obvious based on Putin’s stated red lines is also intellectually dishonest since the Russian government has stated many previous red lines and done nothing about them when they’ve been ignored.
By the way, we understand this [referring to security concerns] in other contexts. We understood in the context of the Cuban missile crisis. We didn’t say that Cuba had the right to join any military alliance that it chose to. Because we wouldn’t be able to sleep as well at night if Cuba had nukes pointed at us with a first strike capability.1:20:20
This is an example which disproves the point it is trying to make. Cuba was able to choose to enter any military alliance it wanted to, it entered one with the Soviet Union. There were Soviet military and intelligence advisors in Cuba and Cuba bought arms from the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, Cuba also deployed troops in international conflicts to fight against groups that represented Western interests. The specific crisis was about the deployment of nuclear weapons, which was negotiated peacefully.
Right now, there is a country called the Solomon Islands about 3,000 miles off the Australian coast. They entered into a deal with China, a security deal. And the US has been up in arms about that. And the reason is we don’t want China extending its footprint in Asia. So we treat that deal as having a security externality for us.1:20:50
This example disproves the point, the way that it is being presented on AIP is incomplete and disingenuous. As a response, the USA engaged in diplomacy by reopening State Department buildings and staffing them with diplomats in order to warm up relations with the Solomon Islands and the region in general. The USA did not attack either China or the Solomon Islands.
The question is: what are you willing to give up? [in the use of diplomacy]1:24:33
The framing for the argument is untenable. This discussion misses the other side of the point. Let’s say you follow the belief that Russia invaded Ukraine to prevent it joining NATO. Russia is the one that wanted something. What was Russia willing to give up? A negotiation is between two or more parties, what was Russia offering as a concession? We don’t want Russia to invade so what if the only thing that Russia “gives” (aka not giving anything since that is the status quo) is saying they won’t invade. In this case, are there other things that we can do to dissuade an invasion besides negotiate a losing position? Yes. I’ve already made the point before about meeting strength with strength, not weakness. And why should we believe them if they have a very long track record of breaking treaties that are no longer convenient for them?
Sacks never answers this question because he never asks, framing this as a one-sided American transgression. Just by asking and bringing up this argument, the narrative falls apart. And again, just going down this line of thinking presupposes that Ukraine joining NATO is an actual, valid Russian concern. What are you going to be negotiating against when you find out it is a pretext?
The other part of the question is, if we follow Sacks’ plan, and sell out a country who wants to be a geopolitical ally, what are the potential consequences to security and foreign policy for the USA and our allies? Maybe not much; we already did that with the Kurds. Maybe a lot more this time. In this exchange, Jason asks Sachs at what point should America stand up to Putin and Sacks never addresses this question. What is Sacks’ plan when/if Putin says that having the Baltic countries as a part of NATO is a new redline so they must be “made neutral” OR ELSE?
We may not have started this war but we failed to prevent it through the use of diplomacy. That’s always been my point… I think this war was easily preventable if we had listened to Putin and engaged in diplomacy.1:26:31
I find this statement interesting given that Jason was unable to get Sacks to say whether he supported continuing to give Ukraine aid or not at 1:25:37. In my view, assigning self-blame up front while abrogating responsibility to help in the meanwhile is not a good look internationally.
Episode 94 – Aug 31, 2022
We’ve been spending a good part of this year talking about the threat of nuclear use. This was a problem that we thought was solved 30 years ago. And now we’re back with it today.1:08:46
The threat of nuclear war and nuclear weapons use never went away after the USSR ceased to exist. Arms treaties didn’t magically make this scenario non-existent either. Limiting the performance characteristics and numbers of new weapons doesn’t make the existing weapons magically disappear. Weapons that have been decommissioned are a fraction of those available overall. America and USSR/Russia both have thousands of nuclear warheads that could potentially be used. MAD still very much exists as a real deterrent against any side using nuclear weapons. The way this statement is being framed is nonsensical.
When the thing started to collapse, he [Gorbachev] didn’t use violence and repression to try and hold it together.1:14:08
The people of Lithuania will disagree with that.
