The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

It’s Wednesday, August 3rd, 2022.

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

Part I

Death from “Over the Horizon” — Top Al-Qaeda Leader Ayman al-Zawahiri Killed by U.S. Drone Attack in Afghanistan

In worldview terms, two huge stories, both of them coming with international datelines. One coming to us from Afghanistan, the other coming to us from Taiwan. First, dateline Afghanistan. The big news is that on Saturday night in the United States, Sunday morning in Kabul, Afghanistan, the United States military undertook a drone attack that took out the head of Al Qaeda. That would be a man by the name of Ayman al-Zawahiri. We’ll be looking more closely at his story, but the most important thing to understand is that he was the head of Al-Qaeda for the last decade or more. And he was directly involved with Osama bin Laden in plotting terror attacks against the United States, including the bombing of American embassies in 1998, an attack in Nairobi, a 2000 attack upon a Navy vessel, the USS Cole, the 9/11 attacks most infamously in 2001.

And so the United States has been looking for Mr. Zawahiri for quite a while, and tracked him down in Kabul, Afghanistan, in a rather wealthy neighborhood that had been remade in recent years. But the most important thing to understand is that the United States withdrawal from Afghanistan opened the door for the Taliban to take control. And the Taliban, even though they had given assurances to the contrary, they had allowed Zawahiri and his terror network to be reestablished there within Kabul, Afghanistan. The United States military took months determining that the man who had been appearing out on the balcony of this building actually was Ayman al-Zawahiri. But once they had made that determination, the United States military came up with a way to take him out. And the technology was one particular kind of weapon or another delivered by a drone.

There’s a little bit of imprecision here because sources very close to the American military have indicated that the drone attack had involved either an explosive missile, or had involved a missile that involves expanding blades that does its work without the explosion, and thus the collateral damage, of a missile that would be carrying some kind of exploding device. We are likely to know more, the most important thing to know is that the American military, and indeed now the commander in chief, the president of the United States, Joe Biden, has made a formal announcement that Zawahiri is dead. There are fascinating worldview and historical issues behind this, and by the time we understand who Zawahiri was, we need to think about the fact that he was 71 years old. That’s very old for the kind of terror networks we’re talking about. And Zawahiri’s story turns out to be very important to the story that ended Saturday night or Sunday morning, depending upon whether or not you were in Washington or in Kabul.

But let’s go back and understand the story. Because even as the mainstream media aren’t telling much of this story, we need to understand it, and it is indeed fascinating. This man Zawahiri was born 71 years ago in Egypt, but at that time, Egypt was a kingdom ruled by a king. The twists and turns of the history of the middle east, the history of Egypt, and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and jihadist movements… In many ways, this has a great deal to do with the personal story of Ayman Zawahiri. Now, in order to understand this, you have to go back to the fact that even as he was born in the Kingdom of Egypt, the twists and turns of Middle Eastern politics and the rise of jihadism would have a great deal to do with this particular man and his story. But it began when he was a boy.

But even before that, we have to go back to another figure. And that would be Sayyid Qutb. This individual was an Egyptian who came to the United States. He wrote a book in the 1950s about his experience, and what he told his Egyptian and Islamic followers and readers is that what he had found in the United States was unbridled decadence. He thought what he saw in the United States was the death of the West. He identified decadence, sexuality, frivolousness. He saw in the West everything he did not want to see in the Muslim world, in the Arab world. And so he went back to Egypt and became the major engine for the ideology of what became known as Islamism and jihad. Qutb would eventually be executed by Egyptian forces, but not before he spread his poison, not only to thousands, but eventually to millions.

Qutb started out not only calling for this Islamic revival, and for what would become jihad, but he also called for a cleansing of Muslim nations that would eventually lead to the fact that the more secular leaders of Egypt would understand that Qutb was an enemy of their regime, and thus, he was executed. But the year before he was executed, a 14 year old boy there in Egypt had joined the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood was an Islamist movement there, especially in Egypt, it would spread to other nations as well. That 14-year-old boy was none other than Ayman al-Zawahiri, and he would look back to those events… when he was a teenage boy in Egypt being influenced by a very militant form of Islam… he would look back to that particular rootage as the ground of his understanding of his role in life, and of the necessity of Muslims to radicalize and join a jihad against the Western infidels. Zawahiri would eventually, inspired by Qutb, he would eventually form the organization known as Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and it was intended to be a terrorist jihadist organization.

