The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

It’s Tuesday, February 15, 2022.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The Crisis in Ukraine as a World Crisis: Russia’s Ultimate Target Is Not Ukraine, It’s the Western World and Freedom

What takes priority these days, local issues, regional issues, national issues, international issues? Here’s something for Christians to think about. As you get to the larger arenas, certainly beyond the nation, American Christians tend to lose interest. That is to say, if you’re talking about a local issue there’s usually fairly intense local interest. If you’re talking about regional issues, lots of interest. When you’re talking about your state, you’re talking about even the United of America, you might have a fall off in certain kinds of stories, but there is still a sense this is important to me, I better pay attention, at least to some degree or at least find out if it turns out to be a big story.

But when it comes to international issues, many people just get absolutely perplexed. Is this a big story or not? We need to understand that there are two big dimensions that tend to confuse us; one has to do with the fact that there are big stories that are only big stories because there aren’t any other big stories, and so you have big events that take place in a small context and so they look huge. You also have giant world events that sometimes unfold slowly or come to a boil fairly slowly, and so many people look at them and think, “Well, that might not be a big story, nothing appears to be happening there.” Until it does.

Now, as we’re looking at the biggest story in the world right now and you say, “Well, in news, what in the world could that be?” I want you to trust me on this. The biggest story right now really is Ukraine. Now, you’re tired of it. We’ve talked about it in terms of its history and how we got here. You’re tired of it because the story seems to be the same story over and over and over again. Russia has amassed a huge army of about 100,000 soldiers on the border with Ukraine, which had formerly, by force, been made part of the Soviet union. Russia wants it back or it at least wants Ukraine to be politically nullified or neutralized and, thus, you have the threat or the aim or the plan, do we know yet for actual military force, and the world is watching.

Last week we talked about an understanding from history of how we have arrived at this point and why the story is a much older story, it’s a much bigger story than most Americans understand, not to mention American Christians, but here we are returning to it today. What new do we have to say? What’s really going on here? Has Putin and has Russia invaded Ukraine? Well, maybe so, maybe not. There are credible reports that some pre-invasion incursions have already taken place. Is Putin merely waiting for the Olympics to be concluded in Beijing so that he does not offend or embarrass his ally of convenience or, for that matter, of necessity, the communist dominated Chinese regime?

We don’t know yet but there are signs, and the Biden administration’s been very clear about this, there are signs that, if anything, Putin may not be waiting until the Olympics are over. But then again, something very interesting in addition to all this has happened since we talked about Ukraine last, and this has to do with the fact that the Ukrainians seem, at least publicly, at least officially, less concerned about a Russian invasion than the United States and European allies. Well, how can that be? They’re the ones who are actually already invaded in terms of at least some of their regions.

They’re the ones looking across the border at about 100,000 hostile troops. They’re the ones looking at current efforts to try to destabilize their regime and they say they’re not sure this is really an ongoing, hostile act? Well, how do you explain that? Well, you explain that by saying that Ukraine is basically a battered nation when it comes to a kind of psychological syndrome. They are not defenseless but there is no way they could bear the full onslaught of Russian military might, even if the Russians were to run out of their weapons and expenditures and, for that matter, they will to fight, those aren’t likely anytime soon, they would vastly outlast the same alternative resources in the nation of Ukraine.

Last week on the briefing, I tried to provide an historical understanding of how we have arrived at this moment and why anyone watching this relationship in this region over time would be fundamentally unsurprising. Disappointed yes, but surprised, no. But there have been developments even since last week and there have also been revelations that cause us to return to this picture and ask once again, “What’s going on here? What should Christians be seeing? What should we be thinking about here?” But in order to understand this, let’s come back to the United States of America. The United States of America went through a very tumultuous 20th century so let’s think not so much about Ukraine’s history, not so much about Russian history, but think about our history.

Where was the United States of America, in terms of the world picture, at the beginnings of the 20th century? We were an emerging economic, military, social powerhouse. We were the attention of the world but at the same time, at the beginning of the 20th century, there were still many old kingdoms and empires that appeared to rule much of the Earth’s surface. The largest of them was the British empire and at that point the British empire, defended mostly by the British Navy, seemed to be a largely invincible force. But the French had an empire, and the Russians had an empire, and the Belgians had an empire, especially in Africa. The United States came into our independence by rejecting an imperial power, and that was Great Britain, but by the time you get to the early 20th century we were a sort of imperial power because there was no other way to maintain America’s national interest and also to try to help bring about some of the goals that America had in the world.