We have ended every single defense control and arms control treaty with the Russians that Reagan and Gorbachev signed. Why?1:17:09
We have exited several treaties since they no longer serve a purpose or they haven’t been abided by. And as a clarification to the continuation of this point that Sacks made later in this section, our nuclear missiles were never NOT pointed at each other. This is a false assertion.
Open Skies was outdated and did not serve any benefit to the USA since satellite imaging removes the need for aerial overflights. The argument was also put forth in the Trump Administration that Russia is non-compliant with its obligations.
Russia broke the INF Treaty to develop a prohibited missile.
As I’m writing this, there is controversy brewing over Russia violating its obligation under the New START Treaty (set to expire in 2026, previously renewed in 2021).
The reason why we alienated him [Putin] has nothing to do with him being a madman or whatever. It’s because we brought NATO, which he views as a hostile military alliance right up to his border.1:18:44
Some more framing on AIP that America is always the one responsible and doing something negative to Russia. First off, I do agree that it is always a good thing to look back at your policies/beliefs/attitudes and see what could’ve been done better and what went well in order to adjust and do better. Some members of the AIP could use this advice for their own rhetoric…
But here is the problem with Sacks’ statements; where is Russia’s responsibility for doing the alienating and for its own state of affairs? You are implicitly saying that this mighty, powerful country has no say in its own status and is completely dependent on America to guide its course?
The West gave billions of dollars in investments, loans, and aid to Russia and the other post-Soviet countries after the USSR collapsed. Is it America’s fault that corrupt Russian politicians, the mafia class, and oligarchs stole this from their own people? Is it America’s fault that Russia didn’t develop a prosperous society for themselves, that their elites stole the country’s great wealth, and that their elites centralized power? Is it America’s fault that Russia failed to create a society attractive enough to keep its best and brightest from emigrating? Norway has a large oil-funded sovereign fund for the benefit of its citizens. Oil revenue allows the UAE to provide benefits like free education, free healthcare, retirement plans, marriage bonuses, interest free loans for land, amongst others for its citizens. Based on its petro-economy, Russia provides… social and economic conditions where the pooping infrastructure is subject to scrutiny.
Is it America’s fault that based on the behavior of the USSR/Imperial Russia/Russia Federation, that formerly conquered countries rushed westwards to get protection from and avoid anything to do with Russia? Is it America’s fault that Russia continues to be an aggressive bully against its neighbors instead of offering a positive vision of friendly, mutual cooperation? Is it America’s fault that Russian political society doesn’t have a feedback loop to deter bad geopolitical decisions and that ordinary Russians themselves don’t care?
You can’t reasonably argue that it is America’s fault and we need to do things in maximum deference to this great and mighty Russia and as a corollary put out there that the great and mighty Russia is hapless and not responsible for its own decisions.
When George Herbert Walker Bush and the Secretary of State James Baker went to Gorbachev to argue on behalf of German reunification, this is basically in 1990, Baker made the promise to Gorbachev “not one inch eastward.” Gorbachev said “yes ok, they can reunify but we do not want NATO moving up to our border.” Baker made that promise. We have brought NATO up to their border. That is why Putin regards us with hostility.1:19:13
This is Russian propaganda to feed the Russian victimhood narrative that the untrustworthy West is seeking to take advantage of Russia. Both Baker and Gorbachev have stated that there was no such promise and that it was understood Eastern European countries could join NATO. When you have the people who were on opposite sides of the negotiating table both telling you that the story is BS, then the story is most likely BS. “One inch eastwards” referred to troop deployments internal to Germany before the formal completion of reunification. There was nothing written down in any treaty on this fake promise and nothing verbally promised.
Episode 95 – Sep 9, 2022
Sacks correctly predicted that if this goes to winter, this is going to get acute. And right on cue we have it that Russia has essentially cut off gas to Europe by claiming that the Nord Stream 1 pipeline that Russia built that goes under the Baltic Sea … [continues with explanation about a turbine breaking in the pipeline system and cutting off supply]16:10
A) AIP was completely wrong. Europe didn’t freeze over and drop its resolve to support Ukraine.
B) Notice that AIP was calling its prediction for winter as correct, 3 months before winter began. Huh?
