The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, November 27, 2023

It’s Monday, November 27, 2023.

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

Part I

Update on Israel’s War Against Hamas: Some Hostages Come Home, Huge Challenges Remain

There have been major developments in the war between Israel and Hamas. After the deadly Hamas attack of October the 7th, a new milestone has been reached. We’ve had three successive days of human exchanges between Israel and Hamas.

Morally speaking, it’s not an even exchange because Israel is releasing prisoners back to Gaza, and thus back to Hamas’ territory and Hamas control, whereas Hamas is releasing hostages, Israelis and other internationals that were taken in that horrifying genocidal October the 7th attack by Hamas upon Israel. This is a complicated situation. For one thing, the math is lopsided. Israel has been releasing about three captives for every one hostage returned by Hamas. Now, why would Israel do that?

It’s because Israel has demonstrated over a number of years an absolute determination to pay even very lopsided payments in terms of exchanges, prisoner for prisoner or, in this case, prisoner for hostages. That’s not an even moral exchange, and the lopsidedness of the math is eclipsed by the lopsidedness of the morality. Hamas is a murderous terrorist organization that has undertaken a genocidal attack upon Israel and then took a large number of hostages.

Now, quite frankly, at this point, Israel is not even sure which of the hostages are alive and which of the hostages are held by whom. Because even though Hamas has control over much of Gaza, the reality is that there are rival Islamic militant groups as well that are thought to have some of the hostages. Can Hamas deliver the hostages? Well, at least at this point they have delivered a number of the hostages. After three days of exchanges, there have been 58 of the hostages released by Hamas, and you also have a significant number of prisoners.

And at this point, the vast majority of them are teenage boys held by Israel because of attacks and incursions over the border and such things as assault by stone throwing as well as other more serious crimes. And you see two different patterns of response. In the case of the response in Israel, you see overwhelming gratitude at the return of some women and children, and yet no men, certainly no men of military age have been returned. And at the same time, on the other side, you see many of these teenagers who are being welcomed back to Gaza by their Palestinian families as heroes.

And so you really are looking at something that we’ve seen before and that is the lopsidedness of the prisoner exchanges. Now, as I pointed out some weeks in the past, Israel set a precedent here and I think frankly, morally speaking, a very dangerous precedent by indicating that it has more or less an official expected policy of lopsided exchanges. Now, whether or not that’s morally right or wrong, that’s one of the big questions.

It’s morally right to have these hostages returned and returned safely to their families, especially when you’re talking about some of them being very young children, some of them rather infirm elderly people. One little boy who celebrated his ninth birthday in captivity. A four-year-old girl finally returned to her parents.

So in moral, as well as emotional understandable terms, the exchange is very important for Israel, although, by the way, Hamas also holds and Hamas and other terrorist organizations continue to hold there in Gaza a significant number of those who are say American citizens as well. And we really are looking at a very difficult picture.

The Israeli government is in a very difficult position, but we also have to note that the lopsided nature of the human exchanges made by Israel with Hamas and other leaders, it simply is a reminder of the fact that Israel seems to face and to bear what it considers to be a moral responsibility. Not to worry about the math, but just to be determined to get its own people back. That’s understandable. But in moral terms, it also creates a problem because that kind of lopsided exchange creates a market.

That is to say if you make hostage taking profitable not just in financial terms, but in say moral terms, human capital terms, you actually build an industry of hostage taking, and that’s something that Israel now faces. But once Israel had embarked upon this particular policy, its playbook is basically read by its enemies. And this is not something that is likely to be reversed anytime soon. Now, along these lines, something very interesting is happening when it comes to the approach taken by the American administration, the American government.

President Joe Biden and the Biden administration have indicated that they’re willing to go to extreme links to arrange the release in particular of the hostages who also hold American citizenship. There have been grave warnings about this in the past, and frankly, we also have to understand the political reality. The Biden administration, and frankly, this will be true of any administration of either party, the administration’s under incredible pressure to do everything possible to arrange for the release of these prisoners.

And we now know that the United States government was very actively involved in these negotiations. The negotiations were not between Israel and Hamas directly. They were certainly not between the United States and Hamas directly. They were undertaken with an intermediary, which is the Emirate nation of Qatar. Now, you may have noticed this is something that has a familiar ring to it.

Because not too long ago, we were talking about an exchange of money, that is to say Iranian funds that have been sequestered by the American government that were released, they were released to Qatari control. But as we talked about at the time, this really means giving the money right back to Iran. The Qataris are a middleman. But it’s also very important in a following world to understand the necessity of mediators and the necessity of mediating nations. In this case, Qatar is really fulfilling a very important role.

And if it were not mutually beneficial in some sense to both Hamas and to Israel and the United States, on the other hand, then it would not be a factor in this, but it is useful. In the past, European nations have fulfilled this role in similar kinds of situations, but it’s very interesting right now to see that the political leverage between Hamas on the one hand and Israel and the United States on the other hand, that political leverage is basically hinged somewhere in the Arab Emirates.

