Monday, February 28, 2022
It's Monday, February 28th 2022.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
A Medieval Mind with Modern Nuclear Weapons: Grappling with Vladimir Putin’s Worldview and the Deadly Danger of Autocracy
The big story continues to be developments in Ukraine. Russian forces, having invaded the nation, have faced greater opposition than had been expected. The Ukrainian people are responding with some remarkable stories of courage. And even as the overwhelming force of Russia is directed towards its neighbor, in what can only be described as a planned aggressive invasion, the fact is that many of the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian military are proving themselves far more formidable as a defensive adversary than the Russian forces had evidently expected. There are some huge developments that demand our attention. One of them is the fact that the international press has reported what has been confirmed by Russian authorities, and that is that Vladimir Putin has put the nuclear forces of Russia on high alert.
As just about everyone recognizes, the headlines are saying things like escalating tensions. That's an understatement, but it requires us to look back and ask the question why would Russia, under these circumstances in which there has been near universal international opposition, certainly united opposition coming from the United States, our allies and Europe, but you have to ask the question, why would Vladimir Putin do something that appears to be not only so radical and dangerous, but injurious to his own nation and his own position? The answer increasingly seems to be the fact that Vladimir Putin is not a rational actor. He is acting in ways that are not completely irrational, but he is not acting in ways that would be predictably rational. He is acting in ways, in other words, that seem to make sense once you factor in, and you must factor in, this is Vladimir Putin, the totalitarian leader of Russia who is doing this.
That means he's working according to his own plans. He's working according to his own worldview. He's working according to his own definition of reality, and that may well be the problem, because when you have Russia, which by the way has an official military doctrine of the fairly early use of nuclear weapons, you're looking at a very dangerous situation. And the situation becomes only more dangerous when you understand the fact that Ukraine, which is clearly an ally to the West, is bordered on its Western frontier by Poland and is surrounded by other NATO allies. NATO comes with Article 5. Article 5 is the requirement that every NATO member nation respond to an invasion of any other NATO nation as if it is an invasion of its own territory. That is key to understanding the Western order at the end of World War II. It is key to understanding Western solidarity, that is the solidarity of the United States and Europe and its allies in the hardest years of the Cold War.
But now this would mean that Vladimir Putin, the very inexplicable, the seemingly radical Vladimir Putin who's acting so recklessly, it means that if indeed Russia gains control of Ukraine, you will have Russian forces and NATO forces, and make no mistake, that means American forces face to face with an impending nuclear threshold. I released an article this morning at World Opinion, entitled Vladimir the Terrible and His Vision of Russian Glory. My argument in that article is that Vladimir Putin wants to humble Western civilization and refute its ideals. If you ask the question, what makes Vladimir Putin's plans, his strategy, his actions, understandable? It is not just recovering Russian territories, as he sees it, it's not even just an attempt to regain lost Russian glory. It's an attempt to subvert the West. And here's where we have to look into the mind of Vladimir Putin and understand something. One of the key arguments I make in this article is that to understand Vladimir Putin, you have to understand Russian history, and you have to understand the fact that what you have in Vladimir Putin is a medieval mind with modern nuclear weapons.
That's a very frightening combination. Now, what do I mean when I say that Vladimir Putin operates out of a medieval mind? It means his is evidently stuck in medieval history and in particular Russian history. Now, on The Briefing in recent days and weeks, I've gone into detail about that history and how it stands behind these developments. It's a reminder to Christians that you never escape history. Christians must understand history, because history is necessary for understanding the present and the future. That might sound like a simplicity, but it's actually so true that we are endangered if we don't take history into consideration. Evidently, Vladimir Putin is absolutely mired in that history. Like a bug found in the ancient world encased in amber, Vladimir Putin's brain is evidently stuck in the medieval period. His understanding of Russia goes back to a ruler like Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century, and thus, I call him Vladimir the Terrible.
