The Briefing 12-19-14

The Briefing 12-19-14

The Briefing


December 19, 2014

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

  It’s Friday, December 19, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview. 1) Responses to thawing Cuban relationship example of how experience shapes worldview Some news stories seem to fade very quickly, others over time take on an even greater importance. I predict that’s going to be the case in terms of the announcement made on Wednesday by President Barack Obama in which he announced, surprisingly, stunning the nation and many in the world, that the United States was reversing over a half-century of diplomatic history and extending full diplomatic relations to the nation of Cuba. Yesterday we discussed this at length, today the big issue is the response that the President’s decision garnered from across the nation and around the world, because in terms of worldview significance, the response is fully as revealing as was the President action. In Little Havana in Miami, the location of one of the nation’s largest Cuban-American populations, the President’s announcement gained a great deal of attention – some outrage and some joy. There are two forms of division in that Cuban-American community; the first is generational. Older Cuban-Americans tend to be far more resistant to the idea of warming relationships between United States and Cuba; that is insofar and for so long as anyone named Castro is the head of the government there. The younger Cubans, younger Cuban-Americans in particular, tend to be far more friendly toward the idea of a fall in American Cuban relations. But the second distinction found among Cuban-Americans has to do with when the immigration happened to the United States. Cubans who came here years ago, especially those Cubans who came after the fall of the Batista regime, are far more resistant to any warming relationships between the United States government and the Castro regime. Those who came in subsequent ways of immigration, especially more recent waves of immigration, tend to be far warmer toward the idea. So this reminds us that in terms of worldview, experience really does count as a factor. The way people read the Castro regime, even Cuban-Americans, has to do with at least in part what generation there a part of and when they left Cuba. And of course that also raises the question, for what reason? Yesterday we wanted to make a couple of very important points. The most important point being that the Christian worldview says that before we get to any of the particulars what we’re committed to is what the Bible says Christians must commit themselves to. This would include: justice, righteousness, truth, liberty, human rights in terms of a biblical understanding, and human flourishing – anything that would lead to a greater flourishing for human beings. And as we said yesterday, this means that there’s no easy answer to this question. Was the President’s announcement right? Was it wrong? Is it outrageous? Was it to be celebrated? There are actually arguments to be made for both sides, or almost for all sides, in terms of that question. But the issue is actually a little more complicated and very quickly I want to take a look at how some of the response to the President’s decision indicates how those who are committed human flourishing can come to some very different conclusions when it comes to an issue of this kind of complexity and this kind of historical obstinacy. The editorial page of the New York Times absolutely celebrated the President’s announcement, suggesting that in so doing the President was basically following the lead of the editorial board of the New York Times. The most interesting paragraph in the Times editorial is this, “The United States has been right to press for greater personal freedoms and democratic change. But its punitive approach has been overwhelmingly counterproductive. Going forward, American support for Cuba’s civil society and dissidents is likely to become more effective, in good part because other governments in the Western Hemisphere will no longer be able to treat Cuba as a victim of the United States’ pointlessly harsh policy.” Well, that’s very interesting. The editors of the New York Times, in using language such as the fact that the American policy has been overwhelmingly counterproductive, are simply inventing some facts evidently as they go along. It may be that in some sense the United States policy has been hopelessly counterproductive, but we would only know that if we actually had knowledge of what historians call counterfactuals; that is how might it otherwise have been if the American policy had been the opposite of this would the Cuban people now be free? That’s not at all an assured reality. The editors of USA Today took a more middle road approach – not surprising for that newspaper and its board. They supported the President’s decision and said that this could lead, should lead, they said to a greater Democratic openness for the Cuban people. And yet they also look to the argument of the President’s opponents in this and they said, “Wednesday's announcements nevertheless mark a historic shift — to the impassioned objection of hard-liners, particularly those with Cuban ties, who see it as legitimizing and stabilizing the Castro regime.” The editors then wrote this, “Their argument is not entirely without merit. Despite recent microsteps away from communism, the Cuban regime remains tyrannical.” So at least give the editors of USA Today some credit for saying that there are arguments on both sides of this that do make sense; and on moral grounds and with human flourishing as the great concern. In my view the most thoughtful editorial in terms of a major American newspaper came from the Wall Street Journal. And yesterday the editors of that paper said that what the President was doing was declaring a new Cuban détente; using the word that became very popular in terms of describing the relationship between Cold War adversaries – most particularly in its historical context, relationship between United States and the Soviet Union. But the editors of the Wall Street Journal pointed out that in the President’s announcement on Wednesday he basically gave away the most important thing America can give and that is full diplomatic recognition. 