The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, September 21, 2023

It is Thursday, September 21st, 2023.

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

Part I

Tehran’s New Business Model: Biden Administration Succumbs to Iran’s Hostage Demands

We knew this was coming because it had basically been leaked by the White House, but just this week, five American hostages were released in Tehran. They’ve been now safely returned to the United States and, this gets really, really interesting, several people have been held by United States authorities who were Iranians have been returned to Iran, but the big issue is that the Iranian government only released these American hostages after the United States government agreed to “unfreeze” $6 billion in Iranian oil revenue. Now, the background of that, just horribly important.

As you are looking at this, you recognize the release of hostages is a good thing. The release of these American citizens who are hostages in Iran, that’s in itself a good thing. It’s a good thing they returned to their families. It’s a good thing they returned to the United States of America.

However, this action by the Biden administration is horribly dangerous. I discussed it when it was seen on the horizon. Well, now it’s happened and as it’s happened, frankly, it’s even worse than we expected because what we see here is a misrepresentation by the American government of what this deal really comes down to. It comes down to making hostage taking profitable, and it also comes down to the fact that there are regimes that are outlaw regimes in this country, and the Iranian regime is one of the most famous or infamous of those outlaw governments. It’s been that way for a long time. We talk about American hostages. Let’s just remember the experience of the 1970s. Let’s remember what has taken place, even as the United States has come officially to declare Iran a major source of world terrorism and has put economic strictures on Iran that are supposed to keep Iran from gaining access to the very kind of money the United States has just facilitated returning there.

This makes hostage taking a very profitable enterprise. This is a lesson to Iran and other similar regimes around the world. Nab an American and you only have to wait a bit of time and the Americans will pay you off. There is an international industry in hostage taking and the Biden administration has just become a major customer in that industry.

There are a host of moral issues behind this, and some of these frankly are bipartisan, but in this case it’s the Biden administration that has taken this action and is dishonest and way outside the norms of anything that serves our national interest or morality. Let’s just look at that and understand it. Again, it’s a good thing that these hostages are returned to their families. That’s just an unalloyed good thing, but this is where we understand as Christians that morality is judged not only by the end but also by the means, and in this case, the means do not justify the end, especially when this is going to put further Americans at risk.

Again, it’s an advertisement to rogue nations just take an American or multiple Americans and wait long enough and America will pay you off. This is a profitable enterprise by nefarious characters. Senator Tom Cotton, he’s a Republican from Arkansas, I think got it exactly right when he said “Joe Biden’s embarrassing appeasement not only makes Iran stronger, it makes America less safe”, and it certainly does. It makes America less safe in more than one way. It makes us less safe because Iran now has $6 billion it can use for its own evil intentions and it also has the clear message take more Americans, you’re likely to get more money. Or as Mick Mulroy, who had been a senior Pentagon official in the last administration, said that this release of the funds to the Iranians will likely “give countries that incarcerate Americans as political hostages more reasons to do so”. Indeed, about 6 billion more reasons in this case.

The Biden administration tried to camouflage this by saying that even though there was the release of this $6 billion, the administration said, “Well, it was Iran’s money already”. Well, that’s an irrelevant point. The entire point of the economic sanctions undertaken by the United States in order to limit the influence of Iran, and frankly, that’s a very maligned, dangerous influence indeed in the lives and operations of many of our major allies around the world, the Biden administration said “This was Iran’s money, we just unfroze it”, and furthermore said, “We’re not giving it to Iran, we’re giving it to Qatar to accounts there, and it can be used only for humanitarian purposes. It can’t be used for the Iranian military or for nefarious purposes”. That is absolutely ridiculous because money is money and even if those particular dollars, and by the way an electronic transfer, they’re not even physically dollars, but just imagine if it was a physical dollar, it can be used yes in some kind of fig leaf of diplomacy supposedly to buy food or medicine, but the fact is money is fungible.