You have to think about the fact that Russia has been led historically by despots, by tyrants, and there's no national embarrassment in that. Indeed, national glory is tied to that kind of tyrannical leader and behavior. Vladimir Putin intends to be the successor you might say of Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century, but even more so of Joseph Stalin in the 20th century. He wants to reclaim the territory, he wants to rebuild the army, and he also wants to subvert the West. That's what we have to understand. His actions are inexplicable unless he is trying to subvert the West, not just to project Russian power, Russian authority, Russian glory. It's all of one picture, but remember, in this case, you're talking about a Russia that has a second rate military in almost every sense, and you might say a third or fourth rate economy. It's a decaying petrostate in terms of its economy. It can't even really feed its own people, but it does have nuclear weapons.
And here's where the West has made massive mistakes, and this is a bipartisan mistake. President after president, administration after administration watched Vladimir Putin rebuilding Russia's nuclear arsenal, even as the United States was basically spending less and less on national defense. We have seen Vladimir Putin not only build Russia's military, but use it. Georgia, Crimea, the Eastern Ukraine. The fact is that no one should be surprised by what is happening, and yet everyone seems to have been and surprised. I'm arguing that worldview matters. We as Christians understand that. If you understand the worldview, the actions become explicable, they become understandable. Vladimir Putin's actions are the actions of a medieval Russian mind. A mind that actually celebrates tyranny and celebrates aggression. The very things that in the West are a sign of a deranged personality and someone who is seeking to undercut civilization, is the very thing that Vladimir Putin finds pride in. As the Russian people increasingly are going to have to make a decision, do they or do they not find pride in having a leader like Vladimir Putin?
But I want to go into a deeper Christian view consideration here, because we keep talking about Vladimir Putin in a way we would not talk about a national leader in the West. Why is that so? Well, remember that the Western understanding of limited government and the Western opposition to tyranny came by two things. First of all, you might say very bad lessons of tyranny that we do not want to see repeated, but there's something else, and that something else is the inheritance that came to Western civilization by Christianity. Remember that as you're looking, for instance, at the English speaking tradition, you look at the vast political transformations that came in the late medieval and the early modern age in both Britain and in the United States, you see how opposition to tyranny became ensconced in events such as the signing of the Magna Carta by King John, brought about by rebellious British nobleman, who weren't going to put up with a tyrannical king.
And then of course, just fast forward to 1776 in the American War of Independence, and again, America's Constitutional Order, which like, for example, the British Constitutional Order and like the constitutional governmental order of almost every European nation, it makes the development of a tyrant or a dictator at least constitutionally impossible. So let's just make a contrast. You see the contrast between the worldview of Russia and the worldview of, say, Western nations. Consider this, we keep talking about Vladimir Putin as the only important agent when it comes to Russia. We're not talking about Russian generals, we're not talking about the Russian Parliament or Duma. What we are talking about is Vladimir Putin, because this is the very definition of a dictator or an autocrat or a tyrant. Everything comes down to what he thinks, what his aims are, what he will decide.
If you flip the equation, it is not irrelevant what President Joe Biden thinks about this situation from the American side. He is the President of the United States, and he is Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces, but he can't amass 200,000 troops on any border without Congress. He can't initiate a military action on this scale without a political consensus in the United States. And if this were to happen, open debate in the United States would be driving the front page of newspapers coast to coast and virtually around the world. The absence of that kind of debate, the absence of even having to quote any other government leader, the absence of any other form of legitimation on the part of the Russian government just indicates the difference between having an individual, who regardless of title operates as a tyrant, and looking at constitutional government, which, remember, is based upon the Christian principle of an understanding of the power of sin.
