Elon Musk got in hot water again on Twitter—for proposing peace. On Monday, Musk proposed a peace deal to end the war in Ukraine, for which he was denounced as a pro-Putin puppet by the Twitter mob that has formed to police the discourse on all things related to Ukraine.
The president of Ukraine himself, Volodymyr Zelensky, accused Musk of supporting Russia—even though Musk’s company SpaceX donated Starlink to Ukraine’s war effort at an out-of-pocket cost of $80 million. (Full disclosure: Musk is a friend and I am an investor in SpaceX.) Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany Andrj Melnyk was less subtle, telling Elon to “f***k off,” while David Frum tweeted without evidence that “Russian sources” had used Elon to float a “trial balloon” of a peace proposal because they’re afraid of losing Crimea. Scores of blue-checks on Twitter followed their lead, ordering Musk to stay in his lane.
What matters in this story is not that Musk was told off, but rather, that a Twitter hive mind is using the same intolerant cancellation tactics that they use to shut down debate on domestic political issues in order to shape U.S. policy toward Ukraine. They are doing so by demonizing dissent, defaming opponents, and closing off as ideologically unacceptable any path to peace or even deescalation.
The online mob has decided that any support for a negotiated settlement—even proposals that Zelensky himself appeared to support at the beginning of the war—is tantamount to taking Russia’s side, denouncing voices of compromise and restraint as Putin apologists. This removes them from acceptable discourse and shrinks the Overton window to those advocating the total defeat of Russia and an end to Putin’s regime—even if it risks WWIII.
We’ve seen this before: “Woke mobs” on Twitter routinely demonize and defame their political opponents, impugn the motives of anyone who questions their goals or tactics, and squelch dissent even in their own ranks by declaring the debate on certain topics over.
What makes the “I stand with Ukraine” version of the Twitter mob unique is that it brings together two forces that used to be sworn enemies of one another—the woke Left and the neoconservative Right. It turns out they share many of the same loathsome ideological and personality traits, and have a similar “slash and burn” approach to political engagement. It’s a new political marriage.
Just over a decade ago, former President Barack Obama defeated Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary to become president due in no small part to his opposition to the Iraq War. At the time, the Left despised neocon hawks for pushing the Bush-Cheney administration’s disastrous Forever Wars in the Middle East. Moreover, the Left supported Obama in his policy toward Ukraine when he refused to escalate with Russia over Crimea, pointing out that America has no vital security interests in Ukraine, though Russia does. As a result, Russia would always be able to maintain “escalatory dominance,” Obama said. “This is an example of where we have to be very clear about what our core interests are and what we are willing to go to war for.”
But since neoconservatives largely walked out of the Republican Party over Trump and disavowed all of their conservative domestic policy views to become commentators on MSNBC, the Left has discovered a new love for interventionist foreign policy, as long as it serves “democracy” and opposes “autocracy”—an increasingly malleable term that both the wokes and the neocons now use to define not just Putin but also democratically elected leaders like Viktor Orban in Hungary, Giorgia Meloni in Italy, and Donald Trump in the United States.
Despite voting for Obama because he promised to break with neoconservative foreign policy, the Left has now joined with neocons to oppose Obama’s restrained foreign policy in Ukraine.
This shift is disorienting, but on a purely tactical level, it makes a certain amount of sense. Neocons invented the cancellation game before there was even a Twitter board on which to play it. Neocons arrogantly dismiss the other side’s point of view as argued in bad faith and not worth considering, and label anyone who dares question the cause as a heretic or traitor.
David Frum set the neocon standard for this tactic when he branded the small number of pundits on the Right who opposed the Iraq War as “Unpatriotic Conservatives” at the outset of that strategic disaster. Fast forward to today and anyone who suggests that NATO expansion could have been a contributing factor to the current Ukraine crisis, or that the sanctions imposed on Russia are not working and have backfired on a soon-to-be-shivering Europe, or even that the U.S. must prioritize avoiding a world war with a nuclear-armed Russia, is denounced as a Putin stooge.
Warping the debate in this way allows delusional and contradictory thinking to go unchallenged. Thus, we get the argument that Putin is a madman who will kill indiscriminately to achieve his aims—but he is also somehow definitely bluffing about using nuclear weapons. And he’s only using that bluff because he’s losing the war—but if he’s not stopped in Ukraine, he will go on to conquer the rest of Europe. Putin’s regime must fall because he has killed or jailed all the liberal reformers and yoked himself to a hardline Far Right, but somehow he will be replaced by a liberal reformer when his regime collapses.
It’s nonsensical, and a real debate would expose some of the delusions in this thinking. But we aren’t allowed to have one.
As long as this woke-neocon alliance is allowed to set the terms of the debate, we will continue to see a one-way ratchet toward greater and more dangerous escalation of this conflict.
There will be no peaceful resolution to this conflict that America doesn’t at least have a hand in negotiating, and we should be leading the effort. Instead, we’ve been deferring to the Ukrainians and their maximalist demands, upping the sanctions on Russia as Putin ups his rhetoric against the West. Someone blew up the Nord Stream pipeline just in case another key nation such as Germany had any thoughts about coming to the bargaining table. And now we are playing a game of nuclear “chicken” with a Russian leader who, if his unhinged “War against the West” speech last Friday is any indication, has thrown away his steering wheel.
A regional war turned into the First World War because all parties made maximalist demands and assumed others were bluffing. It can happen again, especially if the media, social media, and foreign policy elite join forces and use woke cancellation tactics to preclude discussion of any alternatives. Right now, we are locked on an escalatory path, and the destination ahead is Woke War III.
David Sacks is a venture capitalist and co-host of the All-In Podcast.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.