The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, March 28, 2022

It’s Monday, March 28th, 2022.

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

Part I

As the World Turns Over a Weekend: Leadership of NATO Meets in Poland as Russia Appears to Change Goals of War in Ukraine

The last few days have been very consequential in world history and of course, ground zero has been Ukraine, but also Poland, Ukraine’s neighbor that is a full member of NATO and was host to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s leadership for a special conference that was called over the last several days in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Huge developments took place there in Poland, for one thing, the president of the United States veered off script at the end of the event, leading to some confusion that may actually weaken the Western Coalition. But before we turn to President Biden’s comments and to the NATO meeting, we need to understand that the NATO leaders were convening even as it became apparent that Russia is changing its strategy in Ukraine.

Now, why is it doing so? Well, because its military has proved itself to be stunningly ineffectual in taking the major cities of Ukraine. It becomes increasingly clear that even as Russia had amassed an army of about 200,000 soldiers, by the way, it now turns out that might be about two thirds of the available ground troops to Russia at any given time, that’s a rather stunning realization. But even as Russia had put together this massive land army and had put together all the armaments with missiles, and aircraft, the bombers and all the rest, it turned out that the Russian forces had been nowhere near as formidable as Western allies had assumed and clearly as Vladimir Putin had been told.

The change in Russia’s strategy seems to be a recognition of the fact that Ukraine is not only holding its ground amazingly enough, fighting over its own territory for its own freedom, but furthermore, you have the realization that Russia is now having to think and rethink fast, what its goals might be. The assumption right now is that Russia’s language and its military movements would indicate that Russia is recalibrating its effort, perhaps to try to hold onto a larger portion of the Donbas region. That’s a contested region there on the Russian Ukraine border in the east, and Russia has been fomenting what amounts to mercenaries and others in an effort to try to create unrest, and basically to claim that territory for Russia. This appears to be a fallback position.

Now of course, a lot to be considered here, there can now be no question that the Russian military doctrine had called for taking Ukraine’s major cities, most importantly Kyiv and pressing towards a regime change. That is the Russian media had been stating that Russia’s intention was to remove someone they describe as a Nazi, President Zelensky there in Ukraine. But again, Russia appears to be forced into a position of recalibration. Now, there are other huge issues to be asked here. What exactly might Russia do if it redefines its goals, then meets those goals? Will it get hungry again and try to press on towards taking the entire nation of Ukraine in terms of Russian territory?

But of course there are other things to recognize, that is the massive human toll that has been brought by this war that Russia brought to Ukraine and has inflicted upon Ukraine. And we are also looking at devastation, particularly in Ukraine’s major cities on a scale that has not been seen in Europe, certainly since World War II. Indeed, some of the photographs, if you take the color and turn them back into black and white, look almost exactly like the horror of the second World War.

Part II

Poland Now Center Stage: Transformation of Global Affairs Seen in New Importance of Poland to the West

We’re going to of turn back to one issue related to Vladimir Putin, and that is the issue of truth. We’ll turn to that in just a moment, but right now we need to recognize that what took place in Poland over the last several days is extremely significant.

And for that matter, it is very significant that the event took place in Poland. A little background here. Just consider Poland, one of the most beleaguered and contested nations and contested territories in all of Europe for the course of the last 200 years. To talk about Poland is to talk about the wars of empire, the First World War, the Second World War, the horrors of those wars, and that has given the Polish people a particular form of Polish patriotism. And I just want to remind us that sense of Polish nationalism was a major cause of the breakup of the Soviet bloc of nations, and eventually of a spirit of liberation from communism that led to the breakup of the Soviet Union itself.

There were several issues that were not coincidences. One of them was the fact that the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church was a Polish Pope for the first time in history, and John Paul the Second represented a call for the end of Communism, and he also represented a sense of Polish nationalism. And that has created in what is at least by the census data, a majority Catholic nation still there in Poland. It has created a very different history and a very different culture from that which is found in many Western European nations. That leads to another fascinating dimension. The eyes of the world right now are on Poland, and the eyes of the world, particularly in the West, are looking to Poland with deep appreciation. The Polish government and the Polish people have responded by allowing refugees from Ukraine, basically by the hundreds of thousands, if not the millions by the time this is over, to enter into their territory, often to welcome them even into their homes.