You could talk about the Philippines or Puerto Rico, or you could talk about other regions of the world where the United States had a very clear interest, but the United States was never an ambitious imperial power, and it never actually wanted to acknowledge that it ever intended to be. In the early part of the 20th century and well throughout much of the century, the United States had a great temptation in foreign policy but it wasn’t imperialism, it was isolationism. The temptation to isolationism is the temptation to say that America could be concerned only with the affairs of the United States. We can concentrate on domestic issues and ignore the rest of the world. America’s sixth president, John Quincy Adams, also of course the son of a president, John Quincy Adams said famously that the United States does not go abroad seeking monsters to destroy. That is to say, the United States keeps its focus on home, not so much on the rest of the world, and that worked for about the first century of American life.

The second century that became far more problematic and the reality is that the world will not stay outside of American concern and it is because, given the stature, the size, and the significance of the United States of America, there is no way that our interests do not come into conflict with the interests of other, we would say, far more aggressive parties. The 20th century was the bed of tragic but inevitable lessons for the United States. It was a school of foreign policy for the United States and it took two world wars finally to convince the United States that domestic issues would simply not stay separated from the issues of foreign policy.

It took the first world war, with the threat of all kinds of imperial evil, to take place in the world and the crushing of democracy throughout much of Europe. Then it took, of course, the absolute horrors of the second world war in which you had America in one theater fighting the evil paganism of Nazi Germany and its death cult, and on the other side the unbridled Pacific imperial ambitions of imperial Japan. But then there’s another problem. When the United States has in its own clumsy and sometimes misdirected way tried to do good in the world by our own self-understanding or even in the terms of what’s called real politic, that is hard, realistic politics, has come to the conclusion that we simply couldn’t ignore some happenings around the world, the United States, over the course of the last half century and more, has learned two very problematic lessons. One of them we could call Vietnam, the other one we might call Afghanistan.

The conclusion of World War II gave way to what became known as the Cold War in which you had this massive ideological face off between international communism dominated by the Soviet Union and western understandings of democracy, basically symbolized by the United States, also our allies, but the United States always had to run point. Eventually, the United States often got called into clean up the problems of our allies, and that’s what happened in Vietnam and in much of Indo-China. You had the reality that you had imperial powers such as France fail in attempting to hold on to those particular regions of southeast Asia against communist incursions, and so once the French were defeated, basically the United States came to try to fill in the gap, to try to fill the vacuum, and the United States found itself in a quagmire that lasted well over a generation and basically seemed to teach many Americans that there was nothing worth fighting for in terms of the world challenge.

But then fast forward more than a generation and you get to Afghanistan and the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks in New York City and in Washington D.C. It became fairly well known, very early, that Afghanistan and the Taliban had been offering cover for Al-Qaeda and the terror forces that were unleashed on the United States and so, filled with another sense of righteousness, the United States went to war, not so much against Afghanistan as in Afghanistan, against the Taliban and other malignant forces. But then that war was basically expanded into an effort to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and to try to create a workable society in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Arguably, the effort was less justified in Iraq than in Afghanistan. There’s no doubt Afghanistan and the Taliban were giving cover to Al Qaeda, but at the same time there’s also no doubt that rebuilding efforts for society have been arguably more successful in Iraq than they ever were or could have been in Afghanistan.

But the point is this. The Biden administration’s disastrous retreat, that left American pride and American honor basically subverted but also left thousands and thousands of civilians exposed and the friends of America made ever much more vulnerable to the Taliban, the bottom line is that due to failures, mostly political in both cases, Americans seemed to get on the other side of Vietnam and say, “Well, we’re not doing that again,” only to get on the other side of Afghanistan and say, even very much more recently, “We’re not doing that again.” Then come headlines from Ukraine and many Americans are saying, “Well, is this just Vietnam again? Is this just Afghanistan again? Is this just an American administration saber rattling again?

Part II

A Statement to the West and Direct Threat to World Order: The Political and Military Posturing Continues

In this case, that’s not what’s going on, and so my critique of the Biden administration is that it is not crying wolf in this case. My critique is that it isn’t being honest with the American people to say, “We are entering an extremely dangerous period of world history. We are facing direct challenges to the United States that are currently disguised as an attempt to try to coerce Ukraine. This is not primarily a Russian military effort against Ukraine, this is primarily a Russian political effort against the entire western order.”

Then beyond that, the forces of disorder in the world are now so powerful and so many and so difficult to corral. Just think about Iran moving ahead with its nuclear ambitions, which are a threat to both the United States and to Israel directly. Then think about North Korea, again having launched at least one hypersonic missile. The United States right now does not have a working hypersonic missile and we’re talking about nuclear weapons in the hand of an unstable, tyrannical, arguably insane regime.