But the big historical turn came in 1996 when he met Osama bin Laden, who came from a prominent Saudi Arabian family, and of course that is now one of the most infamous names in all of American memory. Eventually Al Qaeda, as it was known under Osama bin Laden, and Egyptian Islamic Jihad under Zawahiri, would merge, and bin Laden and Zawahiri would become the ideologues and the leaders of the movement. After the death of Osama bin Laden, Zawahiri became the uncontested leader of Al-Qaeda. But the important thing here to recognize is that Al-Qaeda was not uncontested in its leadership of the radical wing of Islam, and in particular of jihadism. Groups such as ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, arose, making very different claims, by the way, than Al Qaeda. The Islamic State actually declared a modern caliphate. That is, a modern government, almost an empire, under Islamic rule.

The Islamic State or ISIS lost much of the territory it controlled, but clearly it had at least partly sidelined Al Qaeda. Now you have to fast forward to something else. America’s long military action, especially in Afghanistan, was largely successful in pushing Al Qaeda out of the country. And you have to fast forward even to recent months, when under the leadership of president Joe Biden, the United States undertook a hasty and ill planned and regrettable withdrawal from Afghanistan, leaving a vacuum. And that vacuum sent signals all over the world. It sent a signal to Vladimir Putin, by the way, the president of Russia, that the United States would likely not use any military force to oppose him if he were to invade Ukraine, which he did. But it also sent the signal to the Taliban that they could take control of Afghanistan once again, and even as the Biden administration tried to claim that it had some kind of agreement with the Taliban that they would give no shelter to Islamist and radical terror movements, no one actually believed that would be the case.

In recent months, the United States intelligence services had detected Zawahiri and his family having moved into an exclusive neighborhood in Kabul, in a house, by the way, that had a balcony. And American intelligence services… and this tells us a great deal about the power of modern intelligence… American intelligence services had noted that Zawahiri tended to come out and take long observational periods on that balcony. He went out there and he lingered, and thus the American military and intelligence put together a plan to take him out. Eventually, that plan would involve a drone strike, and it would take place Saturday night here, Sunday morning in Afghanistan, and al-Zawahiri would be dead. There are some very interesting twists and turns to the story, including the fact that even more radical Islamic groups… Now, just imagine that. We’re talking about groups more radical, or at least more ambitious, than Al Qaeda, which after all was behind the 9/11 attacks and so many other truly devastating attacks.

But Al-Qaeda is something of a spent force. That doesn’t mean it’s not a threat. It is to say it has not been for some time the leading edge of jihad or of Islamic terrorism. And of course, you’re looking at Zawahiri, being 71 years old, and at least in some part, the object of derision by many who were even more radical, or who were at least frustrated with the old man’s leadership. But there are some massive issues of worldview importance here. Number one, is it justifiable in moral terms to use a drone to take out someone like Zawahiri? Is that legitimate? Now, how would we make that determination? This is where Christians understand that just war theory, that’s the Christian understanding of when the use of violence is legitimate, makes very clear that under the right circumstances, anyone who is a combatant in a war and thus is an enemy seeking to bring about death, that person’s life can be taken by military force.

That’s exactly what took place Saturday night, Sunday morning, depending upon where you are. But the big news here is that this was a successful strike undertaken without American military forces being anywhere near the actual attack. So how did that take place? Again, it was drone technology. Now, President Biden, even as he was hastily trying to offer some kind of assurances after the catastrophic withdraw of American forces, he said that the United States military reserved the right to undertake military action from quote, “Beyond the horizon,” end quote. That should have sent a very clear signal. A clear signal to the Taliban now in control of Afghanistan that even if American military soldiers and forces were not on the ground, no boots on the ground, as it is said, the American military still has a very long reach, and very, very sophisticated high technology. That gives us something to think about and something that’s rather ominous in its own way.