… as a result, people are rushing to the street from Prague to Cologne, Germany. Even in London. Proclaiming that the governments aren’t doing enough to stall the rate of inflation, to make energy prices cheaper through action by having the government subsidize. And number three, which I think was inevitable and is now becoming kind of the surprise factor to the Ukrainian crisis, citizens are saying END THIS WAR NOW. Get to the table with Russia, come up with a settlement, and get the heck out of the Ukraine. By the way, that’s not everyone saying it, just to be clear. But there is this rising, rioting, protesting behavior across Europe. Particularly in Eastern Europe as a result of the Ukraine war. So we’re seeing a big shift in attitude and a shift in the societal perception of this war, particularly in Europe because they’re so acutely feeling the effects and we are not in the US. They are acutely feeling the effects and they are saying “we need to stop this war now, we need to get out of the way, we need to let Russia turn the gas pipe back on, and we need to figure out a resolution, stop supporting Ukraine.” That’s a voice that didn’t exist very loudly in the beginning and its starting to swell.20:08
There are definitely people in any and every place who advocate for their governments to stop supporting Ukraine. But the polling data shows Europeans in general support their governments in supporting Ukraine.
If you look at some of the larger anti-UA-support protests, they are organized by rightist political groups. So the Besties advocate against the “far-right” in American politics (I’m assuming this since they give major campaign contributions to Democrat politicians in CA and denigrate the MAGA movement), but they are ok with foreign far-right groups which hold the same worldview on this particular topic as them if it helps to further a rhetorical point for them? This is also an interesting case where rightist groups and Communist Party groups are getting together to support a common cause. Personally, no thank you. There were also protests about economic issues in general. Russia’s war in Ukraine is one factor but not the only factor impacting world economies.
As an aside, we need to look at the framing here. There is no European government or coalition that can end the war. Russia is the only country that can end the war. It is the only country whose troops have invaded its sovereign neighbor. Only Russia can make a decision to withdraw its troops to end the war. European countries cannot make that decision for Russia.
The choices that European countries can make are to stop/reduce supporting Ukraine, continue supporting Ukraine at the current level, or ramp up support to Ukraine so that it has the capabilities to push Russia back to its own borders.
The Besties have never advocated for the third option, so I assume they don’t support that. They rail against the status quo so I will assume they don’t want the second option. I will have to assume they want the first option in the change they advocate for or assume should happen. I’ve mentioned this before several times, but I will repeat it because it is very important. What does this option mean? What if Ukraine decides to keep fighting without the support of European allies? What if Russia decides to maintain a punitive energy stance towards Europe unless Ukraine fully capitulates? What makes the Besties so assured that this path is the one that will get them to their desired goal?
Germany will probably be the first to capitulate but it will be a combination of the United States and Europe who negotiate some kind of a settlement.24:51
Another bad prediction. In fairness, this could still happen but given that German has allowed operators of German-built tanks to send them to Ukraine and is continuing to provide anti-air/missile defense systems, this seems unlikely.
The European leaders are increasingly out of touch with their own people. The agenda they are serving is not the desire of their people to stay warm in the winter or pay reasonable energy bills. They are serving this larger foreign policy agenda.28:04
The polling data through 2022 shows otherwise. Looking back on this comment and bringing it to the present, the German government was pretty out of touch with its people with its refusal to allow other countries to send their own German-built tanks to Ukraine. They recently changed their policy to allow for this. So Sacks should be happy, right?
Biden’s proxy war against Russia.29:58
Unfortunately we have another statement depriving Russia of its agency in invading another country. Break this statement down. Was there any military action against Russia before Russia invaded Ukraine? No. Did the USA initiate any military action? No. Will all military action stop if Russia leaves Ukraine? Probably yes. If the USA suddenly stops doing any activity related to Ukraine, will there still be a war? Probably yes. Any action against Russia is of its own making and its own responsibility. If Russia goes home, will there still be a war (whether USA is involved or not)? Probably not. Obviously, I disagree with Sacks on this, but I don’t even know what rational point someone could be trying to make using this language.
