The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

It’s Wednesday, February 22nd, 2023.

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

Part I

Message Sent: President Biden Makes History with Surprise Appearance in Kyiv

It is just like a spy novel. It is just like a modern suspense thriller. And there are huge lessons here when it comes to leadership and the battle of ideas. Even the clash of worldviews. What am I talking about? I’m talking about the President of the United States surreptitiously getting on a small military jet with the curtains drawn and flying without any public announcement with two reporters who had absolutely no cell phones with them at the time, traveling to Poland and then going overnight in a multi-hour process on a train because flying would’ve been too dangerous from Poland to Kyiv, Ukraine in order to bring greetings and instill hope from the American people.

And yes, I’m talking about President Joe Biden showing up in Ukraine during a period of war, showing up in a war zone without the overt protection of the American military, and doing so in order to send a political and worldview message.

In this case, the worldview has to do with the superiority of freedom over oppression, and the superiority of a democratic form of government over dictatorship. And it’s a contrast between the West and in this case, he was showing Western solidarity with Ukraine and totalitarianism. And most importantly in this case, Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine just about a year ago in terms of the date that the military action, the invasion began.

Now, my differences with Joe Biden are almost incalculable. My criticism of Joe Biden is absolutely on the record. I see Joe Biden as a pathetic political figure in so many ways, and as a president who betrays many of the moral values I consider most important. I see him as untethered from reality politically speaking in so many respects as he serves as President of the United States. I’ve been very clear about that.

But when someone on the stage of world history does something worthy of our admiration, we need to note it. And all Americans need to understand that America is never more America than when you have a statement like this on the world stage that demonstrates not only personal courage but national courage, but don’t discount the personal courage here. And when you have someone literally going to plant the flag, the American flag on the side of liberty in a contested war zone. And just as an historical reference, the last time that an American president has entered what was defined as an active war zone without overt American military superiority and protection was Abraham Lincoln visiting the Battlefront during the Civil War. Let’s just say that was a while ago.

An occurrence like this just should cause Christians to step back and realize we’re not just talking about a political contest of worldviews and ideas inside the United States. We’re talking about a great conflict of worldviews on the world stage, the world stage even more complicated than our domestic national stage. So when you’re talking about American politics, well, I think most evangelical Christians have a very clear idea of what’s going on.

But when it comes to world politics, well, in this sense, when you had Joe Biden show up in Kyiv, he wasn’t representing the Democratic Party, he wasn’t just representing the American government, he was representing America. And that’s what many American sometimes fail to understand. The American president making a trip like this under these conditions was showing up in a sense as America and standing for American values and American courage and for an American witness to the superiority of freedom over oppression.

Now, this isn’t an uncomplicated picture, it’s not uncomplicated when it comes to Kyiv. It’s not uncomplicated when it comes to widespread corruption in the Ukrainian government. It’s not uncomplicated when it comes to Ukraine emulating many times, so many of the worst aspects of Western societies when it comes to moral progressivism. You don’t dismiss any of that, but we do need to recognize that particularly in the crucible of war, some issues are just immediately clarified. And in this case, you’re talking about an invader nation. You’re talking about a clash of worldviews.

And the most important clash for us to understand is that it is the clash between the historic West. That is to say Western civilization in which the United States as the undisputed leader, and you’re looking at autocracy, totalitarianism, which increasingly is the rival political challenge to the United States and to Western notions of liberty. That’s just the way it is. That’s the way it was in the 20th century, and we thought we were over that by the end of the 20th century, but history tends to come back and it often comes back with revenge.

The clash of worldviews was actually recognized even using that word, and the secular world doesn’t often use that word. But it showed up in yesterday’s front page of the New York Times, the headline, “For Biden Night of Risk on Way to Besieged Kyiv.” The subhead, “President and Putin Two Worldviews.” Now, that’s absolutely right, but it’s even more right, that there’s a fundamental clash of worldviews that is not only between, say totalitarianism when it comes to Putin. And when it comes to liberty, when it comes to western civilization, it’s more complicated than that. And American choices right now, even policy determinations are more complicated than that.

It is not the case that the vast majority of Americans are determined to stand with Joe Biden in terms of specific policies when it comes to Ukraine. Indeed, at the present, it is clear that you have rising concerns about some of the pledges made to Ukraine and some of the boasts and the claims made by Ukraine. Some of the goals that have been indicated by the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The reality is that there are huge policy debates to come, but what shouldn’t be up for debate, what in the West must never be up for debate is whether or not a Western form of constitutional democracy, a constitutional republic of some form, is infinitely superior to a form of totalitarianism that celebrates human oppression and raises it to a level of ideology that can only be described as religious.

