Sleepwalking Into World War III
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Elon Musk compares the current global environment to the lead-up to World War I more than a century ago. Union ForwardRead More
Elon Musk and Vivek Ramaswamy delivered stark warnings about the risk of “sleepwalking our way into World War III” during a live X Space on Monday afternoon.
Avoiding a world war and the existential risk that it poses to all of human civilization should be America’s foremost priority, according to Musk. He fears that the recent actions and rhetoric of the world’s superpowers bear an eerie resemblance to the lead-up to World War I.
Entrepreneur and author David Sacks hosted the nearly two-hour long livestream with Musk, Ramaswamy, independent journalists, and researchers discussing the path to de-escalation between the superpower alliances led by America and China.
“I think we are sleepwalking our way into World War III with one foolish decision after another” — Elon Musk
Musk, CEO of SpaceX, Tesla, and X, and Ramaswamy, entrepreneur and Republican presidential candidate, both called for a new generation of leadership in Washington, D.C. that is capable of coming to terms with the extent to which U.S. hegemony and freedom of action on the world stage have waned since the 1990s and 2000s.
America’s rigid two-party system has produced leaders who are much older than in past eras and less accountable to their constituents due to the post-2010 flood of corporate money in politics, widespread gerrymandering, and an electoral system that inhibits independent and third party challengers.
As a wave of opposition to the two-party system and the political establishment appears to grow ahead of the 2024 elections, President Joe Biden has committed unwavering U.S. support to Ukraine since February 2022 and appears ready to do the same for Israel and Taiwan.
Last week, the Biden Administration requested that Congress approve an additional $106 billion in spending including $14.3 billion for Israel’s defense, $13.6 billion for southern border protection, and $61 billion for Ukraine’s defense.
President Biden’s spending request followed a primetime address to the nation in which he argued that Hamas and Russia represent “different threats,” but are similar in their desire to “completely annihilate a neighboring democracy.”
The president described the success of Ukraine and Israel as “vital for America’s national security” and repeated his belief that “more chaos and death and more destruction” will follow if “terrorists don’t pay a price for their terror” and “dictators don’t pay a price for their aggression.”
American military power and deterrence, in the president’s view, is the key to preventing these wars from escalating into regional or global conflicts.
“It’s not 1991. It’s not 1980… We have to accept realism in where we are as the United States” — Vivek Ramaswamy
Musk and Ramaswamy do not share the president’s conviction that flexing U.S. military power is a reasonable response to the invasions of Ukraine and Israel. Biden’s faith in the power of American deterrence, in their view, is grounded in a bygone era of U.S. hegemony.
Musk, who has also sounded the alarm about the civilizational risk posed by artificial intelligence, made repeated pleas during the X livestream for the Biden Administration to pursue diplomacy and de-escalation with Russia, China, and Iran amid a war between Israel and Hamas that teeters on the brink of becoming a regional conflict.
“The foundation of war,” he argued, “is economic power, especially industrial output,” which is now comparable between the American-led Western alliance and an emerging Chinese-led alliance. Thus, the preconditions for a global conflict between two superpower alliances of similar capabilities exist.
The acknowledgement of a competing superpower alliance capable of matching Western military capacity and industrial output is a “massive shift in thinking” for the U.S. political establishment, in Musk’s estimation, but a shift that is necessary if the U.S. hopes to remain a sober and effective actor on the world stage.
While admittedly pitching his own candidacy, Ramaswamy argued that a president from a “different generation” is needed who does not act as if we still live in the post-1991 “hegemonic era that does not exist anymore.”
The unwillingness of the Democratic and Republican Party establishments to acknowledge the end of this era and the limits to American power, according to Ramaswamy, risks causing a descent into world war that we are dangerously ill-prepared for.
Musk similarly warned that the U.S. is positioned like a “pro sports team that has been winning the championship for so long… that we have forgotten what losing even looks like” and allowed “complacency and entitlement” to cloud our view of our own capabilities and strategic incentives.
Ramaswamy denounced the Biden Administration’s refusal to negotiate with Russia, although he held his own party in no higher regard. He argued that the Republican Party has “no alternative vision grounded in diplomacy for how we are actually going to avoid this war.”