Then we have to face the enemy, which is China. Now, there are many Americans, especially Americans in the political class, who would immediately recoil in horror at anyone in the United States referring to China as an enemy because much of American foreign policy had been predicated for the last several generations on the opportunity of developing an unprecedented partnership with China that would basically create a new form of world stability. The fact is, that that was only going to be possible if China kept its ambitions within. China is not doing that and, thus, the United States faces a world rival and it is likely to be a world rival, meaning China, of the scale or an even greater scale than the Soviet Union through the entirety of the Cold War.

The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal gets this exactly right when the editors wrote recently, “What Mr. Biden hasn’t done is explain to Americans the new global dangers and what must be done to protect US interests. The problem goes far beyond Ukraine. China wants to capture Taiwan and dominate the western Pacific. The new Russia/China condominium means they’ll work together against US interests. Iran is closing to getting a nuclear weapon and Jihadists are far from vanquished.” All that simply to say that we, you and I, Americans and our allies around the world, Christians watching this, understand that there is more at stake here than just what happens on the border between Ukraine and Russia. We’re looking at a re-definition of the world order. That’s what Vladimir Putin is pushing for. That’s what Xi Jinping is pushing for as the dictator of China. Both of them believe themselves to be in the ascendant.

Both of them face some real challenges at home. Vladimir Putin is the head of a decaying Petro state. It eventually is going to run out of money, but when Russia runs out of money it looks to gain by stealing what it couldn’t get by internal business. When it comes to China, China has vast territory but it also has unspeakable needs. As we have often remarked, the challenge for the Chinese Communist Party is the nation becoming rich before it becomes old, and right now rich is losing too old and that bakes in a certain desperation. There are some people who are awakening to what the challenge really does represent, an apple bomb.

A veteran observer of Europe and of Russia wrote an article just in recent days published at the Atlantic entitled, “Why the West’s Diplomacy with Russia Keeps Failing.” She points to Liz Truss, the current British foreign secretary, who she dismisses, by the way, by describing her as a lightweight. She speaks of Truss, the British foreign minister, going to Russia in order supposedly to warn Russia about the consequences of invading Ukraine. But the point made by Ann Applebaum is that Liz Truss went with what Putin knew was basically an empty gun shooting blanks and he was not and is not deterred. But Applebaum points to a pattern here. We’ve seen this pattern amongst western elites for a matter of a century now.

Western elites, having separated themselves so much from the biblical understanding of sin, vastly over-estimate human goodness. They also vastly over- calculate just how committed other nations are to a certain kind of political agreement. The point being made by Ann Applebaum is that the Russians make agreements only to cancel them, only to violate them. She points to Truss as she says the lightweight British foreign secretary who had such a great opportunity and utterly failed to make use of it. Then she says that even as Truss basically wasted her time, what the British foreign minister should have done was simply, with the Russians, to have gone to a microphone and said this to the world.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen of the press. I am delighted to join you after meeting my Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. This time we’ve not bothered to discuss treaties he won’t respect and promises he won’t keep. We have told him instead that an invasion of Ukraine will carry very, very high costs, higher than he’s ever imagined. We are now planning to cut off Russian gas exports completely. Europe will find its energy supplies somewhere else. We are now preparing to assist the Ukrainian resistance for a decade, if need be. We are quadrupling our support for the Russian opposition and for Russian media too. We want to make sure that Russians will start hearing the truth about this invasion as loudly as possible and, if you want to do regime change in Ukraine, we’ll get to work on regime change in Russia.”

Now, I got to be honest with you listeners to The Briefing and say, “I would almost cross the Atlantic and pay an incredible price just to sit in the room when that speech was given, except it wasn’t given.” Applebaum says in the Atlantic, “Of course, western leaders simply won’t say anything like this.” She says, “Not even in private.” She says, “Tragically, the western leaders and diplomats who are right now trying to stave off a Russian invasion of Ukraine still think they live in a world where rules matter, where diplomatic protocol is useful, where polite speech is valued. All of them think that when they go to Russia they are talking to people whose minds can be changed by argument or debate. They think the Russian elite cares about things like its reputation. It does not.”

Part III

‘Cheating is Acceptable If You Don’t Get Caught’: When Cheating Becomes National Policy

But then that takes us to another headline story we just have to go back to time and again. Until these Olympic Games are over, we have to go back to Beijing and yet going to Beijing, it’s like bringing up Moscow again because we have the now infamous story of the 15-year-old figure skater who is now known to have failed a drug test. Olympic authorities basically eventually said, largely for political reasons, that she would be allowed to continue to compete. They cited, for example, the fact she’s only 15-years-old and she probably isn’t personally responsible for this. But that then raises the question who is, and the answer comes back to Russian authorities. But the Russians have been cheating at every opportunity and they are so clumsy, they keep getting caught cheating. They cheat, apparently, even when they don’t have to because it turns out that cheating must be a part of the game.