One of the other things we need to recognize is that a part of America’s power around the world is the power of worldview that sometimes just shows up in something that is defined even as emotional when it comes to some form of encouragement. The presence of an American president under conditions of war in Kyiv, taking sides in this battle, which is not only military but ideological, this gave great courage to many Ukrainians.

One Ukrainian, Serhiy Koshman, simply said, “Officially, today was the most pleasant many-hours traffic jam on Kyiv streets in all the history of independence.” In other words, the American president caused a traffic jam. It was the greatest most magnificent traffic jam, he says, in Ukrainian history. Speaking of the picture of the American and Ukrainian presidents together in front of the major cathedral there in Kyiv, he said, “I even cried of happiness for it. It’s euphoric, something psychological.”

Indeed, Christians understand that the most important issues are never merely cognitive. They are ideological. They’re never merely ideological. Human beings are multifaceted and we are emotional beings. And one of the things Christians need to work for, by the way, is the discipline of our emotions to truth. And yet we understand that when you are looking at something like this, sometimes emotion just bubbles over. It’s just effusive. It simply pours out, and it appears that that’s exactly what took place in Ukraine.

Now, all this raises another issue we need to think about. What was the audience for President Biden’s visit here? Well, most importantly, most immediately, it was a Ukrainian audience, but wait just a minute, there were other audiences as well. He meant to encourage the Ukrainians and give them pride and give them hope just by the American encouragement, the presence of the American president. But he was also sending a message elsewhere. You might say, most importantly, when it comes to elsewhere, he was sending a message, he was taking a stand over against Vladimir Putin, the Russian president who’s been in power now for roughly 20 years and has simply deepened the talons of his totalitarian reign during that time.

But make no mistake, American politicians and the American president is always an American politician, expected now to run for reelection. He has a domestic audience in mind as well. Let’s just say this video, at least at this point, is likely to look very good in political campaign commercials and all the symbolism that is attached there too in the 2024 presidential election. There’s simply no doubt about that.

But even as you look at this, you recognize that American presidents must at times do what American presidents must do. And there was no historical inevitability that said Joe Biden had to take this kind of risk and go to Kyiv during the condition of war. There was nothing in American history parallel to an American president flying in the dark across the Atlantic and then driving in a motorcade to a train station to spend hours on a Ukrainian train getting to Kyiv without overt American military support because of the danger of provoking something with Russia.

Under those conditions, you just have to say historically this was remarkable.

And I don’t want this edition of The Briefing to go by without recognizing that fact.

Part II

The Clash of Idealism and Realism in American Political Policy: The Conflict Under the Headlines

But then at the same time, we are looking at the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and that leads to other big questions, such as where in the world do we go from here? Ukraine’s president continues to say that Ukraine will never stop fighting until there is absolute victory and Russia is kicked out of all Ukrainian territory. And by that, he means not only the Donbas in terms of the Ukrainian land mass, he also means Crimea, the Crimean Peninsula that had belonged to Ukraine and yet was invaded by Russia several years ago and taken by force. He’s saying that now for this war to come to an end, Ukraine must be made whole. It must gain all the territory that the Russians have threatened or invaded and now occupied.

But to state the matter clearly, that is not likely to happen. And even as Russia has been humiliated by its incompetence in this war, the fact is Russia is still Russia and Ukraine is still Ukraine, and it just becomes incredibly unlikely in military terms that all of that territory is somehow going to be regained by military force. And that’s even with all the billions indeed trillions of money that has been pouring into Ukraine in order to fight this war. And it also has to do with the fact that so much military equipment and technology is being given to Ukraine. But there’s another aspect of this, and it’s the worldview dimension in looking at this kind of huge question in foreign policy.

One of the most helpful aspects of this was offered by Gerard Baker writing in The Free expression column of The Wall Street Journal yesterday. The headline of his article, “Will the Ukraine War Push the West Toward a New Realism?” Now, this points to a crucial distinction in American, in Western foreign policy, and it’s good for Christians to think about this even to understand the terms that are being used. The term that’s used here is realism, as in American foreign policy and America’s view of the world. What would be the alternative to realism? It’s not realism. No. The alternative is what’s called idealism. So you have these two poles in American foreign policy. Those who stand for idealism and they hold to a system of thought that is simply summarized in that word, and those who hold to realism.

Now, in the 20th century, there was a significant battle between the idealists and the realists when it came to American foreign policy. Now just to say, what’s the main difference? Well, the main difference is this. What should be the guiding purpose of America’s engagement with the world? How should America view the world? The idealists have argued that the way that America should view the world, the shape of American foreign policy should be driven by support for, indeed insistence upon American ideals. And that would include, of course, ideals of liberty and democracy, and particularly of constitutional self-government, of the consent, that is government by the consent of the people. There are just incredible principles that are involved here, including expectations of non-aggression on the part of nations. That is to say nations should not go to war with nations.

