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David Sacks: how US involvement in Ukraine backfired

David Sacks speaks in Washington DC

March 7, 2024 - 10:26pm

Investor David Sacks brought his campaign against US involvement in Ukraine to Washington DC last night. Speaking for over 40 minutes at a gala for Republican think-tank American Moment, in which he was honoured with an award, he made the case that American involvement in the Russia-Ukraine war has been a failure.

Speaking alongside a slide presentation titled “Biden’s Backfire”, the tech entrepreneur blamed Joe Biden for prolonging, escalating and even partly provoking the conflict. Although he began his history of the conflict with what he called Nato’s “unbelievably reckless” open door policy towards Ukraine, he blamed the President in particular for scuppering the 2022 Istanbul agreement. “These terms were certainly more favourable than anything Ukraine is going to get now,” he said. “Once Biden sabotaged the peace deal, he became a co-owner of this war”.

Sacks was speaking to an audience of young conservatives, Trump-aligned Republicans and “realist” critics of US foreign policy, including former Trump advisor Stephen Miller, Arizona Congressional candidate Blake Masters and Ohio Senator J.D. Vance, whose introductory remarks were interrupted by environmental protesters.

The 51-year-old laid out four key “backfires”, starting with the economic sanctions. “The idea that sanctions are working is totally delusional,” said Sacks. “The Russian economy stabilised and even outperformed G7 economies in 2023”. According to the entrepreneur, the “real victim” of the sanctions was Europe, which was seeing “far-Right” parties surging in support across the continent as a result. “The population of Europe has realised that this war is not in their interests,” he said.

The venture capitalist went on to attack Democrats and neoconservative Republicans for claiming that military support, the second major failure, would “weaken” Russia. Citing the asymmetric cost of artillery shell production, the size of Russia’s military versus Ukraine’s, and the yawning gap in war enthusiasm in the two countries, Sacks concluded that “while seeking to weaken Russia we only weaken ourselves”.

Downstream of these military shortcomings Sacks listed another failure: diplomacy. “The rest of the world has not come along for the ride,” said the investor. “They have rejected Biden’s framing of the war”. Consequently, more and more countries, most notably the Brics alliance, were “committed to undermining the dollar status as a global reserve currency”. In turn, “the project to show American leadership had backfired and catalysed resistance to the US all over the world”.

But it was Ukraine, he argued, that was suffering the most from US involvement in the war. The conflict has resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe, the fourth and final backfire, which according to Sacks has “doomed the country”. “The fertility rate was not at replacement level before the war but it has now plummeted,” he said. “Now there’s a huge “gouging out” of the country’s working population. How will the country survive demographically?”

Sacks reserved most ire for the Washington “blob” that he accused of pushing a “narrative mirage,” with an endlessly receding and changing end goal. What began as a promise to help Ukraine win decisively in early 2022 has slowly morphed into seeking a stalemate until settling on merely “survival” today. “The blob is now promoting ‘hold and build,'” he argued. “It wants to hold Ukraine together so that can rebuild in 2025”.

The venture capitalist concluded with the controversial idea that American hostility to Russia is a “manufactured conflict” that really started with Russiagate. He argued that the “fantasy that Putin was controlling our elections” meant that the “Russiagate hoax had metastasised into a new cold war with Russia”. In order to prevent World War III, he implored the US to “cut a deal” and seek detente with Russia, which would provide a baseline for peace on the world stage.

Sacks summed up his message to his audience: “stop listening to the bipartisan cabal of warmongers”.


is UnHerd’s Newsroom editor.

james_billot

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J Bryant
J Bryant
4 months ago

No doubt I’m cynical, but I suspect Sacks and his VC cronies can’t wait for peace in Ukraine so they can rush in and start carving up the ruined country’s assets. Remember, this is the same David Sacks who appeared on Unherd arguing for a government bailout of failing Silicon Valley Bank (without the bailout him and his VC buddies stood to lose a lot of money).
In fairness, though, there is much truth in his remarks that the US played a role in precipitating and perpetuating the Ukraine war, and there have been no end of unintended consequences.

Carlos Danger
Carlos Danger
4 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

American venture capitalists will not be the ones who swoop into Ukraine to profit off of its ruin. That’s not their gig.

Robert
Robert
4 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

David Sacks only worries about David Sacks. His arguments for the bailout of Silicon Valley Bank demonstrated that to me.

