Friday, August 27, 2021
It's Friday, August 27th, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
August 26, 2021: We Were Warned: But the Attack in Afghanistan Leaves Many Dead and Many Questions that Demand an Answer
There are some dates that are simply seared in the American memory and tragically so, days of grief, days that can never be forgotten and should never be forgotten. Just consider dates such as September 11th, 2001. There are millions of Americans alive today who were alive on that day and can never forget that day. Just think of a date like December 7th, 1941. It was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who described it then as "a day that would live in infamy." That was the surprise Japanese attack upon American forces at Pearl Harbor. But now we have August 26th, 2021 and the attack that took place yesterday at the airport there in Kabul, Afghanistan. And it came at a very low moment already for the United States of America.
How much lower could that moment get? Well, we saw a picture of that yesterday. At least 12 American military personnel dead, something like 60 wounded. And beyond that, the total death toll of the two attacks undertaken it is believed by ISIS there in Afghanistan, we're looking at a death toll of at least 60 people, 140 wounded. That amounts, by the way, in terms of the deaths of the American military personnel to one of the deadliest days in America's war in Afghanistan. You're looking at more deaths than had been recorded in American military action there in more than a decade. We also must recognize that there hadn't been the death of an American soldier in Afghanistan by military action since February of 2020, and what we're looking at here is something that we did see coming. The day before the attack, the New York Times ran a major article by Eric Schmitt with the headline, "ISIS Branch Poses Immediate Terror Threat To Mission At Kabul Airport."
Now, this means that the American military knew about this threat. This means that the White House knew about this threat. This means that the readers of the New York Times knew about this threat. And thus, it was a credible threat from the beginning. Eric Schmitt reported, "The United States had been battling the Taliban and their militant partners in Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda and the Haqqani Network, for 20 years. But the biggest immediate threat to both the Americans and the Taliban as the United States escalates its evacuation at the Kabul Airport before an August 31 withdrawal deadline is a common rival that is lesser known, the Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, the terrorist group's affiliate in Afghanistan." We're told that the group was created six years ago by disaffected Pakistani Taliban.
Now, let's just look at what we are seeing here. What we are seeing is an attack that is the humiliation of the United States of America. We are witnessing a deadly attack as the United States is actually withdrawing from a nation. We are withdrawing where we had, had largely unquestioned military control, at least especially there in Kabul at the airport. We're looking at a situation in which it is clear that the United States and its mighty armed forces are not in control. In a moment of grief like this for the nation, and we're looking at the fact that there are many American families grieving the direct loss of their loved ones, we're looking at the fact that there are even more American families with loved ones there in Afghanistan who are quite terrified about them. And at a moment like this, a moment of national trauma, Americans rightly should resist the urge to make everything partisan. That nonetheless will come.
The Leadership of President Biden In Wake of Tragedy: What the US People Needed Was a Picture of Strong, Competent Leadership. We Saw A Picture of America in Decline
But the most important issue is to recognize that the Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces is the elected President of the United States. He bears ultimate responsibility for the actions he has undertaken, which have already been condemned by so many Americans and by so many of America's key allies. This is one of the most irresponsible actions, not just in terms of whether or not the American military would eventually withdraw from Afghanistan, but the nature of this withdrawal. It's not mostly controversial in terms of the if, but in terms of the when and the how. And the President's comments to the nation yesterday were hardly reassuring, either in terms of what he said, which was confusing in essence, or in how he said it and how he looked. It does not serve the United States well to have a Commander-in-Chief who appears to be so shaken by the very events that he put into place.
In his comments to the nation yesterday, the President did identify ISIS-K as the likely perpetrators of the two terror attacks and he spoke to the terrorists in essence by his comments saying, "Know this, we will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay." Well, exactly how the President intends to do that while America is in effective retreat was not clear. America has vast military resources. We have all kinds of special military teams who can do all kinds of things, both known and unknown, in terms of the American military's reach. But the reality is that there is nothing that can overcome the pictures of America in retreat, America in retreat, not just in terms of leaving Afghanistan where we have been involved directly in a military and political way for two decades, but leaving Afghanistan the way we are leaving.