Idealism has often arisen in terms of American foreign policy seen mostly in retrospect. So example, you look back to the early 20th century, Woodrow Wilson, the then President of the United States, an idealist to the core, and that idealism was demonstrated in his support for what was called the League of Nations. But that idealism did not have enough political support in the United States for even the United States to join the League of Nations. And the realists were pressing back on the idealist saying the world is not safe for that kind of utopianism.

Realism is an understanding that actually has theological roots, going back to Reinhold Niebuhr, perhaps the most influential mainline Protestant theologian of the 20th century. Reinhold Niebuhr, who by the way was no evangelical and who did not hold to orthodox Christianity even on major doctrines, Reinhold Niebuhr nonetheless became extremely well-known for his moral realism. And what he meant by that is that the one doctrine he just wanted to affirm was the doctrine socially speaking of sin.

That is to say of humanity writ large and the doctrine of sin. Now, he wasn’t so keen to talk about sin as an individual reality, that’s where the Scripture begins. But talking about sin as a major principle in the world, explaining world events, explaining the battle of ideas, explaining oppression around the world and explaining why idealists in foreign policy were always frustrated and often left the nation vulnerable.

Reinhold Niebuhr was the theologian part of this equation, but there were major figures in American foreign policy who also helped to define realism. Figures such as John Foster Dulles, United States Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, George Kennan, just a large number of those who contributed to what was considered a chastened view of the world, especially after two world wars and the realization that the United States was locked in a conflict of worldviews and a battle for world power with totalitarian states, and most importantly, with world communism. It was a sobering reminder of the fact that the world is simply not a safe place. That’s a part of realism.

And Gerard Baker gets right to the point when he gives President Biden credit for what he calls an impressive display of support in Kyiv for Ukraine and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. But he then asks the key question. He says, there are at least four audiences to which he should be delivering critical messages this week. And the big question is, did President Biden recognize this and did he send the right signals? The first audience, well, Baker says that’s Ukraine itself. “Promises of support for a nation’s struggle are proper. But privately, the president needs to convey some of that hard-headed realism he claims he’s brought to more than half a century of foreign-policy debates.” Baker goes on, “Ukraine has every right to defend its territory, but it doesn’t have a right to American money and material to prosecute a conflict without end.”

Again, one part of realism is understanding that some kind of balance, some kind of moral equation has to be made. How much is going to be invested in this war? How many lives will be put at risk or how many lives lost? How much of an entire culture will be destroyed? What is that worth? And that’s complicated by the fact that on the ground, some of the people, indeed thousands of the people, and the territory Russia has gained by an illegal and immoral invasion, they do speak Russian and at least some of them consider themselves Russians. And so that is a complicated situation that doesn’t justify anything Vladimir Putin has done. It just does in a fallen world complicate how to put this puzzle back together again and figuring out some of the moral calculus of what a war is worth for how long.

Baker says the second audience that realism should address is Moscow. And as he writes, “Despite Vladimir Putin’s fever dreams, the Russian empire is, like other European empires over the past two centuries, in terminal retreat. Its disastrous campaign in Ukraine,” he write, “far from reversing that retreat, has accelerated it. The idea,” he says, “that Putin will use Ukraine to launch a war on the rest of Europe is ludicrous and he is no fool.”

Well, I’m not sure I agree with those last few words because only time will tell if Vladimir Putin is that foolish. We can’t actually count on the fact that he is not, and that’s also a principle of realism.

He says the third audience for Biden’s realism should be European allies. “Expect self-congratulatory back-slapping about how magnificently the alliance has performed in the past year. But some realism here is also essential. It isn’t the alliance that can claim credit, it’s the U.S.” He goes on to say, “I don’t demean the contribution the Europeans have made, but it is the American government and people that have, for the umpteenth time in little over a century, stepped up to save a far-flung European country from the predations of another continental power.”

I think Baker’s exactly right when he writes this, “Does anyone think for a second that if the US had washed its hands of Ukraine a year ago, the other NATO members would have leapt to defend it?” He goes on to say, “Germans would now be clinking champagne glasses in the Kremlin in celebration of some new pipeline deal.” And about that, Gerard Baker is absolutely right. That again, is one of the insights of realism.

And Baker says that President Biden should send this message to our allies, “Mr. Biden’s message should be blunt: Get real about the Hobbesian world we inhabit and decide whose side you are on in the strategic contest between the US and China, or the next time some megalomaniac comes nibbling at your territory, it won’t be American dollars that save you.”

But then Baker goes on to say, and I think he’s right in this, that the other audience that counts here is the audience of the American people. Baker writes, “The president needs to explain urgently to his fellow citizens how exactly the arms and money spigot for Ukraine isn’t draining the country’s military capabilities and its reservoir of strategic capacity for the long twilight struggle with China.”