20 years ago, said the editors, they called for a lifting of the trade embargo; arguing that it had become counterproductive. But the most important paragraph in terms of the Wall Street Journal editorial is one in which they confronted what the President did on Wednesday with a very important moral point. They wrote that it was important that US officials not meet with Castro’s regime; that they not dignify the Castro regime by sitting down at a negotiating table and in so doing the editor said, they made that point 20 years previously. The whole point they made 20 years ago is to continue to oppose Castro’s government while allowing some help for the Cuban people. Then they wrote, “Mr. Obama’s approach will provide immediate succor to the Castro government in the hope of eventually helping the Cuban people.” In other words, they argue, the President should have announced some of the changes he announced on Wednesday but not full diplomatic recognition. In so doing, they argue, morally speaking, he gave away the store. I think that is a very credible point. The Wall Street Journal editors made this point even more emphatically when they said and I quote, “What’s striking is how little Cuba had to do for such a major shift in U.S. policy. At least Burma’s military government released the leader of the opposition and opened up its political process before the U.S. lifted sanctions.” That is another indication that at least in terms of Cuba’s repressive government the Castro regime did get off on the cheek. But my major point in terms of this analysis, having to do with the journalistic response to the President’s announcement on Wednesday, is to point to the Wall Street Journal as a rather singular exception in this one point – they did present both sides of the issue; not only in terms of the editorial-page but also in terms of what’s known as the op-ed page in which outsiders not a part of the Wall Street Journal actually made their argument. Writing against the president’s decision was United States Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida who called the President’s decision an outrage. He wrote, “The entire policy shift is based on the illusion—in fact, on the lie—that more commerce and access to money and goods will translate to political freedom for the Cuban people. Cuba already enjoys access to commerce, money and goods from other nations, and yet the Cuban people are still not free.” He went on to say, “…the policy changes announced by President Obama will have far-reaching consequences for the American people” He brings up another moral issue, “President Obama made it clear that if you take an American hostage and are willing to hold him long enough, you may not only get your own prisoners released from U.S. jails—as three Cuban spies were—you may actually win lasting policy concessions from the U.S. as well.” Writing on the other side in a column for the President’s decision was Douglas Irwin, who is a professor of economics at Dartmouth College. He has written a great deal about the United States and its relationship with Cuba. Professor Irwin wrote, “Many say that any potential lift to Cuba’s economy brought about by the resumption of trade would only solidify the regime. Yet the Castro brothers’ dictatorship has been a fixture for two or three generations.” He then asked the question, “Time to try something new?” We’ll watch this issue with you but some things become immediately clear. It’s important to get both sides of the story and to have both sides of the story made well. It’s also important to recognize that there are moral issues beneath the headlines; both of these articles also make that point abundantly clear. 2) Sony pulling movie in response to N. Korean cyber attack a totalitarian victory Next, a story that is extremely important and so big and complex at this point it’s rather difficult to unwind, but it comes down to this: the American government, unofficially, but very clearly, announced yesterday that it was North Korea that was behind the massive innovative cyber-attack on the Sony Corporation. This cyber-attack is considered by security analysts to be one of most ominous ever. And from a business perspective, it may change the way that businesses even keep digital records and conduct conversation by email because the cyber-attack on Sony was particular and new because it revealed internal documents. It wasn’t about destroying information so much as it was about exposing information. And in this case, as one analyst said, this was basically Snowden 2, this time coming from the North Koreans. But the other side of this is also very important because North Korea did this explicitly, we now know, in an effort to get Sony pictures not to release a movie the North Korean government opposed. The film is known as “The Interview”, it was to be released just in coming days, but now Sony Pictures says it’s not going to be released and the film company says it has no plans for any future release of the movie. As Brooks Barnes and Michael Cieply of the New York Times report, “Sony Pictures Entertainment on