Moving away from the assertion that America is waging a proxy war against Russia and just taking the “proxy war” argument; I personally don’t think this is accurate, but I can understand why someone could make the argument. Looking back at history, the USA was supplying the UK during WW1 before entering WW1. Would it be accurate to say WW1 was a proxy war between the USA and Germany? France was a very important part of the success of the Colonies against the UK in the American Revolution. France was certainly our ally, but do we talk about the Revolutionary War as a proxy war between France and Great Britain?
… there will be significant rioting and civil unrest in Europe.34:04
Another prediction that didn’t work out.
What were their demands prior to this war? There were two things they really didn’t like. They didn’t want Ukraine admitted to NATO. And then number two is they didn’t want American missiles right on their border that could hit Moscow in 5 minutes. Those were their two demands41:10
Missiles at Russia’s doorstep is a complete Russian red herring. I explain in detail why this is BS here: https://thelongerweekend.com/whyruinvadeua/#aegis
The short version is that A) Russia already has several NATO countries that it shares borders with (fun fact: the (NATO member) Latvian border is only about 50 miles farther from Moscow than the Ukrainian border is at its closest point to Moscow) and B) Putting ground launched missiles on Ukrainian territory doesn’t gain any advantage. NATO and the USA can already deliver missiles straight to Moscow by plane, submarine, or ground systems in other countries bordering Russia.
Pure Russian propaganda, creating a pretext, and a pretty dumb one at that.
There is another interesting aspect to this argument. The article below is an English translation of some quotes from a Putin interview from November 2021. He stated that the deployment of “strike missile complexes” would be a red line and then goes to state that Russia has already developed and will imminently deploy these very same types of systems. What does it say about the belief and good-faith posture if a country is unilaterally “doing to others” the very same thing that it calls a “red line” against itself?
We never earned the right to call them [Russia’s demands] a pretext. If you want to call them a pretext, you take those issues off the table. Then if the Russians invade, you know they’re liars.41:40
I have problems with numerous things that have been said on AIP, but this one takes the cake. By far. Not even close. This is painful. This isn’t how pretexts work. Let’s look at the proposed logic here. If someone demands something of you and threatens bad consequences if you don’t give it to him, then you should give it to him. You should give it to him regardless of whether there is a legitimate reason to do so or not, as long as there is any reason (just in case that reason is a legitimate reason). Who gets to decide when a reason is legitimate or not? If the bad consequences are delivered regardless of your capitulation, then you have the moral high ground, so everything is ok.
How many tech bros does it take to screw in an international relations light bulb?
As an aside, we did not have to wait until 2022 to call Russia as liars. Russia already invaded Ukraine in 2014 with its military. This was in direct contradiction to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, in which Russia pledged to respect Ukrainian sovereignty. Russia violated the Budapest Memorandum. It didn’t live up to the Minsk Accords. Russia violated the INF Treaty. Russia even plainly said it was not going to invade Ukraine in 2022 as it massed troops along the Ukrainian border for its invasion. So let’s ask a fundamental question. If at any point Russia had credibility before, why believe them on anything now? And what more do they need to lie about that we can’t call them liars already?
Episode 96 – Sep 15, 2022
This offer [referring to Ukraine not joining NATO] did not come until after the invasion started. And we already knew. Zelenskyy was publicly saying in the early weeks of the war that they were willing to take NATO off the table. So this isn’t that much news, this happened after. The other key point here is not only did it happen too late but also the offer did not come from the Americans. This is a really important point to understand about the Russian position on this. And I’m just saying this based on all their public pronouncements. The Russians made an ultimatum in December and then Lavrov [Russia’s Foreign Minister] negotiated with Blinken in January. They were absolutely insistent that they would accept nothing less than a written guarantee from Washington. Why is that? Well the written guarantee was necessary because they’ve always claimed that James Baker euchred Gorbachev over German reunification so they’ve always demanded a written assurance from the Americans. And the reason that they want it from America and not Europe is because they know Europe are America’s poodles and Ukraine is a client state of America. They wanted a written guarantee from America before the war started, they never got that. Now if your point is; did Putin do everything he could to avoid this war? Absolutely not. I will absolutely grant you that. But we already knew that. The question is did the US State Department do everything they could to avoid this war? And my point is, absolutely not. They should’ve taken the Ukraine issue off the table in writing before the invasion.01:14:55
Adventures in twisted logic. This alone demonstrates that the entire NATO thing is a Russian pretext. Let’s say that Russia invaded for the specific NATO issue. Russia got an offer to get what it wanted (a non-NATO Ukraine) on the specific issue AIP claims it invaded Ukraine for and Russia getting the result it wanted did nothing to pause or end Russia’s invasion.