And that gets back to another issue in the conflict between idealism and realism in American foreign policy. Now, let’s be clear, we don’t want a foreign policy without ideals. That would not be a Western, it wouldn’t be an American foreign policy, but those ideals have to be understood and affirmed within a context of seeing the world for what it really is. And what it really is, is a dangerous place in which there is a constant clash of worldviews, and you also have in a sinful world, countries, not just individuals, but countries that will take advantage and will oppress and will invade and will conquer if they are given the opportunity.

It won’t serve the truth and it won’t serve morality to present the situation in Ukraine as absolutely clear cut and uncomplicated. Ukraine is itself a society about which American conservatives would have a lot of legitimate concern, but here’s what we understand. You can’t even have an honest conversation in Putin’s Russia when it comes to Ukraine.

That’s exactly what we need to have, a lot of honest conversations that are consistent with American moral principles.

Part III

A Not-So Conservative Conservative: The New York Times Pumps Chris Sununu as Possible Republican Presidential Nominee

But next, as we are thinking about the battle of worldviews, we are looking at a United States presidential campaign season just beginning to fire up. And predictably, you’ve got speculation about so many people on both sides of the divide, by the way. It’s different on the Democratic side. We’ll talk about that later.

But on the Republican side, a lot of people are putting out feelers and it’s really interesting that even though you have people from all kinds of political backgrounds in the Republican Party, at least offering themselves as an idea, the reality is that governors and former governors have a particular credibility on the Republican side. And so it’s not a surprise that a lot of governors are on what people present as a list of perspective contenders for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

It’s also interesting to see how the media puts forward candidates, and it does so, of course, without neutrality. It does so often making very clear that it’s tipping its hand one way or another. There is no secret that the mainstream media would like to see the Republican Party move left, and you have the indication that one of the candidates they think just might have the ability to do that is New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu. Now in his second term, and there is no doubt that he’s a very effective politician in the state of New Hampshire. And he comes by it in terms of a family dynasty. His father, John Sununu, was also a Republican governor of New Hampshire.

And understand, New Hampshire gives a Republican a huge advantage because New Hampshire is the first Republican primary. So the incumbent governor in New Hampshire, let’s just say, has an incredible opportunity. Of course, losing that primary would also be particularly devastating, but you have Chris Sununu who’s popular enough that at least in New Hampshire, he is likely to be seen as a favorite son. Why am I bringing him up today?

It is because it’s important to recognize that when the media presents its preferred Republican, it is not going to be a very conservative Republican. And in this case with Chris Sununu, even though he might be considered on the conservative side of the ledger on some fiscal issues, when it comes to moral issues and some of the headline issues of the day, let’s just say not so much.

For example, he defines himself as pro-choice on the issue of abortion. He did sign a ban on abortion after 24 weeks, but he does not want abortion to be a contested political issue, and he does not want to see the elimination of all abortion, and thus he defines himself as basically as his default position, pro-choice. We’re not putting that on him. He has chosen that label for himself. I’ll just state, I find it implausible given the shape of the Republican electorate that someone who is self-identified as pro-choice has much of a chance, at least I have to hope that is the case.

But there’s a second part of the New York Times consideration of Chris Sununu that deserves some attention. The New York Times tells us that Governor Sununu “also criticized ostensible conservatives for targeting private businesses deemed hostile to right-wing values.” Citing Mr. DeSantis, that’s Florida governor Ron DeSantis in particular, “Is government going to solve a cultural issue as Governor Sununu? No, good Republicans don’t believe that.”

Well, here’s the issue. That basically means that Governor Sununu wants the Republican Party, and thus the conservative movement in the United States, to take a vacation from fighting these issues. Let me tell you what that is. You can describe it as a political strategy, or you can summarize that political strategy as cultural surrender because that’s what it is. Let’s just state that he’s right when he says that government isn’t going to solve a cultural issue.

That’s right. Government can’t resolve, can’t finally solve, cultural issues, but you know what? The government does take aside in every major cultural issue. We see that with the controversy over whether parents should even be involved in terms of the transgender identity and further the transgender treatment of their children. You look at all these things and of course abortion, you just add all this to the mix. Government is going to take sides. Government is going to establish policies. There’s going to be a law concerning abortion, and it’s either going to be pro-abortion or in some way pro-life, and there is so much that is at stake.

Yes, Governor Sununu, you’re right, government is not going to solve a cultural issue, but we have to look at elections and recognize that it is up to us to elect people who will at least make sure that government is on the right side on these cultural issues, because government is going to take sides, and that’s why voters understand we have to take sides too.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can 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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