N T
N T
4 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

the criticism of sacks’ pushing for the svb bailout is really strange. as a business owner, janet yellen’s comments, in the aftermath of that action, completely changed my relationship with the banking system. she said that i should not rely on the fdic doing it, again. that means that my weekly payroll and vendor reserves are at risk. do any of you know how few people, and how few vendors can be paid for $250k? that’s less than a week of reserves.
that means that all of us have to spread our reserves out among MANY institutions, AND, we have to have someone log into every one of them, every day, and verify that there was no fraudulent activity, because business bank savings are not fraud-protected – a business must notify the bank THE SAME DAY that there has been a fraudulent transaction.
moving all of that money out of our local bank has reduced our bank’s reserves. most of those funds were put into larger institutions, presumably ones that are too big to fail. regional banks are only at greater risk, as a result.

0 0
0 0
4 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Sometimes people you may not like or mustrust may make valid points. One of life’s lessons. Not that many get that.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
4 months ago

The Wicked Witch of Washington herself, Victoria Nuland, just “resigned” as Under Secretary of State. Considering her whole career has been failing upwards and piling up bodies in one counterproductive foreign policy fiasco after another, this does not bode well for Ukraine. I get the feeling that Sacks’ words on the subject may prove prophetic. “Nuland is to Ukraine as Fauci is to Covid.”

Mary Bruels
Mary Bruels
4 months ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

But the bodies piling up also include thousands of Ukrainian men not to mention the loss of future children due to their deaths.

leonard o'reilly
leonard o'reilly
4 months ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

WWW retired, officially, though I assume the scare quotes around ‘retire’ imply something else. My regret is that she wasn’t pushed out, nor anyone there to push her, long ago.
To paraphrase your formulation, Nuland is to U.S. foreign policy as Fauci is to U.S. healthcare as any Western leader I know of is to fecklessness.

Caro
Caro
4 months ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman
UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Matt Hindman thank you for calling out the evil that is V Nuland. I find it astonishing that her provacative and incoherent actions have stayed under the radar for almost 20 years. Also astonishing that an undersecretary of state has her own independent propaganda arm (Institute for the Study of War, run by her family connections, peopled with retired military hawks).

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago

But it was Ukraine, he argued, that was suffering the most from US involvement in the war“.  Yes, obviously. Far better to just surrender, and let the Russian troops in, to commit war crimes to their heart’s content.

Will K
Will K
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin M

The demonisation of Russia is a common theme. I’d expect a peaceful occupation to have not resulted in any war crimes, and things would have settled down by now after negotiation and international pressure. So many lives saved, so much waste and destruction avoided.

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  Will K

You must have encountered different Russians to me. I can state from personal knowledge that Russia has not been a civilised country in the last 50+ years, and my researches suggest that it hasn’t been a civilised country at any point in the 500 or so years is has been a united country. War crimes are basically “business as usual” for Russians.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin M

I supposed Russia’s contribution to the literary and musical cannon doesn’t count as civilized in your estimation. What nonsense you talk.

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

A couple of well regarded writers (all of whose works are boring in the extreme for most readers) and a couple of good composers. Not a lot to show for 500 years of nationhood. Their only other contribution is the AK47.

JĂŒrg Gassmann
JĂŒrg Gassmann
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin M

We can easily demonise those whom we wish to portray as our enemies. We in the West are in no position to be holier-than-thou, with a litany of instances such as My Lai and Agent Orange to the countless Afghan weddings hit, Abu Ghraib, “Collateral Murder”, to now the support of Israel’s actions in Gaza, given freely under much hand-wringing. Quite apart from the completely illegal and actually unprovoked wars of aggression against Iraq, Libya, Syria, Serbia…
We need to get back to mature diplomacy. BRICS understand that. The Westphalian System did not eliminate enmities between polities or solve all international-law problems; BRICS too is able to function even though its members have diverging interests – I would say one of the reasons for BRICS’ success is precisely that BRICS acknowledges diverging interests while enabling its members to still work together where it is in their interests.
Our “you’re either with us or against us” is only isolating and weakening us. It’s evidence of our insecurity and weakness, not of strength.

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago

It’s pretty easy to demonise the Russians, as everything they say and everything they do assists us in that regard. I put Russia in a different category to China. The Chinese are a civilised people, and even though they may be our “enemy” now, I have high hopes for them in the future (once they get over that unfortunate “Communism” thing). Russia will however be our enemy for the next century at least.

Peter Rechniewski
Peter Rechniewski
4 months ago
Reply to  Will K

Like so many who claim to worry about Ukraine lives lost I bet you haven’t spoken to any Ukrainians

“I’d expect a peaceful occupation to have not resulted in any war crimes”.
Based on what aspects of Russian history do you have this expectation?
Chechnya? What do you think Putin meant by “de-nazification”?