First of all, the idea that these attacks can now be routinely undertaken from beyond the horizon. That just redefines warfare. It doesn’t change the basic morality, according to the Christian worldview, which is the understanding, made clear in both the Old and the New Testament, that the use of force is sometimes necessary, but it has to be legitimate, and it has to be carried out by legitimate authority. It has to discriminate, which is to say, there can be no intentional action that would take innocent or civilian life. We put innocent in the sense of someone being a civilian, and a noncombatant. No, Christian just war theory, hammered out in terms of a biblical worldview over centuries, reminds us that sometimes the use of deadly force is necessary, but it should be particularly targeted towards those who have undertaken deadly acts. Now that’s exactly what took place in Kabul, very effectively, but something else to worry about is this.

That same drone technology that seems to have just shocked the world with the effectiveness, that the American military could reach into a country where it’s not even operating, and almost surgically carry out a strike against an individual without harming anyone in the neighborhood, we just have to remember that that same technology will spread very quickly. A part of the technological reality of our times is that technology just doesn’t stay localized. And furthermore, two things happen. It becomes even more sophisticated, and it becomes cheaper. And so you have to understand there are going to be states we wouldn’t want to have these kinds of weapons. They will. And there will be non-state actors, including terrorist groups, who will eventually get control and access to this kind of weaponry. But at this point, the United States military righteously undertook to remove someone who could only be described as not only an ideologue of murder, but as a mass murderer himself.

Zawahiri becomes a parable of our times. Trained as a surgeon, and he actually became a murderer, a mass murderer, and he became a major agent for murder undertaken in the name of Islam, jihadism, holy war. And this leaves us something else to ponder as Christians. Sometimes, as necessary as it is, and clearly necessary in this case, it is required to take out someone like Zawahiri.

The problem is he may be replaced with someone even more deadly, even more sinister, even more effective. And it underlines the fact that operations such as the hasty, indeed catastrophic withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan, come with consequences. And in a fallen world, a world of very dangerous people with murderous intent, sometimes those eventual consequences are not known until they happen in the future, also coming as a deadly surprise.

Part II

Just War Theory and Modern (Fallen) Realities of Warfare: The Morality of Targeting Terrorists

But next we turn to the headlines coming out of Taiwan, and those headlines have to do with the fact that the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States Congress, Nancy Pelosi, made a visit over and against the warnings that came from the People’s Republic of China, and the Communist Party leadership, that that leadership would retaliate, and would respond to what the communists described as the provocation of a high ranking American politician visiting Taiwan. Now, you ask, what in the world’s going on here? Well, there’s a lot going on here.

For one thing, the visit of a speaker of the house is not usually something that makes international headlines, and becomes a part of just constant international conversation, nor is it the case that the average speaker of the house making a visit to a foreign country is actually in danger of sparking something like a military conflict. So there’s something unusual about this, and Nancy Pelosi, the current speaker of the house who is after all a liberal Democrat, who is known for her progressivist policies, and represents one of the most liberal congressional districts in the entire country… She is in a situation in which she actually had many Republicans pleased that she went to Taiwan, and many in her own party very unpleased that she had gone.

Now there’s a little bit of political strategy behind this that turns out to be interesting, because Nancy Pelosi does after all represent a very liberal district in San Francisco, California. But California and the west coast in particular going all the way up to say, Vancouver, British Columbia, the west coast has a very large Asian population, and San Francisco has a very large population that’s associated with Chinese heritage. And it turns out that it’s good politics for Nancy Pelosi to be a friend of Taiwan. That is, the brave island nation that dares to stand over against China, and since the Chinese communist revolution in 1949 has become a symbol of defiance over against the communist party, and the massive military might and communist ideology of the People’s Republic of China.

Now, as I said, Speaker Pelosi, long before she was Speaker Pelosi, was known for the fact that she would confront China. She went to Tienanmen Square. Some of you remember the importance of that particular place in Beijing after the Tienanmen Massacre. And there, right before a watching world, in about her second term in office, she was a fairly new member of Congress, she unfurled a banner of support for the students, and it basically was a moral judgment against the communist leadership there in the People’s Republic of China. The People’s Republic of China sees Nancy Pelosi’s existence as a provocation, her visit to Taiwan as a completely unacceptable sign of American solidarity with Taiwan, its government and its people. Now, this becomes very interesting in US politics, because the current president of the United States, Joe Biden, who after all is a Democrat, he and his administration were clearly not pleased at Nancy Pelosi, who is a Democrat, if anything, to the left of Joe Biden, that she would actually dare to bring about a possible international crisis by going to Taiwan.