The understanding of the necessity of a constitutional limitation upon political rulers is precisely based in the understanding that where you have a concentration of power in a singular hand, it is simply an invitation for a sinful human being to use that power in ways that eventually simply project himself, rather than serving the people. But that being said, let's go back to where we began with the reality that Vladimir Putin has said that Russia is putting its nuclear forces on high alert, claiming that this is made necessary by threats from Western nations. Now, you ask yourself, who are those Western nations? Well, the top of that list is the United States of America. Let's just remind ourselves that we are looking at the 60th anniversary of the moment when it is believed that the United States and the Soviet Union came closest to a nuclear exchange. It is known in history as the Cuban Missile Crisis.
We also know that in the middle of the 1980s, with an operation undertaken by NATO forces, that the Russians thought might be a hostile attack, it became known as Operation Archer. The fact is that there was a second moment, very much like the Cuban Missile Crisis, that people in neither nation really understood was even taking place. But let's just remember that what seemed to be learned by the Soviet Union and the United States in those two horrifying moments in world history was that it was the moral responsibility on behalf of humanity, the moral responsibility of both nations, the United States and what was then the Soviet Union, to make very clear that there would have to be an overwhelming justification for the use of nuclear weapons. And in the case of the United States, that basically meant that we said, without making it official doctrine, that our first use would always be a defensive use.
Is Vladimir Putin setting the stage to claim some kind of defensive authorization or rationale for the use of what might be tactical nuclear weapons? We just need to understand, and Christians need to think about this and ponder this reality with grave seriousness. If such a thing were to happen, we are looking at living in a completely different world. As of events that Russia has undertaken in the last week, we are already looking at the fact that we are in a new Cold War era. That means the lives of our children, for a generation, of our grandchildren perhaps, are going to be shaped by whatever reality becomes more clear over the course of the next several days and weeks. We are living in a different world, but if we actually have the impending use of nuclear weapons, we're looking at a radically different world, and a world that is more horrible than we can imagine.
One last thought for today on Vladimir Putin, before we turned to President Biden's Supreme Court nomination. The Wall Street Journal over the weekend ran a front page article with the headline, "How Western Allies Misjudged Putin." Again, one of the lessons of history is that sometimes there seems to be a combined effort to misunderstand someone. Even as Vladimir Putin was giving speeches that are absolutely consistent with what he's doing right now, many leaders in the West said, "He can't actually mean what he's saying." Why would they believe that? And the answer is we tend, as human beings, to have a prejudice towards believing that other people think as we think, that other people would respond as we would respond. And as much as there is a basic humanity that we share, Vladimir Putin is a graphic example of the fact that there are people, there are cultures and societies that think according to patterns that are radically unlike our own.
And if we follow the conceit of believing that everyone, if they really are honest, thinks as we think, then we are going to delude ourselves. And Christians, again, armed with a Christian worldview, understanding, a biblical worldview understanding, realize that even when we look to our own neighbors, we think in many ways that are very different than the way our neighbors think. If that's true of our neighbor, with whom we share so much, we can look at someone like Vladimir Putin and understand we really are looking at a radical distinction of worldviews.
As I mentioned on The Briefing last week, it is simply true, this war and everything that has been undertaken by the Russians thus far is coming from one source, and that is the twisted mind of Vladimir Putin. Understand this: Western intelligence sources and Western governments right now are just about unanimous on one thing. They're not even clear exactly what Vladimir Putin intends or ultimately wants. That puts the entire world in an extremely dangerous position.
Elections Have Consequences: President Joe Biden Nominates Ketanji Brown Jackson to Fill the Seat of Justice Stephen Breyer
But next we shift to the biggest news in the United States right now as a domestic policy story, and that is the nomination by President Biden last Friday of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to be the successor to Stephen Breyer on the United States Supreme Court.
The nomination of Judge Jackson to be an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court is within the power of the President of the United States. Again, this is a constitutional power and elections have consequences, so whoever's elected President has the opportunity when there is any vacancy on the court to nominate who will be this new Justice, or the new Chief Justice if that's the position. The point is, when you think about elections, you understand you really are deciding the future of the United States Supreme Court when you elect a President of the United States. Joe Biden, his election comes with consequences, and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is the first of those consequences.