This is a moment of incredible patriotic pride in Poland. It is a nation that has often been beleaguered, as I have said. A headline in the New York Times over the weekend ran this way, “Long on Europe’s fringe, Poland enters the spotlight.” Indeed, it has, and by almost any measure, Poland has done extremely well. Given the fact that Poland was in the center of the killing fields of the 20th century, it is particularly important that the Polish people have responded with such a warm welcome to Ukrainians, and it is also of crucial importance to recognize that Poland is now one of the most important member nations of NATO. Here’s a strange and strategic turn of history, and younger listeners to The Briefing should understand that what I am talking about came as the answer to much prayer, and it also came as a surprise on the world stage. If you were to go back a half century, Poland would be considered an essential, if entrapped ally, of the Soviet Union.

Now it is a member of NATO, and remember that NATO was the group that included the United States and Western allies that faced down the USSR. Poland now has an extremely strategic role on the world stage, and history indicates that it deserves this role. But here’s where conservatives in the United States and Christians in the United States need to pay some particular attention, because Poland is one of the most interesting stories right now in all of Europe, and it was so even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Why? Well, it is because Poland is one of the very few countries, and by the way, they’re almost all in the East of Europe, who are members of the European Union, and at the same time are pressing back against much of the moral liberalism of the West.

And you have the fact that the European Union has actually been threatening Poland with all kinds of action and sanctions and negative moves if Poland will not get with the program, for example, and LGBTQ rights. When it comes to same-sex marriage and any number of other issues Poland is resisting the moral progressivism and leftism of its Western allies. Those allies have responded largely by trying to isolate and coerce Poland, but right now, guess what? They need Poland. Those Western nations need Poland in a big way. Poland right now is starring on the world age, and it’s going to be really, really interesting to see where this goes. And by the way, those on the left in Europe do not like the fact that Poland is now not only serving in such a strategic role, but the Polish government is being strengthened through the process.

As Andrew Higgins of the New York Times reported, “Long-running squabbles with the European bloc over the rule of law, LGBTQ rights, coal mining, and various other issues, still rumble in the background, and the government’s critics,” now notice that means those on the left, “the government’s critics worry that instead of curbing what they see as a steady demolition of democratic norms by the governing party Law and Justice, Poland’s newfound favor will only embolden the government.”

Part III

Look Who (for Now) Claims to Believe in Objective Truth: War Brings Clarity in the Never-Ending Fight for Truth

But as I pointed out many times on The Briefing thus far, war clarifies. And for one thing, it clarifies issues in moral terms, and as we’re going to see in our next consideration, that also includes the very existence and objective nature of truth. Let’s just consider the background, especially when it comes to Western nations and the prevailing press, also, the political elite, particularly on the left. What we have seen over the last several decades is the subversion of the very idea of truth. Over the course the 1970s and ’80s, but exploding on the world scene and in higher academia, as well as on the cultural left in the 1990s and thereafter, you had movements like postmodernism that denied the very reality, the very existence of objective truth. Instead, putting this in a quasi-Marxist frame, the postmodernist, social constructivist argue that truth is merely socially constructed, that truth as truth does not exist.

Now last week on The Briefing, I talked about the issue of objective truth and moral judgment, but it’s really interesting right now that what we are witnessing even in the secular conversation about Russia, is that all of a sudden there’s been a rediscovery of truth. That is to say, truth it’s supposed to be understood as true, true truth, even as Francis Schaeffer described it. In a strange way, you now have many on the secular left saying, “Oh, this is true. Look, there are facts. There are historical facts. There are facts on the ground in Ukraine.” Truth all of a sudden matters. And that’s being contrasted with Vladimir Putin. Again, the New York Times, very interesting article. The headline is for Putin truth is just another front line, truth is put in quotation marks. The writers here are Steven Lee Myers and Stuart A. Thompson, and I’m looking at this article because the Times is itself a part of the problem.

As the Times, deals with many issues, especially from the cultural left it tends to write, assuming a social constructivist understanding of truth, a postmodern understanding of truth, the suggestion that a correspondence understanding of truth is just outdated. But as you look at the issue of reporting on Ukraine, all of a sudden there is a reliance upon the idea of objective truth. There are really troops on the ground. There are really missiles and rockets being fired. There are people who are really dead. These events are really happening, but this is contrasted with Vladimir Putin who, and this is now well attested on the world stage is using a propaganda technique and approach that is far beyond anything that Joseph Goebbels and the Nazi Party of the Third Reich, could ever have imagined.