BTW, perhaps Ukrainians didn’t want any occupation. Has that occurred to you?

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago

It’s easy to see what Putin meant by “de-nazification”. He meant “Replacing people who oppose me with people who are my puppets (as Viktor Yanukovych was)”.

0 0
0 0
4 months ago

Oh great we have to listen to the opinions of another venture capital tech bro who’s a member good standing of the donor class that have been screwing America over and make us listen nonsensical ideas on international relations and human society. The idea that the BRICS countries are going to overthrow the US dollar is total nonsense. Brazil is going through one of its bust periods of its frequent boom and bust cycle, it displays potential never seems to live up to it. South Africa can barely keep the power on and plagued by lawlessness. Saudi Arabia will run out of oil in a couple of decades, their population is uneducated unskilled, and is heavily dependent on imported labor in both skilled and unskilled categories. Russia has been for the underpowered car that it is with the invasion of Ukraine. The only ones in that category that really matter is China and India, and they’re both at each other’s throats. China’s going through a major economic downturn and suffering a huge demographic crisis, and can’t seem to move up the value chain and are making enemies left and right all around themselves and chasing on investors with their crackdown by tightening control on the economy. India is doing well despite its problems, and despite some disagreements is ultimately aligning itself with America and the West more broadly. And the idea that by we supporting Ukraine is somehow causing all the death and destruction is total nonsense as well, that by someone withdrawing support will some out in the war is absurd. There’s only one person who’s fueling this war and that’s Putin and he’s the only one who can stop it and he’s shown no inclination to do so. His proposal that’s just wrong but morally rehensible, basically let them conquer a country and wipe out of people’s culture. And what’s he going to do after that, stoping for him highly unlikely. As far as Putin sees it, Russia’s borders do not stop anywhere any and had a desires to get the old band back together despite a lack of interest. Just another disgusting creature from silicon valley with his head up his butt who thinks he knows everything it uses his money to push his intellectual slop.

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  0 0

I actually have high hopes for India being a friend of the West in the medium to long term. The place is chaotic in the extreme, but it contains industrious people, and it is a democracy.

Will K
Will K
4 months ago

Mr Sacks is entirely correct. But he goes too easy on Mr Biden’s disastrous (for the West) sanctions: beyond the immediate damage to Europe, Mr Biden’s weaponisation of trade has divorced Russia from the West for decades, along with China and about half of the World.

Rob N
Rob N
4 months ago
Reply to  Will K

Worse than that: it has pushed Russia and China together, along with a range of other countries. We needed to be keeping them apart!

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  Rob N

Tricky, given that they have a common border.

L Easterbrook
L Easterbrook
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin M

Not so tricky when you consider that china and Russia fought a border warn in the 60s, and that china considers the 19th century deal over russian lands north of the Tyumen river to be a travesty and in need of renegotiation. Russia are still afraid of china invading these lands, hence why their nuclear planning still reflects a plan in case of Chinese invasion in these areas.

USA still had an invasion plan for Canada until the 1940s, as neighbours are more likely to go to war over disputes than far away countries. Russia and Ukraine had “a common border” as you point out for Russia and China, but there is now a war raging there.

Kissinger managed to exploit many of these issues to keep china and russia apart during the cold war. Another Kissinger mind could have managed that today.

William Brand
William Brand
4 months ago
Reply to  Rob N

Russia should be joining Nato, China plans to eat Russia’s far east. They will lose more territory to China than they hope to gain in eastern Europe.

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  William Brand

Joining Nato? The whole point of Nato is to oppose Russia!

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  Will K

Russia should be divorced from the West. The fact that some of Europe was dependent on Russian gas (until Nordstream fortuitously blew up) was problematic from a security perspective.

Will K
Will K
3 months ago
Reply to  Martin M

I suspect that Russia is resigned to being divorced from the West. Or as Russia would view it, the West being divorced from Russia and the larger part of the world.