Meanwhile, there were at least some Democrats, but many Republicans, who said, “Look, it’s high time that the communist leaders in China come to understand that the United States is going to identify the survival of Taiwan as an issue of American vital interest.” Now, this just gets all the more interesting in terms of worldview, but it also requires us to review a little bit of history. The American media basically are not telling the American people this history, but let’s think about it for a moment. First of all, Taiwan. Taiwan is not just one island, it’s actually something like 168 islands, but the main island is what we’re talking about with Taiwan. It had been formerly known as Formosa, and we’re looking at a country, insofar as it is a country, that only includes something like 14,000 square miles. Now, when did this particular country really enter into Western consciousness?

Well, it was a colony of the Dutch for some time until the Qing dynasty was established and the Chinese gained control of the island in 1683. The Qing dynasty encouraged further migration of the Han people, that is the main people that represent Chinese civilization, onto the island that we know as Formosa, now Taiwan. And the Qing dynasty, the Imperial dynasty of China, ruled over what we would now call Taiwan between 1683 and 1895. What happened in 1895? Well, a victory of the Japanese Empire over the Qing dynasty gave the Japanese control of the island, and the Japanese held it as a part of the Empire of Japan from 1895 to 1945. This is exactly 50 years. And when you hear 1945, you’ll recognize it was the Japanese surrender to the allies at the end of World War II in 1945 that spelled the end of the Japanese occupation of the island.

Then it became known as the ROC, or the Republic of China. Now, that was a period only from 1945 to 1949. Now, if you hear 1949, you have to understand that was when the communists gained control of mainland China. Now they had fought a war over against nationalist forces that were led by General Chiang Kai-shek. General Chiang, as he was known, eventually evacuated his forces after the communists gained control, and the nationalist government established the Republic of China on Taiwan in 1949. And thus the Western nations who were after all opposed to the communist revolution, began to see China, mainland China, as solid red under the communists. Meanwhile, brave Formosa, or Taiwan, became the Republic of China associated with the West under the leadership of General Chiang Kai-shek.

The general had led the retreat of the forces known as the Kuomintang there to the island that is now known as Taiwan, and he established what can only be described as a certain kind of autocracy or dictatorship under military rule and marshal law. But he clearly associated with the Western powers, the United States, England, France, and other nations in the West. And the Western nations responded to Taiwan… after all, it was militantly anti-communist, but pro-Western… they responded by allowing Taiwan, or in this case, as it was known, the Republic of China on Taiwan, to be a part of the formation of the United Nations, one of the original countries that was involved in the membership in the United Nations.

But as much sense as that made in terms of tensions between the East and the West during the cold war, it really didn’t make sense, at least in the minds of the United Nations and most of its member states, that one of the most populous and powerful nations in the world, even a nuclear nation, such as China, was not represented there in the United Nations, and the tiny island nation of Taiwan was. All that changed with UN Resolution 2758, which was adopted on October the 25th of 1971. The bottom line? Communist China came in and not only did it come in, but the People’s Republic of China under the leadership of the communist party eventually ended up with a seat on the security council, simply because of its size and nuclear capability, Taiwan was out. But at the same time, the United States government gave assurances to Taiwan of guarding its integrity. Two other things happened. First of all, in Taiwan, a liberalizing took place in which the country became more and more truly democratic. It shifted from a one party state to a multi-party state, if indeed it is a state.

But it also grew exponentially in terms of economics, especially with high technology. At one point in recent years, the tallest building in the world was in Taipei, Taiwan. It’s been eclipsed by other buildings, so that tells you something of the enormous wealth there on Taiwan. And it also tells you about the success of its high technology industries. But there’s something else, and that is the fact that the island of Formosa, the nation of Taiwan, sits alongside one of the most important shipping lanes in the entire world. It is extremely important. But here’s something else. Even as the United States gave assurances to Taiwan that we would protect its integrity and security, the United States was not particularly clear about what exactly it might do if the communists on the mainland decided to take control of Taiwan, which they threatened to do over and over again.