Listening to the President's comments yesterday afternoon there were a couple of other issues that simply demand attention. One of them is the fact that the President has been assuring over and over again that America would get everybody out that needs to come out who is an American citizen or someone who had worked with the American military, or someone that had for a particular reason been recognized by the United States, a reason to leave the nation under American protection. But by the time the President ended his comments yesterday, he had basically reversed the very assurances that he had given stating that it was "unreasonable to expect that everyone could get out." The second thing to think about here is simply the picture of leadership that is being provided here, because this is not just important on this day, in this political context, even about this issue.
One of the most important issues of leadership, especially the national and the international level, but it applies all the way down to your local boy scout troop is the fact that the leader must demonstrate not only the competence but also the confidence and the character in the situation that gives strength. I think there's no analysis of the President's comments yesterday that could honestly suggest that he added strength to the nation by his comments or by the way he made those comments. And that is a very sad reality for the entire nation, and frankly, it is very frightening to our allies around the world. They count on strong American leadership, credible American leadership, and in a very real sense, predictable American leadership. But even as we've been talking on previous additions of The Briefing about the fact that this really is a conflict of civilizations, this really is a clash of worldviews.
The Battle of Worldviews in Afghanistan as Isis-K Pursues Jihad and Seeks to Establish A Caliphate
Just think about this. When you're looking on the ground there in Afghanistan and you are looking at just, say, two rival worldviews in the world today, the worldview of Western democracy and Western liberty, as compared with the worldview of either the Taliban or for that matter ISIS-K, you're looking at such a dramatic distinction in worldviews that even those who try to deny that cultural differences matter can't make that argument in the face of this picture. But you also come to understand something else, worldviews turn into battles and some of those are actually real battles. And one of the things we have to recognize is that the pictures, the images, the sense of the future coming from the United States, well, all those things are viewed right now by America's enemies and the forces of, say, Islamic rage throughout the Middle East and there in central Asia, they are encouragements to think that the West is so weak that it is now in irreversible decline. And we have to admit that's pretty much what the picture looks like.
But as we're trying to understand in worldview analysis at least what's going on there in Afghanistan and the meaning beyond, we need to think about a couple of other things. For one thing, arguments mutate and movements change as well. Let's just consider the fact that if you were to go back to the 1980s and you were to go back, say, well, even before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, you would have seen that Afghanistan is the wreck of empire in just about every case. The Russians found that out in the 19th century, the British found that out in the 19th century. In one very real military sense, Afghanistan is unconquerable. Part of that is just geography, the Hindu Kush, these massive mountains, the dispersion of the population, the fact that the culture there is basically tribal, the fact that there is very little of a national sense of identity.
And the fact that even as Afghanistan has been the crossroads of the nations, one of the intersections on the Silk Road, even as it has been vital to international trade going all the way back to ancient times, the reality is that in many ways it is going back to ancient times. To go to Afghanistan now is to recognize that it has been virtually, in a meaningful sense, untouched by the entire modern age and much that came before it, except in one thing. And that is the technologies of warfare that are now available on the market and that have now fallen into the hands of the Taliban by the American withdrawal and the collapse of the Afghanistan military. But as I said, going back even to the time before the Soviet invasion, Afghanistan had already humiliated Russia once and Britain twice.
But as you think about the Soviet invasion, recognize that the Mujahideen, as they were known, the Islamic tribal fighters were not only an irritation to the Soviets, they basically made the Soviet invasion and the holding of territory in Afghanistan untenable. They were Islamic, but they were not exactly jihadist in the classical sense. They were committed to Sharia law, but they weren't really so committed that it prevented the Mujahideen from gaining a reputation more than anything else for corruption. The Taliban came in after the Soviets left, after the Mujahideen had been in power, at least in most places in Afghanistan for some time. They came in as a reformist group who were more Islamic, more committed to classical Islam. This would be Sunni Islam, more committed to jihad, more committed to Sharia law. The Taliban were absolutely ruthless, but they gained credibility in Afghanistan, not only by their military power, but by the fact that they forged tribal alliances and they came in and said, "We are more authentically Islamic than those we are replacing.:
What you need to know right now is that ISIS-K, as it is known, is making the case that it is more Islamic than the Taliban, that it is actually going to create not only Sharia rule, but also the reestablishment of a caliphate. Now, what makes that different? As you're looking at the Taliban, they are obviously an enemy force to the United States. That's absolutely clear. They are opposed to American influence in Afghanistan, absolutely clear. Right now, unquestionably, they have the upper hand. But the Taliban themselves are not committed to any worldwide engagement in the jihad. They're not trying directly to say influence events towards an Islamic direction and the accomplishment of Sharia law everywhere else. What they did in what they was their contribution to jihad worldwide was they gave shelter to openly jihadist groups, including Al-Qaeda, and they gave them resources, political protection. They hid them in the mountains and in the villages. When people came looking for them, they gave cover.