That’s a very important word, which means you spend a dollar here, that means you freed up a dollar there to spend for another purpose. It’s fungible. It basically means money is money, and there’s no way around the fact that we just gave the Iranian regime $6 billion, and by the way, the Iranian government recognized that and didn’t even try to put on the same fig leaf of diplomacy. The Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said, “Fortunately, Iran’s frozen assets in South Korea were released and God willing today the assets will start to be fully controlled by the government and the nation”. Now, just to state the matter bluntly, the officials spokesperson there for the Iranian government knew exactly what the American government and the American president and the Biden administration has said, and it basically said, “You’re fools”.

The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal responded to this by calling hostage taking like this Tehran’s business model they went on to say, “And it works”. The editorial board concluded “Rogue regimes and thugs will keep snatching and imprisoning Americans until they fear that the risks of doing so are greater than the ransom they seek”. When it comes to moral terms, this week was a very bad week on the score.

Part II

Lots and Lots of Words: the United Nations General Assembly Meets in New York

But this week is also a very interesting week, although most people in the United States pay very little attention to the fact that the United Nations General Assembly is meeting right now in New York City. Wait for the headlines. No, actually don’t. There probably won’t be any because the United Nations right now is practically unable to do anything other than serve as a platform for world leaders to get up and talk. There’s a history behind this and it is important.

The idea of a United Nations, just think about the words for a moment, means that somehow above the level of the nation, there’s a political entity that unites all these nations together. Now, the obvious geophysical fact is that we share a planet, but beyond that, the fact is that the nations of the world have never been united, and as a matter of fact, even in the Old Testament, there are warnings against the hubris that comes when nations claim that they are fully united. But the idea of somehow achieving a more peaceful world or even a global age of peace, it’s been appealing for a long time.

You go back, for instance, to the beginning of the 20th century, kind of a hinge moment, you look at the horror of the first World War and the fact that after that horrifying war that ravaged so much of Europe and eventually the United States was also drawn into the conflict. You are looking at a desire for peace and the United States was led then by President Woodrow Wilson, who was a globalist, who had a very clear idea of what that structure for global peace would look like. It would be a League of Nations. Now, understand, this only works if this League of Nations, this supernational body has some kind of legislative authority and some kind of military might, and that’s why Americans weren’t going for it.

Woodrow Wilson put himself on the line. He even was given the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919 about the League of Nations, but the United States Senate never ratified the treaty. The United States never joined the League of Nations, partly because the United States is not a joiner nation in so many of these things, certainly then, and also partly because many in the Senate simply heard the President talk about it and said, “We’re not joining it”. But before the League of Nations, I said this early part of the 20th century is kind of a hinge, before that you can go all the way back to 1815 and the creation of what was known as the concert of Europe, and that came out of the mayhem in Europe given the Napoleonic wars, and the idea was, okay, let’s just stop doing this. Let’s stop doing this and let’s create a European unity in the post Napoleonic age that will create an era of world peace.

Now just remember that was 1815, 100 years later, Europe’s then engaged in the most horrifying war that Europe had ever experienced. But then we know World War I, after all this is why we call it World War I, was eclipsed by an even deadlier world conflagration just a generation later known as World War II. The concert of Europe, by the way, it officially fell apart at one point, they tried to put it back together, but World War I meant that that was over. So then Woodrow Wilson and others in Europe and elsewhere tried to put together the League of Nations, but the United States never actually joined. By the way, the League of Nations really didn’t disappear in some legal sense until the end of World War II. By then, of course, it was completely irrelevant.

At the end of World War II, the United States was pretty fed up with having been drawn into these two massive world conflicts and was trying to find some way to exert American influence in a common effort to try to limit war and aggression, and so the United States was very involved in what became known as the United Nations, and it was so involved as a matter of fact, that the United States as the major global victor at the end of World War II got to pretty much set the terms. Not all the terms, but at least many of the terms, including where the United Nations headquarters would be. Harry Truman, who was the American president at the time, was very clear about the fact that he wanted the world headquarters for the United Nations not in Washington DC, but also not far so that Washington could keep a close watch on the United Nations. It eventually was located on what is known as Turtle Bay in Manhattan.