The current leadership of the communist party in China has an official one China policy, which means that they say that Taiwan is already a part of the People’s Republic of China, it’s just a matter of how long it will take the communists on the island to decide to crack down and claim possession of the island. What would the United States do in response? Well the official policy, and this tells you something in worldview significance, the official policy in the United States heretofore has been known, no kidding, as strategic ambiguity, which is to say, the official policy of the American government is not to tell anyone, perhaps even ourselves, what exactly we might do. What line we would not allow the communists to cross.

That strategic ambiguity is really important, because it prevents the United States having to go to war with another nuclear power if indeed the US does not see that in its interest. But the U.S. sees Taiwan in its interest and the visit of Speaker Pelosi, even though the Biden administration clearly did not want it to happen, it might lead to consequences that are positive or negative. Either way, we don’t know right now, but we do know that it was an international headline event. In worldview significance, even though Speaker Pelosi would not use this kind of language, she might not even appreciate this kind of language, her visit does demonstrate the clash of worldviews. The clash of worldviews behind communism on the mainland, and some form of capitalism and democratic self-government on the island of Taiwan, the nation of Taiwan.

It demonstrates the difference between the materialism and the atheism of mainland China’s official doctrine, and what is at least some form of religious freedom there within Taiwan. It demonstrates the difference between the East and the West, between the Communist Bloc, as it sometimes has been known, and perhaps is becoming once again, and the American, European, Western influence that is the counterweight to the communist countries around the world and others who would associate with them. Now at the same time, this comes with all kinds of interesting complications. Is there going to be a new alliance between Russia and China? Maybe so, maybe not. The United States had after all been a part of bringing mainland China under communist leadership into membership in the United Nations. I’ll have to say politically, it was something that could probably be described as unavoidable, but at the same time, it was President Richard Nixon in 1972 who shocked the entire world by making his historic visit to China. And that led to the opening of China, at least in part.

But in more recent years, China has become even more repressive and even more ideologically doctrinaire, clamping down in repression, and basically doing in Hong Kong, and in other places, what the Chinese communist leadership now threatens to do to Taiwan.

Part III

Nancy Pelosi Visit to Taiwan, Right or Wrong? ‘Strategic Ambiguity’ in a Fallen World

So we close today by asking this worldview question. Was Speaker Pelosi’s visit right or wrong? Will it have positive effects, or negative effects?

The answer is it’s not so easy to say, even on the right or wrong. Was it a brave act of American statesmanship, or was it a reckless act by a politician, who basically leaves Taiwan only to see the entire situation explode? It’s a reminder to us as thinking Christians, trying to think biblically, that there are some issues that are simply not yes or no questions. In a fallen world, a world in which you have massive armies, nuclear weapons, geopolitics at stake, sometimes you just don’t know what the effect of any particular action or inaction might be.

But in a fallen world, standing up for liberty is in itself a good thing. Speaker Pelosi had spoken of going to Taiwan, but her official itinerary did not include Taiwan. But then of course, you know now she did go to Taiwan. Will history record this as a right or a wrong act? As a provocation, or as a sign of American idealism and support for Taiwan? Only time will tell. Tragically, it might actually be a fairly short amount of time. But it also leaves people with questions. President Biden violated his own policy not too long ago, by seeming to give the assurance to Taiwan that America would become involved militarily if Taiwan were to be threatened by China, or threatened in a way that clearly would include military action. The White House tried to backtrack and step back from what the president had said, but now we have the Speaker of the House there, both of them, by the way, prominent Democrats, of course.

So what lesson will the Chinese learn from this? What action will they take? It’s just a sad fact that in a fallen world, there are very powerful forces for evil, and the communist party in China is one of them. Christians understand that in a fallen world, in situations like this, sometimes the only posture you can take is to articulate principle, and then also admit something like strategic ambiguity.

There will be no strategic ambiguity in the Kingdom of Christ, but as for the kingdom of this world, evidently, there is.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can call 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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