Next, we have to go down the path that Russia wanted something from the USA but attacked Ukraine. Ukraine can only makes promises and agreements for itself. Even under a condition of full capitulation, Ukraine can’t guarantee something on behalf of America. So how does this make sense? Russia was going to beat up Ukraine until it got what it wanted from America? Doesn’t sound very effective to me. Are we supposed to believe that Russia believed that this approach was going to get them what they wanted?
Maybe the goal of the invasion was to replace the government of Ukraine with a Russian puppet government to assure 100% that there would be no move towards NATO. The implication would be that Russia only trusts agreements made with governments it directly controls or with countries that are powerful enough to challenge/resist Russian might (USA, NATO, China, etc.). How can an agreement be made with Russia in good faith, in that case, if you are a country (like… you know… Ukraine is today) that shares neither of those properties?
As I’ve pointed out before, Russia also demanded many other things from NATO and the USA in that December/January period that Sacks is referring to. None of those were directly relevant to Ukraine and Ukraine was not empowered to deliver on any of those demands. So how does it make sense to attack an entity that is not empowered to deliver on the demands you have and then have your demands seriously treated as the reason for your invasion?
Taking this further, if Russia’s invasion was an attempt to twist NATO’s arm into negotiating on the list of demands, then we can see that approach failed spectacularly and has a near-zero chance of achieving its goal going forward. In fact, the outcome has been the very opposite. If those demands were the real reason and the approach to get those items implemented didn’t work, then why is there still an invasion a year later?
We the United States of America need to be thinking very clearly about what is in our interest. Because all I see is an identification in helping and identifying with the Ukrainians that we’ve lost sight of an American interest that’s separate and independent of Ukraine’s desire for self-determination. I can understand and respect their nationalism and their patriotism. But we better really think carefully about our interests here.1:23:19
It is disappointing to hear (and this has been the case since the first episode covering this topic) that AIP categorically looks at the issue as America’s own self-interest diverging from helping Ukraine. Sacks is so fixated on the identification that he points out that he can’t see the other side of the argument. On a logical level, they aren’t considering the potential negative consequences of their pre-determined position and neither do they consider the potential positive outcomes from a position different than theirs.
Episode 98 – Sep 29, 2022
We’ve already proven, if you did want to prove that Russia is not a threat with the exception of their nuclear, we now have proven that they’re really not going to be able to do a domino into all these different countries. With the exception of obviously the nuclear power.1:02:32
Russia is only using a subset of its military capacity in Ukraine. Ukraine is large and also has a sizeable army. Moldova has essentially no army to speak of and is much less than 1/10th the size of Ukraine. Georgia is small (10% size of Ukraine) with a small army (roughly 10% in terms of both manpower and budget compared with Ukraine). These “dominos” would fall with much less resistance than we’ve seen in Ukraine.
We then get to the NATO question. If we get to the point, based on a weak Western response, where Putin calculates that it is low risk to invade Lithuania (“those Nazi bastards pose a threat to our existence in Kaliningrad!”) since he was able to get the other dominos pretty easily, what then? What if he is right and NATO member countries decide the Lithuanians aren’t of vital interest to them and pretend that Article 5 doesn’t exist? What if he is wrong, badly miscalculates like he has in Ukraine, and starts a war with NATO where Americans have to go and fight and die? Wouldn’t it be better to show strength now without spilling our blood in order to avoid going down the path of the dominos?
Of course, there are certainly risks with the current path and it would be dishonest not to acknowledge those. But as of today, we don’t see an expanding risk of a wider conflict. Contrary to Sacks’ assertion at 1:07:40, we haven’t seen an escalation outside of the confines of the conflict leading to a wider one. And I will cheat a little bit and use the events of the months after Sacks made the statement to disprove his point. Effectively using the weapons provided by the West, Ukraine was able to retake large chunks of its territory. Some of the territory was even claimed by Russia as its own in sham referendums leading to annexation. Technically, this is Russia losing Russian territory and they did not escalate to nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction or attack the West.