Now, there are some surprises here. The first surprise is that President Biden appeared to be unready to make a nomination shortly after Justice Stephen Breyer announced weeks ago that his retirement would come at the end of the Supreme Court's current term. Given the stakes of everything going on, and given the focus on the Supreme Court, it doesn't really make sense that President Biden was so slow in making this nomination, but there's a further issue to be learned here. If you look at the front page of Saturday's edition of The Wall Street Journal, or the front page of say The New York Times Saturday edition, the announcement of a new Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States did make page one, but in both cases, very small stories at the bottom of the page, under the fold, because Ukraine is universally understood to be a more important, more urgent story.
So the White House has basically lost its story on Judge Jackson, and no doubt it will try to regain it in days to come. What do we know? Well, we know that Judge Jackson, who grew up in the Washington, D.C. area, is predictably a graduate of Harvard University and of the Harvard Law School. She clerked for three judges, and one of those judges was actually the Justice who's retiring now from the Supreme Court, Stephen Breyer. That's an interesting thing. That tends to happen from time to time, where you actually have a Justice succeeded by someone who was even that Justice's clerk, or certainly clerked during that Justice's term.
Judge Jackson is considered to have been the most liberal, or to use the phrase used by many, the most progressive of the three finalists that President Biden was considering for this particular Supreme Court seat. Now, just think about that for a moment. When you think about Joe Biden, you think about the fact that when he ran for office, he was claiming to be a candidate of political moderation, but once elected, it became very clear that the left wing of the Democratic Party has him largely under control, and he has basically sought to please the left wing of his party. Given the three finalists, he chose the most predictably liberal of those three finalists. By the way, one of the judges that he did not choose would've been the first Supreme Court Justice in a long time to come from outside even the major law schools in the United States. But you see that President Biden went predictably where Democrats, many Republicans too, but Democrats in particular tend to go, which is to the Ivy League, and to judges who will be predictably to the left.
Now, both parties have learned big lessons over the course of the last several decades, and one of the biggest lessons is that Supreme Court nominations matter a whole lot more than was considered, for example, throughout much of the 20th century. It was the liberal court, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, that convinced conservatives that we had to give attention to the composition of the Supreme Court, had to actually bring pressure on Republican presidential candidates and Republican presidents to appoint those who would follow the Constitution of than a more progressivist understanding or even a pragmatic understanding of law.
Here's where the issues get really interesting. When President Biden announced his choice of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, he actually applauded not only her qualifications and her background, she has served eight years as a federal district court judge before being appointed to D.C. circuit court of appeals just last year. But in introducing her, President Biden went on to say that he chose her because she has, "A pragmatic understanding that the law must work for the American people." The President went on to say, "She strives to be fair, to get it right, to do justice." What should we be hearing there? Well, the first thing we need to note is what we didn't hear. In this case, a reference to the United States Constitution, which is supposed to be the text that Supreme Court Justices are interpreting and using as the very basis and foundation of rendering their decisions.
Instead, what you did hear was the President saying that he likes this judge because this judge tends to decide things in a way that is in accord with his understanding of what must work for the American people, or the judge's understanding of what is fair, what is right, and what is just. Now, again, we care deeply about what an individual understands to be fair and right and just, but the United States Supreme Court is not supposed to be the supreme tribunal of deciding what is right and just, but rather what is constitutional. It is up to the people and up to the states in arranging for, in forming, in founding and in ratifying the Constitution and establishing an order whereby the authority is by the people in the Constitution, not in the judges.