As we also see, it takes western powers and others basically being in complicit with Russia. Russia, you say, it doesn’t even have a national team at the Olympics, you’re not going to hear the Russian national anthem, but understand that, nonetheless, that complete farce was put to the lie when Vladimir Putin, conspiring with the Chinese totalitarian leader, was seated as if head of a delegation there on the opening ceremonies. Who’s fooling whom? A team of reporters, Brian Carovillano and Ted Anthony writing for the Associated Press, point out that Russia just again and again does whatever it can do until it’s caught and, once caught, it keeps on doing it.

The subhead in the article, “Getting caught is the only cause for shame.” The article begins, “Be it sports, politics, hacking or war, the recent history of Russia’s relationship with the world can be summed up in one phrase, they get away with it.” They continued, “Vladimir Putin’s Russia has perfected the art of flouting the rules, whether the venue is the Olympic arena, international diplomacy or Meddling in other country’s elections from the comfort of home, and it has suffered little consequence for its actions.” Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, he’s the only member of the Senate who actually served as chair of an Olympic games, that’s the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002. He points to the obvious question: “I don’t know why the Russians are competing as they are, given their history of doping. I think it’s a huge mistake.” Well, he’s right but those words mean basically nothing because no one with political clout is willing to face down the Olympic structures and say, “We’re out if you continue to leave the Russians in.” But the Russians remain in because of their political influence and their economic influence. By the way, we know that much of that is corrupt and, yes, happy Olympics.

What observers cited in the article speaking of Russia said this, “The thing in Russia is that cheating is acceptable if you don’t get caught. Shame on you if you do, but if you think you can get away with it, go for it.” I want to bring this to conclusion today by saying that this is a deeply important worldview issue for Christians. We have to understand that the way we look at the world is based upon our theology, not just our ruthless and rigorous realistic estimation of how the world actually operates. That understanding, it better be based upon very clear teachings and scripture and that has to be grounded in a doctrine of sin. That’s what’s missing from so much of American foreign policy. That’s why we keep missing the picture because Americans have a great theological temptation towards a peaceful understanding of the world, towards an understanding of the world being what the enlightenment philosophers like Kant called a world of perpetual peace. But just look around the world, it isn’t. And after Genesis 3 it has never been a world of perpetual peace.

Jesus himself spoke of wars and rumors of wars as the natural state of affairs in a fallen world. Only in the coming of his kingdom will there be an establishment of peace, genuine peace. Until then, we do have a responsibility to try to bring order in a world of sinful disorder. We do have, as the United States, we have to understand not a theological task but we do have a God-honoring task of trying to uphold righteousness and justice and at least some semblance of world order based upon rules. But anyone who’s ever been a teacher or a coach or, for that matter, a parent, or for that matter, a kid, knows that playgrounds are not temptations towards order, they are temptations towards disorder.

In the pre-school, you don’t have to turn to the children and say, “Why are you being so orderly?” Rare is the little league coach who has to call the boys together to say, “What’s the problem with you guys, you aren’t rebellious enough. What’s the problem? You’re acting too much like rational actors.” No, they’re not acting like rational actors, which is why they need a coach. But putting it back into the context of how we began today, understand Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping’s ultimate ambition isn’t related to just Taiwan or to Ukraine, it is related to destabilizing the entire western order and eventually subverting the ordered liberty of the United States of America.

We have our own internal problems, to be sure, but we need to understand that what we are facing right now is an increasingly hostile world at the very time many, if not most Americans, think we’re going to let the world go its own way. That’s been tried several times in American history. Just look at the 20th century and remind yourself how that turned out.

Over the next few days, there’s so many issues for us to talk about. We’re going to talk about Vermont moving to put before its voters a constitutional amendment defending abortion rights. We’re also going to be looking at development such as what’s going on in China right now, with an effort not to increase the number of abortions but, in panic, to try to reduce the number of abortions. We’re going to be looking at why so many pro-abortionists want to shift the issue away from not only the unborn baby but especially away from any reference to a heartbeat.

Then we’re also going to need to take a look at some in government and in our elites who seem to be concerned not so much that COVID will go away as a pandemic but that it won’t. But then we also need to take a look and ask what it means that Queen Elizabeth II has reigned now for 70 years. What in the world do those 70 years represent? It’s going to be interesting, we’ll get to that in days ahead.

But finally, I hope you found today helpful as we’re thinking about the challenges that we face. I really do go back to that John Quincy Adam’s statement that Americans do not go abroad seeking monsters to destroy but we do need to understand we live in a world that increasingly is demonstrating the challenge of monsters who would destroy us and would destroy ordered liberty, constitutional government.

That too we have to take into account.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You could 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

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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