But the Islamic State is different. The Islamic State here, what's known as ISIS-K, active in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, it's deliberate effort is not only to serve worldwide jihad, but also to establish once again a caliphate. But what is that? A caliphate is ruled by the caliph. That means, by the religious authorities. The caliph is a particular figure throughout the history of Islamic cultures and, of course, there hasn't been a caliphate in any real sense in terms of Sharia law to be exercised ultimately at the global level. There is not been a caliphate now for a very long time in Islam. And you can date at least part of that to the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War One. But what we're seeing right now is that the Islamic State has been dedicated to establishing a caliphate.
They had one until they were largely displaced, including in the area of Syria, but they want to re-establish a caliphate in Afghanistan. And thus they are the enemy of the Taliban in the sense that they want to replace the Taliban and to be even more Islamic through the establishment, not just a Sharia law, but of a caliphate that would have international repercussions. The Islamic State, you will remember, had stated as one of its central aims to have its black flag, the Flag of Islam, Sharia law, international jihad, flying over the White House. On the ground, the Taliban are known for their ruthlessness. For example, ruthlessness even since they have gained territory in Afghanistan in recent weeks going door to door accusing people of being collaborators with the West, summarily executing those they declare to be traders or collaborators, imprisoning some people, flogging others and, of course, the summary executions are now very widespread. And there are many people in Afghanistan right now who are not fearing the loss of their homes, they are fearing the loss of their lives, and they have a very good reason to fear that by the Taliban.
The Taliban have gone into homes and they have taken girls and young women as what they claimed to be military wives. This is just the kind of reputation the Taliban had the first time. They're trying to rebrand themselves, but as you can see, what we know right now in Afghanistan is that the Taliban are the Taliban. But as frightening as that is the ISIS forces are openly threatening to be even more ruthless than the Taliban. Seth G. Jones, a counter-terrorism expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said of ISIS-K, "They have a higher proclivity to target civilians they regard as infidels." That's a very dark analysis, but the attacks yesterday basically believed to be suicide bombings that were accompanied by shootings, those attacks yesterday made as they were directed towards Afghan civilians and American military, they made very clear that ISIS isn't just threatening. It intends to carry out its deadly ambitions and it is doing so. It did so yesterday.
The deaths of 12 American military personnel yesterday in Afghanistan just to remind us of the fact that we live in a very dangerous world. The United States was born into a very dangerous world, and yet at times, Americans, and this means Americans across the board, even those of both political parties and those who might disagree on just about everything else, Americans have been tempted at times to think that the world is growing into a place that is more safe, not more dangerous. The myth of international peace, this goal of international peace, has been something that was one of the hallmarks of the European Enlightenment and Americans have been tempted by the same idea. Now, this is not to say that we should not strive for international peace and work for international peace. It is just that the Christian worldview based in scripture reminds us that it will be virtually unknown that there'd be a time of no violence and war in a fallen sinful world with so many different reasons for nation to go to war against nation, people to go to war against people, village to go to war against village.
But it also reminds Americans that our unique experiment in Constitutional self-government, our understanding and commitment to ordered liberty, is not widely admired by the entire world. It is not the aspiration of many peoples around the world. That Taliban do not aspire to something like the American achievement. They want to destroy it because they see it as antithetical to their own worldview. But the protection of this nation and its values comes at a cost and what we need to recognize is that, that cost was 12 human lives of those who wore the American uniform, our military uniform yesterday there in Kabul, Afghanistan. No nation deserves to be a nation that does not honor and recognize the fact that there are those who lay down their lives, that it may be more secure, and that future generations may know the same privileges and liberties that we have known. But Christians who understand that every single human life is of infinite value because God has made us in his image also understand that love means that there is grief, unspeakable, tangible, enduring grief on the part of those who have suffered the loss of loved ones.