If you ever have an opportunity to visit the United Nations, it’s pretty much exactly what you expect it to be. It’s modernist architecture. It’s there in New York, in Manhattan, prominent real estate, but a lot of the action actually is taking place outside the buildings where you see all kinds of intergovernmental agencies, all kinds of bureaucracies. You see the United Nations’ own version of the administrative state. It’s all there. You see all this international activity and you understand a lot of it’s just posturing and a lot of it’s worse than posturing.

The President of the United States, President Biden, spoke to the General Assembly two days ago, and we’re going to look in a moment a little bit more of what he had to say, but we just need to understand that even when the United States used its authority to help bring about the United Nations, it’s also important to recognize that the nations never actually have been united.

Frankly, the General Assembly of the United Nations is pretty much only a place where world leaders go to speak and to be seen and make loud noises and take good photographs because the General Assembly of the United Nations has basically no power. Where then is the power in the United Nations. It’s in what is known as the Security Council. The deck was stacked, and for good reasons, the United States was one of those who stacked the deck. The major world powers who were victorious at the end of World War II, they didn’t want to put their future, their national interest in the hands of say dozens and dozens and dozens of little nations. They wanted to have veto power, and that’s exactly why the Security Council of the United Nations is where all the action is.

The Security Council has 15 members. That’s where all the power is. Five of those seats are the P5, the permanent five, and they are the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China. Those five nations are the permanent members, and every single one of them has a veto. That means if any one of those countries vetoes, no action can be taken. That’s just one illustration of why the United Nations is really not United Nations. The most famous or infamous actions or non-action by the Security Council in recent years have been vetoes because you have incommensurate actors here, you have Russia and China, the United States, France and Britain. You have the United States, France and Britain usually on one side, and then you have Russia and China on the other side. You’re talking about two very different histories, two very different ways of looking at the world, and you’re looking at dictatorships in two and some form of Democratic constitutional government in three, and then there are other members that rotate on a two-year basis, but none of that really matters.

Veto power is what matters and thus the United States and the then Soviet Union and England and France entered into the United Nations only understanding that any one of them could put a stop to virtually everything simply with one vote. China was later added.

But the General Assembly meeting every year is still a big deal, and especially since COVID put a pause on things, it’s been used as a very loud platform and the President of the United States, as I said, went this week and spoke, but what’s making news is not who showed up but who didn’t. After all, the president just asked to take a short flight up on Air Force One from Washington to New York. Well, who didn’t come? The leader of Britain, the leader of France, the leader of Russia, the leader of China, which means that of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, only the United States even showed up at the UN General Assembly meeting.

So why didn’t the president of France and the Prime Minister of Britain show up? Well, it’s because they really had no great need to show up. There are domestic issues that have their attention and they weren’t going to gain anything by coming to the General Assembly of the United Nations. That tells you something. Britain and France don’t even show up, sends a very loud message. The leader of China’s not going to show up. China, like these other nations, would be represented by lesser figures, they’re not going to make any headlines, and they don’t arrive as head of government or head of state. China’s not coming because, well, China’s sending its own message. Why is Russia’s president Vladimir Putin not coming? Because the Russian or Soviet leaders have often liked to come to general assembly meetings. Nikita Khrushchev, former Soviet leader, famously took off his shoe and banged the podium at the United Nations just to make a point. Oh, let’s just say that made a memory.

It is really interesting that an Associated Press article about the General Assembly meeting asked the question, what’s the point of the UN General Assembly? The answer was “While the effectiveness of the United Nations has been questioned for as long as it has existed, the benefits of attendance are undeniable”. Well, evidently they are deniable because even four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council decided to skip the meeting, at least when it comes to their head of state or head of government. But as I mentioned, Vladimir Putin, why is he not there? Well, it’s not just because he’s at war with Ukraine and Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is going to speak in the General Assembly at the United Nations, but why not Vladimir Putin?

It’s not just because he understands there would be an awful lot of opposition. It’s not just because he’s too scared to show his face. That’s not it. The main reason he is not traveling to the United States, remember this is in the United States, the reason he’s not coming is because he is at risk of arrest on an international warrant for war crimes just about anywhere he lands outside of Russia, unless he’s going to another government headed by a totalitarian leader that’s an outlaw on the world legal scene. Vladimir Putin can’t show up because he would fear being arrested.