So even in applauding her for what he declared to be her pragmatic view of the law, he underlined the problem. But again, he showed himself to be, rather predictably, the kind of Democratic president who nominates the kind of nominee that is Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. No doubt, there will be many laudable things to covered about her. No doubt, there's going to be a lot of discussion about her character, her experience. Of course, there's another issue here, and that has to do with the fact that in his electoral contest, and in particular in his run for the Democratic presidential nomination, when his political fortunes were appearing to be largely crashing, it was in light of that crisis that President Biden made the determination and the promise that he would appoint a Black woman in his early opportunity to be the next Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Let's be clear. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the President of the United States appointing a highly qualified Black woman judge to sit on the Supreme Court of the United States. The problem is the logic that he used, and the political context in which he made that pledge. But even as the President was making his announcement, he said this, "For too long, our government and our courts haven't looked like America." Now the issue is this. That could be a legitimate statement for sure. I mean, after all, if we had a nation as diverse as the United States and every single one of the justices was an Anglo-Saxon white male Protestant, we would see that as unrepresented of the nation. But if you flip that to the other side, what exactly would it take for the Supreme Court to live up to what Joe Biden now set as our goal? And that is for the court to look like the United States.
Well, even with his nomination, the Supreme Court doesn't look like the United States. You look at a demographic breakdown of the United States, you look at the fast growth of the Hispanic and Asian populations in the United States, and then of course, given his own party's ideology, you look at the rise of the LGBTQ and identity politics ideology, and you have to say there is no end to claims that someone now must be added to the Supreme Court in order to achieve some kind of goal of supposedly looking like the American people. But just remember the statue of Lady Justice outside the Supreme Court is wearing a blindfold. Now, justice hasn't always met that expectation. Our courts have not always operated in a way that can be described as blindfolded to issues other than the law, but we do need to recognize that that at least is our stated aspiration for the Supreme Court.
So we're going to be following the story. We're going to learn a lot about Judge Jackson. We're going to learn a lot about her previous jurisprudence, her decision making and decisions even as a judge. Very little from her appellate experience, because she's been there very briefly, but she did serve eight years at a very important federal district court. We're going to learn a lot, but it is really interesting right now to know that it is the left wing of the Democratic Party that is most satisfied. It is their demands that evidently were heard and heeded by the President of the United States. And there is the expectation even reflected in major media coverage that she is likely to be a predictably, if not energetically, liberal vote on the Supreme Court. Elections matter, the court matters, our consideration of these issues will matter in weeks ahead.
Who is and is Not Pro-Life? Who Is Pro-Abortion? Each Senator to be Forced to Cast Vote on National Abortion Bill in What Will be a Telling, Historic Day for the Abortion Question in America
But finally, today is a very consequential day in the life of the United States Senate. Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, has decided for some reason perhaps known only to himself, that now is the right time to bring to the Senate a bill that would enact Roe v. Wade as a matter of national law.
Now this is of course with the understanding that the Dobbs case is coming and the decision in that case will be announced by the Supreme Court by the end of this term. There comes the expectation and our prayer that Roe v. Wade will effectively be reversed by the court's decision. And now you have Senator Schumer, the majority leader, who has decided that he now says he wants to get every single senator, 100 senators on the line, having cast a vote for or against a very radical abortion bill.
Now, he's doing that in order to meet the incessant demands of the pro-abortion ideologues, largely in charge of the Democratic Party. And he is going to put nevertheless everyone of the Democratic senators in a swing state in a very difficult position. But pro-lifers need to understand we will learn a lot by the votes that are scheduled to be cast today. If the Senate goes forward as is scheduled to vote on this bill today, there's very little likelihood that it will pass the Senate, but there's very great likelihood that we're going to learn a very great deal about all of the senators present for that vote. Pray for the sanctity of human life to be defended, and we will watch closely to see what happens on the floor of the United States Senate.
There are different kind of battles. There's a battle being fought in Ukraine, right now a matter of life and death, but remember the battle for the sanctity and dignity of unborn life is also in its own way a battle in which the stakes are nothing less than life and death.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow 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'm speaking to you before a live audience in Kingsburg, California, and I'll meet you tomorrow for The Briefing.