And that extends, of course, not only to the families of those American military personnel who were killed yesterday, but to all those families of those in Afghanistan who also died yesterday, and those who will die today and in everyday succeeding. Just remember that one of the basic principles of the Christian worldview, foundational to what we know as Christian Just War Theory is that the only legitimate use of war is to use violence reluctantly in order to prevent violence ultimately. All these issues come to us as a sobering reminder the day after those horrible pictures from Afghanistan.
The Mailbox — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners
But finally, as this is Friday, we turn to some letters from listeners and try to think through these issues together. In response to the conversation about the death penalty, one listener wrote in to say, "I believe that the death penalty is redundant because no matter what crime any person has committed, the death penalty has already been paid for by Christ on the cross. Therefore, any application of the death penalty is redundant."
Well, I understand that logic, except, by that same logic, every penalty for any cause would also be redundant. And that would include, say, a parent correcting a child. The reality is that in a fallen world, you look at the New Testament, there is every exhortation given to respect the laws and even to respect the fact that the government has the power of life and death. Just look at Romans 13. The other thing we need to note is that, that particular argument that I read here confuses redemption with God's plan for government. God's plan for government is not and has never been redemption. That is his plan accomplished through the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. Government and redemption in this sense are two very different things.
Another listener wrote in to ask if life in prison without the possibility of parole also would fulfill Genesis 9 as a life is forfeited?
Well, in a classic sense, you'd have to say no, because just understanding both the direct and the contextual interpretation of Genesis Nine, that's clearly referring to capital punishment and the death penalty and that's made clear explicitly in the law that was given to Moses. But nonetheless, I want to say to this listener, thank you for writing and for making this point, because if you did not have the death penalty then life in prison without parole would be the closest thing that you could come to a replacement for the death penalty. But you're also looking at the fact, as we discussed on The Briefing this week, that when you're talking about life without the possibility of parole, that doesn't always mean what you would think it would mean. And there are those who oppose the death penalty who would oppose that penalty as well.
Finally, for this week, Nathaniel wrote in asking about the pattern of moral normalization and making explicit reference, as discussed on The Briefing, to the issue of polyamory and also the sex workers and the Only Fans social media platform. "But that process of normalization, that process of how morality changes, how exactly does that work?"
Well, indeed, Nathaniel, one of the ways it works is that every society operates on a generalized picture of what you would call the good life, and that good life, a normative kind of expectation for life. What life in the community should look like, what life in a home should look like, and you see that reflected in all kinds of ways, in laws and custom. Let me tell you one of the most important ways you see it on the cutting edge is in advertising. And that's where you see so much of the advertising changing. Whereas, say, 20 years ago, any picture virtually of a family would have had a mother and a father, and that means a woman and a man, and their children. Nowadays, you're looking at the fact that advertisers serving so much of capitalism, especially those rightly described as those in "woke capitalism," they are really trying their very best to offer all kinds of varied pictures of what the optimal family should look like, what the good life should look like.
And by the way, one of the keys to understanding just how out of balance that is, is the fact that even statistics that came out this week indicated that something like 5% of Americans identify as LGBTQ. Well, just look at the advertising. It is more like well over 50% in some cases. But the way this works is described in other ways, and I'll describe it more in The Briefing in greater detail week by week as we have opportunity, but the language changes and in one sense what you have is, first of all, euphemization. So something that was called one thing is now called another thing on its way to total moral acceptance. One of the examples given there is the fact that it used to be called adultery. Then, during the time of the 1950s and '60s, even in popular culture, adultery was often referred to as having an affair. Then it was defined merely as extramarital sex. Now, it's often referred to even in the sociological literature as non-marital sex, like the only thing significant is that these folks just aren't married.
But, of course, now you're looking at the entire panoply of what's being celebrated in the culture, and so watch the language, watch the advertising, and, yes, you should watch what's happening in the culture and recognize that some picture of the good life is being presented. We should always be aware of just how contrary to biblical Christianity and to the plan and purpose of God that picture often is. It can be distorted in so many different ways, but what we're seeing right now is a direct subversion upon the picture of the good life that would be consonant with, let's just be clear, the structures of creation as revealed in God's word and revealed in creation itself. A good question. We'll be following these issues together, but the reality is that some of these changes are now coming so fast that the picture of the good life held by so many in our society is so confused they're not even sure where it's headed, and that should be of concern to us as well.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can find me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.