As a brief history lesson for an analogy, WW2 didn’t start all at once. At first, Germany deployed troops in its western regions along the border with France. It was prohibited from doing so in the treaties it had signed, but the UK and France pretended they didn’t notice in order to avoid an argument. Germany also annexed Austria, and the international community didn’t respond. The famous Neville Chamberlain declaration of “peace in our time” was after diplomats agreed that Czechoslovakia needed to give Germany the Sudetenland region, which was inhabited primarily by German speakers. This was done on the pretext that German speakers were being discriminated against and it was Germany’s role to protect them. Sound familiar? In return, Germany promised not to invade the rest of Czechoslovakia. Well, as it turns out, Germany broke its promise and invaded Czechoslovakia without consequence. Throughout all of this, Germany was breaking all of its treaty obligations by rearming its military beyond its allowable limits. And nothing was done about this. We have a situation where a dictator was able to break every obligation and promise without consequence. So what happens next? Germany invades Poland, the UK honors its defense treaty with Poland and declares war on Germany, and the rest is history. Germany was surprised that this happened; they were not counting on any response because there weren’t any responses to its transgressions before.
This is how wider wars break out. The world letting dictators do what they want without consequence and then the dictators get surprised that they miscalculated when there is resistance at some point. Failure to meet strength with strength leads to miscalculations.
And we don’t need to look back to WW2 for a history lesson. Just look at Russian history since the collapse of the USSR. In the 1990s, it invaded (“deployed peacekeepers to protect the Russian-speaking population” in Russian-speak) Moldova. This has created a perpetual frozen conflict and instability within that country and an inability to join NATO due to the sovereignty dispute. Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 without an international response. It stole two provinces and formed de facto Russian states out of them without officially annexing them into Russia (frozen conflict, no NATO… sound familiar?). And we can’t forget, Russia militarily invaded Ukraine in 2014, conquering one region and creating a perpetual frozen conflict in two more. No consequences besides some ineffectual sanctions.
Feb 2022 was the next step. It is not surprising that Russia thought it was going to roll through Kyiv within a week. It never experienced significant resistance before and it never experienced an international response before. Putin certainly miscalculated, but his calculation was reasonable.
Ignoring the danger of history repeating itself, allowing Putin to think that the next step will be low cost/low risk, and allowing more steps to be taken until they do threaten American interests directly will only increase the chance of a larger war. Of course, this is just an opinion, and others disagree and that is fine. But to claim that Russia can’t cause smaller dominos to fall is not accurate and ahistorical.
I think that can potentially be the political motivation here. Which is that enough people like Chamath and you start making the calls to your representatives pointing out how strained the market is because of this tension in the region right now. That maybe there is some path to resolution that becomes more active rather than passive1:09:11
This is where AIP loses me. I’m going to assume that they don’t mean an active resolution is one where America actively provides what Ukraine needs to regain its freedom and sovereignty. I don’t mind consuming content that I disagree with. I’m ok with listening to people lie to my face or tell misleading truths; there can be value in hearing challenging things and figuring out if you can understand why something makes sense or not on your own.
But what I do not want to support, with my “views” or “likes” or other engagement metrics, is content that I believe is wrong factually (reliance on Russian propaganda to form viewpoints), wrong philosophically (from the sense that I believe the outcomes they desire won’t come about from their rhetorical arguments), and wrong morally (advocating action from the audience to reach out to our government representatives to tell them to stop supporting UA). This is the final AIP episode that I’ll listen to.
In the Chechen War, when Russia was losing, they just rubbled Grozny. They leveled it to the ground. Putin hasn’t done anything like that yet.1:13:10
This is plainly untrue. Russia has done exactly this where they could. This is part of their military doctrine. For reference, pictures of Grozny and what Russia did to Aleppo in Syria. Next we have images from Ukraine. I do not understand the purpose of making such a blatantly untruthful comment if you are trying to convince people of your argument.