As I said, President Joe Biden did speak to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. American presidents often use this as an opportunity to address the larger world. President Biden was certainly doing that, although an American president always has at least one eye on a domestic audience, but in his address on Tuesday, the President of the United States said, “In my address to this body last year, I announced the United States would support expanding the Security Council, increasing the number of permanent and non-permanent members”.

He went on to say “The United States has undertaken serious consultation with many member states, and we’ll continue to do our part to push more reform efforts forward, look for points of common ground to make progress in the year ahead”. Interesting. Notice what the President said there, but then understanding what you now understand about the United Nations. Notice what he didn’t say. He said he’s looking for the United States perhaps to be an agent for enlarging the number of permanent and non-permanent seats on the security council. He didn’t say a thing about expanding the veto power. But it’s also really interesting that the president then said this, “We need to be able to break the gridlock that too often stymies progress and blocks consensus on the council”. He means the Security Council. “We need more voices and more perspectives at the table”.

Well, let’s just remember that if one power has veto power, it doesn’t matter how many other people or parties are at the table. This is one of those myths of representation that gets played around. It’s very much a play thing of the left, and here you see it being trotted out on the world scene at the UN General Assembly. Anyone who’s been watching this for, say, a century or more would simply see it’s more of the same.

I don’t want to end this without making at least briefly one other observation, and that is that the president of Ukraine is going to show up at the General Assembly. He has every reason to, and he doesn’t want to miss an opportunity to present his case, his nation’s case before the watching world. The Russian president–Russia invaded Ukraine–of course, is not showing up, and that also just goes to show that even in a situation of relative, say, moral relativism and global lawlessness, there is still something revealed in the fact that the Ukrainian president shows up and the Russian president does not. There has to be something more than an historical accident at work there.

Part III

What Are the Clintons Up to in New York? The Clinton Initiative and Their Abortion Agenda

Something else happened on Tuesday, and this is related, it’s on an issue of greater moral urgency, but it’s related in terms of the calendar alongside the meeting of the UN General Assembly, all kinds of NGOs, that’s non-governmental organizations, special interest, think tanks. They all also have meetings. Sometimes this is addressed to a global audience, sometimes to a domestic audience, sometimes both, and in any case, sometimes they’re important or at least important for us to observe. I want to point to a meeting that was hosted by the Clinton Global Initiative.

Now, in one sense, this is the continuation of the work of former president Bill Clinton, former President of the United States, and he began his term 30 years ago. That tells you just how long ago the Clinton administration was in office, but nonetheless, you understand that the Clinton Global Initiative is a progressivist, very liberal globalist organization because it’s not just about Bill, but also about Hillary Clinton, former United States Senator, former First Lady, former Secretary of State, former Democratic presidential nominee in 2016.

So what are they up to in New York alongside the meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations? Well, the Clinton Global Initiative is holding several panels, and one of them is entitled Women’s Rights are Human Rights: How To Provide Abortion Care in a Post Dobbs World. Now, the speakers will include former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as in Clinton Global Initiative, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, also Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and former White House Press secretary Jen Psaki. They’ll be joined by “Model and philanthropist Karlie Kloss. Again, sometimes we just need to look at what’s happening in a place like Manhattan and recognize this isn’t just some kind of distant event we’re watching with some interest. This is clearly directed at changing law, changing policy, changing hearts, changing minds. It’s not an accident that this Clinton Global Initiative event is taking place in connection with the General Assembly of the United Nations.

It’s very similar to what they would do in terms of meeting with the World Economic Forum in Davos and Switzerland. It’s pretty much the same thing. These are the globalists coming to roost together to make plans not only for some kind of global reality the Clinton Global Initiative is after, but rather also making a difference at home. So it’s interesting. These are not international figures, by and large, these are American figures. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Illinois’s governor JB Pritzker, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, former White House Press secretary Jen Psaki. They’re united in adamant support for abortion, defense of abortion rights, expansion of abortion, government payment for abortion. You just look at this and you recognize this really isn’t addressed at, say, the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa. This is most importantly addressed at the 50 states of the United States of America.