Instead of offering a diplomatic alternative to the Biden Administration’s strategy, in his view, the Republican Party often attempts to counter the president by acting even more hawkish. Ramaswamy mocked former South Carolina Governor and Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley for saying during a recent campaign event that the U.S. needs a “Department of Offense,” not Defense.
He considers the alliance between China, Russia, and Iran to be a direct product of U.S. abuse of economic sanctions and frequent rhetoric tying the three nations together, which in turn would mean that creating a path to de-escalation and peace is within our power.
According to Ramaswamy, America should restore diplomatic and economic ties with Russia and negotiate a peace settlement in Ukraine which involves Russia abandoning its military alliance with China, Ukraine ceding control of Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk to Russia, and NATO abandoning its goal of adding Ukraine to the alliance.
The question of whether Russian President Vladimir Putin is trustworthy is irrelevant for Ramaswamy. He pointed to the Nixon Administration’s decision to open relations with China in the 1970s when China was the “little brother” in its relationship with the Soviet Union. The Nixon Administration did not trust Chairman Mao Zedong, but it did trust Zedong to follow China’s self-interest.
Ramaswamy believes that Putin will see self-interest for Russia in re-opening economic relations with the U.S. and charting a “reasonable path to peace in Ukraine” while ending its joint military exercises with China.
In terms of the war in the Middle East, he recognized the absolute right of Israel to retaliate for the October 7 attacks in addition to the humanitarian risks for Palestinians amid a ground invasion in Gaza.
During a recent interview with former Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson, Ramaswamy sought to offer lessons from America’s experience with September 11, 2001 and the 20 years of war in response to it.
He argued that Israel should define a clear, proportionate, and achievable objective in retaliation and seek to avoid becoming mired in a conflict with no coherent goal or foreseeable end. The mistakes that U.S. leaders made 20 years ago by miring themselves in an unwinnable war are at risk of being repeated if Israel launches a ground invasion in Gaza without clear objectives and the U.S. backs them without question.
The Biden Administration has warned Iran that it will respond “swiftly and decisively” to any attacks on U.S. personnel, a move which could once again indefinitely mire American forces in the Middle East.
In the context of 2023, however, such U.S. involvement risks sparking a regional war with Iran that could quickly spiral into a broader war with Russia and China, a possibility which was not on the table in 2001 and must be seriously weighed.
Musk, Ramaswamy, Sacks and other speakers repeatedly criticized “foolish decisions” by the Biden Administration such as shunning diplomacy with Russia and placing blind faith in the power of American deterrence.
The current situation is eerily similar to the lead-up to World War I in the 1910s, in Musk’s estimation, when world leaders stumbled into a regional conflict that no one expected would spiral into a world war and leave millions dead.
In August 1914, Musk said, German Emperor Wilhelm II told the troops he was sending to war that they would “be home before the leaves have fallen from the trees.” Four seasons passed and millions died in trenches before the troops ultimately returned home.
Americans will not have an opportunity to elect new leaders for another 13 months and, as Ramaswamy pointed out, the choice between Democratic and Republican leadership may not even provide voters with a meaningful alternative to belligerence and escalation.
Meanwhile, challenges to America’s rigid two-party system are springing up across the political spectrum ahead of 2024, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s independent campaign for president, No Labels’ flirtation with a presidential campaign, and the Forward Party’s campaign for electoral reforms including ranked-choice voting and open primaries.
Furthermore, multiple high-profile figures have abandoned their parties in recent years. Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema and former Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard abandoned the Democratic Party to become independents. Former Michigan Representative Justin Amash left the Republican Party and joined the Libertarian Party in 2020, while several dozen local and state officials have affiliated with the Forward Party since its founding in late 2021.
The path to reforming or replacing the increasingly dysfunctional two-party system, however, remains unclear. With 13 months to go until the 2024 elections, it is the two-party system which bears responsibility for navigating the transition to a multi-polar world and the risk of a third world war.
The decline of American hegemony presents one of the greatest threats to the American Republic since our founding. Established orthodoxies which have underpinned U.S. policy for decades are in the process of unravelling. Blind faith in a world order that no longer exists poses a tremendous risk to American democracy, national security, and human civilization as a whole.
Musk acknowledged that the “tides of history” may be unavoidably sweeping humanity into war whether we like it or not.
As of October 2023, however, there is still ample opportunity for the Biden Administration to pursue a course of diplomacy and de-escalation with Russia, China, and Iran.
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