Pictures of Grozny
Pictures of Aleppo
Bakhmut is being leveled right now
Words are inadequate for Mariupol
Destruction of Maryinka
Devastation in Irpin
Irpin and Mariupol happened before Sacks’ comments. Maryinka and Bakhmut, after.
Looking at pictures from Volnovakha, Rubizhne, Popasna, Lyman, or Sievierodonetsk will also show exactly how Russia applies its doctrine.
A low probability theory that I have is that Sacks is actually anti-Putin and he makes these ridiculous, untruthful pro-Russia statements with a straight face to turn people off from Russian propaganda.
Episode 113 – Jan 27, 2023
I lied. I listened to another AIP episode to see what, if anything, has changed on this topic with them over the past 4 months. I also listened to parts of their 2022 retrospective and 2023 prediction episodes.
We know from history that wars tend to escalate and be far more costly than the participants ever thought. Is that the track we’re on now and in hindsight, knowing what we know now, should we regret that we didn’t use every diplomatic tool that we had to prevent the war? Most notably, taking NATO expansion off the table… Is the situation escalating to a point we should be concerned?1:13:25
4 months later and with everything that has happened, AIP is still beating the drum of escalation without any self-awareness or acknowledgement of how wrong they have been every step of the way. Wrong on “escalation” (whatever that means… nuclear, attacks on Europe, etc… so far), wrong on famine, wrong on Europe freezing to death with winter nearly over, wrong on civil unrest in Europe, wrong on Ukraine’s military capability to liberate its territory, wrong on the fracturing of European cohesion, wrong on Russian red lines when it comes to arms supplies to Ukraine.
The ship here sailed long ago. Everything that Ukraine has asked for to defend itself, it has gotten… eventually. Usually too late to make the most impact. Ukraine has received APCs. Ukraine has received artillery. Ukraine has received rocket artillery (a major capability which directly enabled the successful offensives last year), but months after the request was made. Ukraine will soon receive a longer-range rocket artillery system. Again, months after it was requested and not even as capable as the top-end system that could be provided. Ukraine has received missile defense systems that the West claimed they would not get, but months after the initial requests and too late to prevent Russian war crime attacks against civilian infrastructure targets. Now Ukraine will get some tanks, months after they were requested and too late for offensives in 2022. Maybe they will arrive in time to help defend the country in the spring from a predicted Russian offensive, maybe not. How much more progress could Ukraine have made with its own offensives if those tanks were available 6 months ago? Ukraine has received both Western and Russian-made helicopters. Ukraine has received anti-radiation missiles for its fighter planes to target Russian anti-air radars. It is reasonable to assume that Ukraine will get Western fighter jets after endless Western dithering at some point. And “some point” will, again, be too late to make an early difference.
Along the way, Russia claimed multiple red lines and made multiple threats that amounted to nothing. Picking and choosing what we believe from Russia to make rhetorical points is a weak position to be in.
Another low probability theory; AIP needs to frame everything in terms of escalation because they’ve been doing focus group studies and found that’s what drives maximum audience engagement.
This episode was rather mild, and they mentioned some points that I do agree with (for example, I agree that it appears the USA is just trying to grind Russia instead of helping Ukraine achieve a military victory) without going off the deep end. Yes, they still bring up things like giving Putin a “golden bridge”. Yes, NATO expansion is still brought up as the reason for the invasion. And unfortunately, they yet again used the framing that America is escalating this war by providing weapons to Ukraine instead of focusing on Russian responsibility. Remember, in this war, there is only one country that can choose to go home and bring peace, and it’s not America.
When I call out the AIP folks for bad predictions, I don’t do so because I hold the bad predictions against them for being wrong. All of my own predictions before and after Feb 2022 have been incorrect. Every single one. When people ask me what I think is going to happen, I tell them that all of my predictions have been wrong and they shouldn’t listen to me predict stuff on this topic. This is the level of transparency that AIP is lacking. I hold their predictions against them because they don’t acknowledge, adjust, or change their biases/assumptions. They continue with the same talking points even though those viewpoints have led to predictions that have held up poorly. I am not imposing an external standard on the AIP either. They had their own retrospective episode (Episode 109 in December 2022) where they revisited things they got wrong/right/best/worst through 2022 but they didn’t call themselves out on this.