Wednesday dropped plans for its Christmas Day release of ‘The Interview,’ a movie that depicts the assassination of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, after receiving a terror threat against theaters.” They went on to say, “Before that, the four largest theater chains in the United States said they would not show the movie, which has been at the center of a devastating hacking attack on Sony over the last several weeks. In a statement, Sony said: ‘We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theatergoers.’” This is one of those stories that is very difficult to exaggerate in importance. We’re looking at the North Korean government, the most repressive government on earth, launching a cyber-attack against an international corporation with the company location here in the United States, preventing the United States’ release of a movie made about North Korea. Sony pictures has invested $44 million in the film, it was to be released on Christmas day. Even in the weeks prior to when the movie was to be released some Hollywood insiders had expressed some discomfort of the fact that this was going to be the first major motion picture to depict the assassination of a living political leader that had a state. In recent weeks the North Korean government, after all the most severe totalitarian dictatorship in the world today, had launched a public relations campaign against the movie saying that the movie itself will be considered by the North Korean government “an act of war.” Well if anyone thought that was hyperbole or exaggeration on the part of North Korean government, the American government’s unexpected and very rare attribution of responsibility to North Korea for the cyber-attack yesterday underlines the fact that the United States government fully expects that it is North Korea behind all of this. The threat came from a group identifying itself as “guardians of peace.” They posted online, Tuesday of this week, this warning, "We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places 'The Interview' be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to," That specific idiom has been recognized by American intelligence agencies as distinctive of one government and that government is North Korea. The same website included these ominous words, “Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you keep yourself distant from places at that time." The reference to the places there was a reference to theaters. In response the four biggest theater chains announced they would not be showing the movie. Reluctantly Sony announced it would not be releasing it. One of the interesting subplots here is that you have the big movie chains now furious at Sony for letting them twist in the wind for decision they say Sony should’ve made first. But the moral issue is simply huge here; as was reflected in several comments made in the Wall Street Journal. Peter Singer, a cybersecurity strategist and senior fellow at the New American Foundation said, “This is now a case study that is signaling to attackers that you can get all that you want and even more,” He is responding to the fact that the North Korean hackers effectively got exactly what they wanted when Sony said, ‘all right we won’t release the motion picture.’ Others are looking at the fact that this particular hacking attack indicates that in the digital world if someone is determined enough, they can get anywhere, anytime, anyplace, regardless of the defenses. One analyst told the Wall Street Journal, “A sufficiently skilled motivated and funded attacker will get in.” Unsurprisingly, to this point, the most thoughtful piece yet to come on this comes from Ross Douthat in his column in the New York Times. It’s simply entitled, The End of Movies. He suggested that what has just taken place, not in North Korea, but in effect, here in the United States, is the success of a totalitarian attack. He writes, “The cancelled release of the ‘The Interview’ is connected to an entirely non-metaphorical totalitarianism, of course, and it’s significant on a much higher level than the business of cinematic art. Right now this looks like one of the most successful (and most unlikely) terrorist coups in recent history, whose success could have all sorts of unpleasant implications for other entities — not just public institutions, but corporations and citizens — that might find themselves in a rogue-state-affiliated hacker’s crosshairs next.” As the year comes to an end, it turns out that this is one of the most ominous news stories yet to develop. We must not miss the fact that we now know that the North Korean government threatened the killing of American citizens for going to a movie on American soil. It appears to me at least that most Americans have not come to terms with that reality. The merits or lack of merits of that particular movie be notwithstanding, this is a very serious development; not only politically but morally. And the fact that Sony withdrew the picture means exactly as Ross Douthat said, you can now say that North Korea has made a major movie decision on behalf of the American people; by force and even by threat of life. As the year 2014 is about to come to an end, as we think about big news stories, that’s going to stay a big one. 3) Terrorist attack on Pakistani school proves barbarism tragically works Brokenheartedly we now turn to the third big new story of this week and this one is sadder than anything we’ve talked about in recent months. This has to do with the killing in Peshawar, Pakistan who intentionally killed schoolchildren, most of the between the ages of 12 and 15. And Yaroslav Trofimov writes for the Wall Street Journal, the sad and disheartening thing is that