Those two governors, by the way, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, it’s hard to imagine anyone more pro-abortion than he. You could say California Governor Gavin Newsom’s trying to give him a running race at that. But nonetheless, these very blue states are just overwhelmingly pro-abortion and they’re just growing more so, and then you add to that former White House press secretary Jen Psaki, the Biden administration is where she served as a press secretary until fairly recently, then going into the media. Again, not only a staunch defender of the Biden administration, a staunch defender of abortion rights, period. Without restrictions. That’s the untold story. That’s the unacknowledged truth, but it’s there.

The Chicago Sun Times reports this, “The expansion of abortion rights in Illinois has put Governor Pritzker in the national spotlight”, and it became a huge focal point during his 2022 campaign for reelection.” “Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, Pritzker and the Democrat led general assembly,” remember again, this in Illinois “Have further expanded abortion rights in Illinois as they seek to create a safe haven for patients traveling from states that have banned abortions, including neighboring Missouri and Indiana”.

Now, let’s just point out that what we see here is full evidence of what we might tragically call a missionary zeal on behalf of abortion. Remember, this is a missionary zeal that the Clinton Global Initiative and the Biden Administration want to spread not only state by state, but nation by nation, even at the General Assembly of the United Nations. By the way, I said you can simply see how the gatherings of all these like birds come together in a flock. How about this? Again, from the Chicago Sun Times, primarily interested in the hometown governor, JB Pritzker. “The Democratic governor’s ramped up his travels this year. In January, he flew to Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting where he promoted Illinois’s achievements alongside Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and John Kerry, president Biden’s special envoy for climate change”.

Part IV

If You Find An Alligator East of Pittsburgh, It Didn’t Put Itself There: Pennsylvania Citizens Concerned as 4-Foot Alligator Apprehended From River

But finally, it appears that nature’s up to something. Yesterday we talked about a bear in a tree shutting down Disney World. Now it’s an alligator in a Pennsylvania river. Kris Mahaer reporting for the Wall Street Journal says that there had come reports of a four-foot alligator in a swift moving river about half an hour east of Pittsburgh, a river that is, because it is at half an hour east of Pittsburgh, “Normally alligator-free”. However, in this case, it appeared it wasn’t alligator-free and multiple sightings, my guess is the first few sightings, were not attributed to an alligator, but to, say, error. But in this case, there were multiple sightings, and it turned out there actually was a gator in the river east of Pittsburgh. That requires some explanation. It also requires some training according to one police officer who said, “In Western Pennsylvania, none of us has specialized alligator training. This isn’t something they give you in the police academy”.

Well, having grown up in Florida and being quite well acquainted with alligators, I don’t think they give the Florida police much instruction on handling alligators either. It’s the kind of thing you might say is learned by experience. In any event, a four foot alligator in a river east of Pittsburgh requires some explanation because as the Wall Street Journal rightly remarked, “Alligators don’t venture on their own further north than North Carolina”. But there have actually been multiple sightings of alligators where they’re not supposed to be, and if they do not on their own get north of North Carolina, and by the way, this is just important for us to remember, they’re cold-blooded creatures, they’re not going to survive a winter near Pittsburgh, and here’s just a fact of nature perhaps we need to consider, remember the old adage, “If you find a turtle on top of a fence post, the turtle didn’t put himself there”. If you find an alligator in your river east of Pittsburgh, the alligator didn’t put himself or herself there either.

It did turn out that at least some of these alligators are apprehended and safely returned or put in a safe place. One of the four foot alligators at stake here was named by the authorities Chomper, I guess, for obvious reasons. This is the kind of world we live in, folks, a world in which we got to deal with what goes on in Manhattan, why we have to be concerned when some of America’s political leaders gather together for a global initiative that turns out to be abortion, and why we have to be at least slightly concerned about alligators showing up in places like Pennsylvania.

Another reminder, we don’t get to run the world, we just have to think about it.

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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