The root cause here is that they don’t really get challenged on their opinions on their show. There are certainly disagreements, especially between Jason and Sacks, but neither of them are really experts in this field and they only disagree within the narrow slice of the spectrum that they operate in based on their knowledge. Arguable framing doesn’t get challenged so the discussion only flows down certain paths and not others. If they were to defend their viewpoints and be opened up to a wider range of assumptions in a setting where an expert on the matter could guide/challenge them, I think that we would see a more interesting and varied outcome.
It is also completely possible that the AIP folks have in fact acknowledged this and addressed it in one of the episodes between 98 and 113 which I have not listened to. Based on the way Episode 113 played out, it doesn’t sound like this happened but, if that is the case, then I will eat a large portion of crow and admit I’m mistaken. If this were to be the case, my OTHER giant problem with their conversations would still hold. Using Russian propaganda lies, incomplete truths, and questionable framing is not good and spreading viewpoints to an audience based on those pillars is not good.
I said it earlier and I will repeat it: I have no issues with any of the Besties holding opinions that are different from mine. They fully have the right to hold, share, and advocate for any position or falsehood they want. Personally, I just wish that they would stop spreading lies and sharing strong convictions based on those lies. I’m disappointed in hearing people that I otherwise used to respect do so poorly in preparing, thinking through, and presenting a topic that is very important. They should be intellectually honest and share with their listeners when they get things wrong and be open and retrospective when their predictions go sideways. I found it interesting that at the 27:30 mark of their 2023 prediction show (Episode 110), Sacks points out that the price of gas in Europe didn’t skyrocket (but he doesn’t call himself out for being wrong on that) and he attributes this to America’s desire to turn Europe into a vassal (by supplying them with natural gas). They should also take very seriously the responsibility to not present Russian propaganda uncritically.
Having been critical of the AIP due to their viewpoints based on lies and unsupportable rhetoric, we need to be fair and also point out that the AIP also has valid points and concerns. It is perfectly reasonable to be concerned about any war between any two countries escalating into a wider war. It is perfectly reasonable to question the policies and decisions of your own country if there is a bad situation. Questioning and challenging our foreign policy, seeing what went well and what didn’t, is a fundamental part of how a liberal democracy like our own learns and grows. Historical concerns in comparison to WW1 should be explored (a local conflict became a global one due to a system of enmeshed alliances). Taking Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 as a data point about Russia’s stand on NATO expansion is a valid point to argue and challenge. Just because they get so many things wrong does not mean that they need to be ignored when they bring up points with merit.
What the Besties are getting wrong is not trivial, there are very serious consequences for America, Ukraine, Russia, and the rest of the world based on the viewpoints they are pushing. When they are using lies and talking points that come from the Russian political and media establishment, they are directly benefiting Russia. What does it mean to benefit Russia? It is to support a governmental system run in a consolidated authoritarian way, without free and fair elections, without freedom of speech and protest, without an independent media, without an independent judiciary, without the uniform rule of law and importance placed on individual rights, with a history of murder and imprisonment of political opponents, with a history of political violence, with a state religion that supports a state war, with restrictions on accessing foreign news and social media, and with a history of cynical lies to the international community (https://www.rferl.org/a/from-not-us-to-why-hide-it-how-russia-denied-its-crimea-invasion-then-admitted-it/29791806.html). By spreading Russian propaganda, they are supporting all of these facets (which are in direct contradiction to our notions of Western liberal democracies) of where the propaganda comes from.
The propaganda is being used quite effectively, and the way the Besties cover the topic is an example of the effectiveness. There are straight lies, but there is also an element of chaos. The purpose of Russian propaganda is not necessarily to make you believe that what the propaganda is saying is true. It is to create confusion, doubt, and a lack of clarity so that you are unable to determine not only what is true, but whether there can be any truth to a situation at all. The following videos from Vlad Vexler and Yuri Dud do a great job of covering this topic.
We, as consumers of media and content, also have a responsibility to ourselves. We cannot put blind faith in entertainers, commentators, and partisans to present an accurate view of the world. Just because a person is successful in one field, doesn’t make them an authority in all fields. Don’t outsource your critical thinking “to the cloud”, make sure that you understand why you believe the things that you believe.