The internet is an absolute fantasy land of those who are seeking to distort truth. Now it’s not to say that there is nothing trustworthy on the internet, that’s not the point. The point is everyone knows at every point on the political spectrum, parents certainly know, teachers certainly know, everyone of honor certainly knows that there is a war over the very nature of truth, as you look at the online world. Now, Vladimir Putin has had as a strategy now for a matter of years, if not decades, to use the internet, social media and other media technologies to destabilize the West. And one of the ways he’s been trying to do this is by subverting the idea of truth, and furthermore, putting so much out there that is so ludicrous, no one can actually believe it, but is coming with such a volume that what is simply unbelievable overwhelms that which can be ascertained by fact.

As the Times reports, “Using a barrage of increasingly outlandish falsehoods, Vladimir V. Putin has created an alternative reality. One in which Russia is at war, not with Ukraine, but with a larger, more pernicious enemy in the West. Even since the war began,” writes the Times, “the lies have gotten more and more bizarre transforming from claims that true sovereignty for Ukraine was possible only under Russia.” By the way, that’s a contradiction in terms again, nonetheless Russian propaganda has been claiming that. Also the claim that was made before the attacks that the Ukrainians and allies were using migratory birds to carry bio weapons.

Now, my point in The Briefing today is not to try to dissect Russian disinformation or frankly, to look at the disinformation and subversion campaigns of the cultural left. My point right now is just to underline the fact that all of a sudden people who’ve been denying the objective reality of truth, have to affirm it, as if they’ve affirmed it all along.

Because of course, truth is important. If truth isn’t important, then Russia might have been invaded by Ukraine for all we know. But of course here’s where we understand as Christians must always understand that truth exists independently of our minds, it is our responsibility rightly to come to terms with truth. Truth does not come to terms with us. Christians must also keep ever in mind that we are not infallible. We’re not infallible knowers, but it is God who is the source of all truth, and God has loved us enough to reveal himself to us and to reveal his way, his word to us in the scripture. And God loves us so much that he confronts us with truth. And we are to be the creatures who receive the truth, believe the truth, and obey the truth.

In the orderly universe that God has created there are ways that intelligent people and honest people have learned to try to test facts in order to understand that we know what is truth and what is untruth. When you look at two apples and two apples, you add them together, they are four apples. They are never five, they’re never three, they’re never 3.78. But this gets to another issue, which is that when you are talking about facts, objective facts, if you get them wrong, the only intellectually responsible action is to bring your understanding in alliance with the truth, not to try to bring the truth into congruence with your understanding. You are not serving yourself and you are certainly not serving humanity. You can’t be serving the church, if you say, “That even though it appears that two plus two equals four, it is actually true that two plus two can equal six.”

That doesn’t help anyone and no one would consider that to be intellectually honest. But let’s also look at the incongruity we see right now on the left. So many of the left now say, “Oh, we need objective truth.” Let’s just remember there is such a thing as objective truth that enables us to talk about Ukraine, but evidently it doesn’t allow them to talk about male and female. And when it comes to understanding the reality of male and female, you do not have to go to the Russian border with Ukraine. All you have to do is look at humanity or even just look at the genetic code, just look to biology. But again, as we’ve had to discuss in recent days, many of the people who are now trying to bring back the idea of objective truth, don’t want to bring it back in the locker room.

Part IV

A Demand for Regime Change in Russia? A Presidential Gaffe Can Upend World Politics

But I mentioned President Biden’s appearance there in Poland and things have been going pretty much to plan, but President Biden as a politician on the American stage, indeed on the larger world stage for decades has been one of the most gaffe prone politicians in all of American history. So much so that is absolutely no exaggeration that even his friends sometimes collect Joe Bidenisms, and they are very easy to collect. But it was Joe Biden who ran in the 2020 presidential nomination saying that America needed an adult as president, a careful helmsman on the world scene, particularly with world diplomacy.

But on at least three occasions on this very strategic meeting to Poland, it was President Biden who walked over the reality with his own comments. President Biden was speaking about the heroism of the Ukrainian people and speaking to American troops, remember they are in Poland, a NATO ally, they were not in Ukraine. Speaking to those U.S. troops and the President has made very clear and the American government has made repeatedly clear that American troops will not be deployed in Ukraine.

