Thin Lizzie Owes Elon Musk an Apology

The Wall Street Journal on Sept. 18, 2023 published my op ed on Elon Musk and the Starlink-Crimea kerfuffle. You can read it here. –dk

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is demanding an investigation of Elon Musk and SpaceX’s Starlink satellite network. She wants to know why he refused the Ukrainian military’s demand that he turn on Starlink over a blacked-out portion of the Black Sea near Russian-controlled Crimea to guide a submarine drone attack on Russian ships.

“No one is supposed to make foreign policy for the United States other than the United States government,” Ms. Warren told CNN on Sept. 12. “It is not up to one billionaire to go off in secret and change our foreign policy.” In fact, Mr. Musk was following U.S. foreign policy.

In a new biography of Mr. Musk, Walter Isaacson writes: “Allowing the use of Starlink for the attack, [Mr. Musk] concluded, could be a disaster for the world. So he secretly told his engineers to turn off coverage within a hundred kilometers of the Crimean coast. As a result, when the Ukrainian drone subs got near the Russian fleet in Sevastopol, they lost connectivity and washed ashore harmlessly.”

But on Sept. 8 Mr. Isaacson had issued a clarification: Mr. Musk didn’t disable Starlink in the area; he declined a Ukrainian request to enable it.

At a fan summit for the “All In” podcast, released on Twitter Sept. 12, Mr. Musk said complying with the Ukrainian request would have violated American sanctions against Russia: “We’re not allowed to actually turn on connectivity to [Russian-controlled Crimea] without explicit government approval. So, we did not have the U.S. government . . . and then we basically figured out that this was kind of like a Pearl Harbor attack on the Russian fleet at Sevastopol. So what they’re really asking us for is to actually take part in a major act of war.”

He added: “And, you know, while we certainly have huge support for the Ukraine government, the Ukrainian government is not in charge of U.S. people or companies. That’s not how it works.”

The old cliché about no good deed going unpunished applies. Starlink, a privately owned network, has provided $100 million in free service to Ukraine since the war began, letting the country defend itself and re-establish communications destroyed by hundreds of Russian missiles.

What’s more, Mr. Musk says he would have complied if President Biden ordered him to turn on his privately owned network for Ukraine: “While I’m not President Biden’s biggest fan, if I had received a presidential directive to turn it on, I would have done so. Because I do regard the president as the chief executive officer of the country. Whether I want that person to be president or not, I still respect the office.”

That is a lot more respect than Ms. Warren has shown for Mr. Musk. She owes him an apology.

Mr. Kneale is a New York writer and host of “What’s Bugging Me” on Ricochet.

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