Carlos Danger
Carlos Danger
4 months ago

On July 16, 2018 Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump met in Helsinki to discuss a number of topics privately, just the two of them. After the meeting the American press went on the attack in a press conference. The Democrats, and Republicans like John McCain, then followed up with the attack. Donald Trump’s summit had failed, they said. He should have stood up to Vladimir Putin and denounced him for interfering in the 2016 American elections. He didn’t, proving he was Putin’s puppet.
No one seemed to care that a few years earlier Barack Obama had, like Donald Trump, decided not to denounce Vladimir Putin for the same offense. Both presidents knew that would have been a waste of time. Vladimir Putin would simply have denied it, and what then? There were more important things to talk about.
It might have helped had Donald Trump been able to build on the Helsinki summit and to listen to what Vladimir Putin said over the next few years. It might have helped had Donald Trump been able, as he wanted to do, to invite Vladimir Putin back into the G7 (making it again the G8). After all, as Israeli general Moshe Dayan said, “if you want peace you don’t talk to your friends, you talk to your enemies.”
That’s because talking is preferable to fighting. As Winston Churchill said, “meeting jaw to jaw is better than war.” (Harold McMillan more pithily said similar words four years later, “Jaw, jaw is better than war, war.”)
Joe Biden prefers to war, war, and it’s not working. Better instead Donald Trump, who says he would immediately jaw, jaw with Vladimir Putin and with Volodymyr Zelensky to “stop the dying” (within 24 hours, he promised, but that’s hyperbolic nonsense). Donald Trump doesn’t have a peace plan, but he does have a peace process.
Talking is his peace process. It took the fictional character Hal Wyler in the Netflix show The Diplomat to point out the power of talking in a speech: “Diplomacy never works. Until it does. One of the boneheaded truisms of foreign policy is that talking to your enemies legitimizes them. Talk to everyone! Talk to the dictator and the war criminal. Talk to terrorists. Talk to everyone! Fail, and fail again. And brush yourself off, and fail again, because maybe. Maybe.”
Talking works because it lets you explore options, to try to find terms that both sides can live with. To agree on a solution that is not a binary, zero-sum win-lose, but at least to some degree, a positive-sum win-win. As Cicero said two millennia ago, “As for me, I cease not to advocate peace. It may be on unjust terms, but even so it is more expedient than the justest of civil wars.”
As both Ukraine and Russia are demonstrating after 10 years of fighting, the last 2 years being bloody and brutal, it’s hard, really hard to win a war. But it’s hard to lose a peace.

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
4 months ago
Reply to  Carlos Danger

I would have liked to be a fly on the wall at the 2018 meeting between Putin and Trump. My guess is that it was a bit like two Mafia bosses discussing their red lines and carving out their territories. Much later Trump mentioned how passionately Putin talked about the Donbas region and how important it was for Russia.
I believe that under a Trump presidency 100thousands of lives could have been saved and no invasion would have taken place. Instead Ukraine might have become a neutral country between East and West Europe or maybe the Eastern territories only loosely connected to the rest of Ukraine. After all most of the population there are of Russian ethnicity
 I also think, Boris has a lot to answer for after the failing of the peace negotiations in Turkey.

Peter Lee
Peter Lee
4 months ago

Why not go further back and blame Obama. Oh I forgot he is/was a democrat. President Trump is the only presidency in recent times that had no wars. Your TDS has a problem with that, so lets get creative.

Howard S.
Howard S.
4 months ago

Some folks here in the States are making a ton of money off of this war, and it sure ain’t us American taxpayers.

Nick Wade
Nick Wade
4 months ago

No mention of the destruction of the Nordstream pipeline, and the absolute catastrophe to European economies caused by disruption to gas supplies. Apparently the rise of the far right is the real problem. More like a symptom.

Everywhere you look there is only one country involved in this war which benefits.

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  Nick Wade

Yeah. Who blew up that pipeline exactly?

William Brand
William Brand
4 months ago

Ukraine is the last time that America will involve itself in eastern Europe. It is now Europe’s war. America ceased to be the arsenal of democracy when wall street moved American manufacturing to China. Russia is about to use a nuclear weapon and all non-nuclear nations will grovel in fear. France talks tough because it has nukes, but Poland has none and I do not believe France’s umbrella covers any country but France.

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  William Brand

I doubt it even covers France. Don’t forget that France’s motto is “Surrender and Collaborate”.

William Brand
William Brand
4 months ago

The war of Gog and Magog is beginning in the Middle east. The Bible says that Russia will be broken on the mountains of Israel with what sounds like neutron bombs.

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  William Brand

Which exact passage of the Bible says this?

Peter Lee
Peter Lee
4 months ago

I would be interested in knowing more about Obama’s hot mic incident and what was discussed. Although interrupted by Pres. Trump, it continued anew under Biden.

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
4 months ago

Great. Actual clarity and sense. And from someone who gets things done, unlike Nuland et al, the political people, who can only get things undone.

Arthur King
Arthur King
4 months ago

If Western Europe gets invaded by Russia, they will just blame the Americans. Not their own foolish decisions. They are ungrateful mooches. Western Eutope would have gone to the Soviets if not for American generousity.

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  Arthur King

True. There is no sensible argument against Europe massively rearming.