Nonetheless, speaking to American troops, President Biden said, “You’re going to see when you’re there.” Speaking of the heroism of the Ukrainian people, but they are not going to be there. That was a gaffe, but it could be a gaffe with international consequences. President Biden made a second major gaffe with the issue of Russia’s potential use of chemical weapons. The president was supposed to say that the United States would respond appropriately and enforce to any such Russian use of chemical weapons. But instead, the president said that the United States and our allies would respond in kind, those two words in kind clearly in the context would represent a counter attack with chemical weapons. But the American government had to come back very, very quickly and say, not only that American troops were not going into Ukraine, but that the United States and our allies would not and would never respond with any use of chemical or biological weapons. It’s also important to recognize that it is Biden’s own appointees who are having to clean up for him in the aftermath of his comments.

Those first two comments were problematic enough, but in the president’s final public comments in the Poland meeting, he really put the United States in a very awkward position. And furthermore, not only the United States, but our allies, and that could turn out to be a very big problem. In his last public comments in Poland, the president went off script again, and this time he seemed to commit the United States and our allies to a strategy of regime change in Russia. Speaking of Russian President Vladimir Putin about whom the president has been speaking of war crimes, describing him in the most graphic of terms as a war criminal, the president this time simply said that it was his goal that Vladimir Putin be removed from office, that is regime change. In just a few words, Biden speaking of Putin said that the Russian president “cannot remain in power.”

Ken Liptak reporting for CNN, put the response this way, “The very final words Biden would utter on his last minute swing through Europe ended up being the most consequential, reverberating widely as Air Force One departed for Washington. They surprised his aides, many of whom spent hours honing the texts of a speech viewed by the White House as a significant moment for Biden’s presidency. The line Biden uttered wasn’t in what they wrote.”

Once again, the president went off script and by the way, the mainstream media clearly has been covering for the president in making any number of gaffes and outright mistakes in many of his public comments. But just in terms of international relations, it’s very important to recognize a couple of issues when it comes to regime change. If you have one country calling for removal of a president of another country, if necessary by force, you have multiple problems. Now, it’s not to say that is never justified, certainly it can be and has been justified. But when you reach that point, you are basically making it impossible to have further relations with that very world leader.

If that leader is the president of Russia or the president or the prime minister or the leader of any other nation, once you cross the barrier to calling for regime change, you basically canceled any opportunity to hold a meeting in the future that might turn out to be rather crucial. Furthermore, it often backfires as a political or rhetorical strategy. Because in reality, President Putin took this as an opportunity, not as a threat, but rather as political gain. Saying to people in Russia, “Look, I’ve been telling you this all along. What they want to do is to rob you of me by forcing me out.” Just to get to the bottom line in this, the headline in today’s edition of the Wall Street Journal is this, “Biden’s remark on Putin stirs anxiety among Western allies.” The whole point of an address like this, or a meeting such as took place in Poland is to unify allies, not to endanger that unity or to cause anxiety among your most important friends.

There’s going to be a very great deal for us to talk about this week, for one thing over the course of the weekend, Utah became the 12th state to bar transgender athletes from participation in female sports, particularly in girls’ sports at the school level K through 12. And one of the most important developments here is that the Republican governor there in Utah had vetoed the bill and Utah’s legislature overrode the veto. I’m going to say that’s a very good development, we’re going to talk about the meaning of that in days ahead. We’re also going to look at the continuing crisis among American corporations when it comes to declaring themselves on these issues. And we’re going to look at that same problem arriving at the threshold of at least some evangelical institutions. And year by year, there’s a continuing debate as to whether or not the Academy Awards end up being on the one hand important or on the other hand interesting.

Well, as we know last night, it did get interesting. We’ll be figuring out just how important it was. But in the meantime, it just goes to show that sometimes when you are talking about Hollywood, you simply can’t predict what kind of mayhem is going to erupt next. And by the way, speaking of the Academy Awards, just because things got interesting doesn’t mean they actually got important. If anything, it goes back to Hollywood’s instinct about self-importance, but that’s part of the story as well. We’re also going to be looking back to a major Supreme Court decision that was handed down just at the end of last week. Our table is going to be full, the agenda is rich. We’ll afford to talking about those issues and more this week.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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