it proves that terrorism actually works. He writes, “But, dishearteningly, the Pakistani Taliban’s attack Tuesday on a Peshawar school—one of their bloodiest atrocities—was likely the result of a rational cost-benefit analysis. Its bottom line: in this business, barbarism pays.” He points out that the intentional targeting of innocent children in this regard was in order to get the attention of the Pakistani people, in order that they would force their government to back down in terms of their opposition to the Taliban. Trofimov writes that this is the lesson that Islamic terrorism have been learning in recent years. The only way to get attention is to kill more people, to kill them more ruthlessly, to kill them more graphically, and to kills those considered the most vulnerable and innocent in order to get the attention of a society. And as Trofimov said, apparently it works. He then writes, “With Islamic State claiming a global role, and asking all Muslims to submit to its writ, this escalation of brutality now is spurring rival jihadist groups into a gruesome race for shock value.” Syed Hussain Soherwordi, a specialist in international terrorism at Peshawar University said that viewed in this logic, killing more than 130 children makes total business sense. He said chillingly, “For the terrorists, the targets must be as innocent as possible to give a shock to the people, and to make the people think that something like that will not happen again if the terrorists’ demands are met,” Once again, we have terrorist demands being made and in some cases being met. And in all cases what we see here is that a barbarism of unprecedented intensity is coming at us as the year 2014 comes to a close. 4) Incarnation of Christ foundation of Christian hope and certainty And as this week comes to a close we are reminded of the historic Christian prayer prayed by so many Christians through two millennia of Christian experience and bathed in Christian hope, “even so Lord, come quickly.” But of course we can only utter that urgent prayer because the Lord did come and that’s why the truth of the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ remains the only source for our hope. And that’s why Christians looking even at headline such as these are not destroyed, we do not surrender to paranoia or to despair because God is on his throne and the Lord is coming. The hope for our salvation is exactly what we celebrate at Christmas when we celebrate the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. And yet we need to be reminded of the fact that that celebration of incarnation is inherently eschatological. As the week comes to a close, let’s remember one of those most famous and cherished Christmas hymns, “Joy to the World” published first in 1719 and written by that great hymn writer, Isaac Watts. But even as it is so often sung at Christmas time and when so many Christian sing it, declaring the truth that the Lord has come in Bethlehem, that wasn’t what the hymn was about when it was written and that’s not what its words are mostly intended to convey. Isaac Watts’ hymn, “Joy to the World,” in which he wrote “Joy to the world the Lord is come, let Earth receive her King, let every heart prepare him room, let Heaven and nature Sing,” it was written about the Lord’s second coming – not about his incarnation, not about his birth in Bethlehem. When we say joy to the world the Lord is come, it works when we talk about Bethlehem and when we rejoice in the gift of the infant Christ. But the song also reminds us that Christmas isn’t over; the promises of Christmas are not yet fulfilled. Think about verse three of that hymn, “Joy to the World,” in which we read, “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found.” The promise of that was seen in Bethlehem, but the realization of that is what we pray for when we see headline such as these; when you look at the world around us and we pray, “even so Lord, come quickly.” And so as this edition of The Briefing comes to an end, so does the season for The Briefing for the year 2014. We’ll be back, Lord willing, in 2015, greeting you with the year on January 5. Until then, I pray for you and all those whom you love, a most glorious and Christ-filled Christmas and all the promises of the New Year; as we begin and end the year together with the same words, joy to the world, the Lord has come. Even so; Lord, come quickly.   Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to Merry Christmas, Happy New Year. I’ll meet you again on Monday, January 5, 2015 for The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1) Responses to thawing Cuban relationship example of how experience shapes worldview

Mr. Obama’s Historic Move on Cuba, New York Times (Editorial Board)

Obama cracks the ice with Cuba: Our view, USA Today (Editorial Board)

Obama’s Cuban Detente, Wall Street Journal (Editorial Board)

A Victory for Oppression, Wall Street Journal (Marco Rubio)

Trade Will Lead to Freedom, Wall Street Journal (Douglas Irwin)

2) Sony pulling movie in response to N. Korean cyber attack a totalitarian victory

Sony Drops ‘The Interview’ Following Terrorist Threats, New York Times (Brooks Barnes and Michael Cieply)

North Korean Role in Sony Hack Presents Quandary for U.S., Wall Street Journal (Devlin Barrett and Danny Yadron)

The End of Movies, New York Times (Ross Douthat)

3) Terrorist attack on Pakistani school proves barbarism tragically works

Taliban Attack Reflects Barbarity Competition Among Jihadists, Wall Street Journal (Yaroslav Trofimov)

4) Incarnation of Christ foundation of Christian hope and certainty

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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