In this case in particular, it is Qatar that is fulfilling this role. There’ve been direct conversations between the President of the United States and the Emir of Qatar. And in this case, the Qatari mediation appears to be largely successful, though as we said on lopsided terms, and those lopsided terms are almost certain to continue precisely because they’re rather lucrative to the purposes of Hamas, in this case, holding the Israeli hostages. Now, we look at this and we recognize this is an interesting development.

Because in order for this to take place, there had to be a pause in the open hostilities undertaken between Hamas and Israel. And in this case, it means Israel’s incursion after the murderous attack by Hamas, Israel’s incursion into Gaza. It is a pause at this point, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made very clear that Israel intends to begin once again offensive actions against Gaza in order to seek to eliminate Hamas.

But on the other hand, Israel also offered a very big carrot, so to speak, a very big incentive, and that is that if Hamas will continue to release at least 10 hostages a day, Israel will continue the pause for now. But you can do the math pretty quickly. Eventually there will not be any hostages to release or it will be discovered the hostages not released, are not alive. At that point, Hamas loses the leverage and Israel is free to begin its military actions again in the Gaza Strip, seeking to eliminate Hamas or at least to eliminate the effectiveness of its leadership group.

Now, we’re going to be looking at this situation very closely in days to come because we’re going to need to. We’re going to need to look at what is happening, and one of the things we need to understand is that time is not on Israel’s side. It’s not on Israel’s side in more than one way, and that just points to the lopsided military nature of a surprise attack. When a surprise attack takes place like the Hamas attack upon Israel on October the 7th, just a matter of weeks ago, by definition, Israel is not ready for it.

Israel is not ready for offensive. Israel wasn’t ready even as might be expected for some defensive action on October the 7th, and you have the taking of hostages and all the rest. The initiative very clearly went to Hamas. And that’s what happens when you have an offensive action, an attack undertaken by one group or one nation upon another, especially by surprise.

Here’s where the morality of time enters in. It’s for one thing a game of perception because there was no anticipation, there was no buildup, there was no weight in terms of the awareness of Western nations, much less Israel for the attack by Hamas on October the 7th. It came all of a sudden, that’s the very definition of a surprise attack, and it was extremely deadly. The deadliest attack of the sort on Israel in its history. You have to go back to the Holocaust in order to find larger numbers. And of course, those are much larger numbers, but the reality is this was an extremely significant targeted attack by Hamas upon Israel.

Israel, on the other hand, has to take time in order to achieve its ends. It also has to play by rules, rules of international nations. Hamas is a terrorist group. It doesn’t operate by rules, by definition. Israel is a nation. It’s a nation which is a member state of the United Nations. It is bound by treaty and by international law. And yet at the same time, Israel has to defend itself. And so, it’s in a very precarious position. But here’s what we need to note, time was on the side of Hamas in launching a surprise attack.

Time is now a significant enemy of Israel because here is something very important for us to note. The watching world actually sees this very differently than the truth on the ground. The watching world looks at this and says, “Israel has been going at this for a long time. It has been undertaking actions in Gaza for a long time.” Israel understands that if it does not eliminate the threat of Hamas, it’s going to be right back in this situation again.

The moral complexity of this is simply staggering, but it’s also true, and you saw this with a welcoming of those who were returned there in the Palestinian areas of Gaza, you saw they were welcomed back basically as heroes. That tells you something of the moral stakes involved here. There’s no doubt that the next few days are going to be absolutely crucial and we’ll be watching them with you and seeing how events unfold. It is also interesting for us to note that this is taking place in a relatively small part of planet Earth.

But in biblical terms, it’s the most strategic part of planet Earth. And in historic terms, it is a part of planet Earth that will one way or the other demand the attention of virtually the rest of the surface of the world and, most importantly, of its peoples.

Part II

Populist Explosions in the Netherlands and Argentina: The Politics and Worldview of Recent Elections Behind the Headlines

But next, we need to shift to a couple of other stories actually fitting one larger pattern. And in this case, we’re going to be looking at Argentina and we’re going to be looking at the Netherlands. You’re talking about two nations that are very, very different.

One of them, of course, a very old and historic European nation, that would be the Netherlands, and then a nation in South America. We’re talking about Argentina. Now, what ties them together, both of them in just a matter of days elected those who would be identified in the American and in the Western media as far right candidates to lead their governments. In the Netherlands, the man elected was Geert Wilders. It looks like Geert. It’s pronounced Geert Wilders.

He has been the leader of a very conservative party in the Netherlands for a matter of many years now, but he received the largest percentage of the vote in the most recent Dutch election just a matter of days ago. And at this point, he will have at least the opportunity to try to form a government in which he would serve as prime minister. This is a very significant turn to the right in a far more conservative direction there in the Netherlands, something that wouldn’t have been conceivable just a matter of a few years ago.

In Argentina, you are talking about a nation that has swung from one direction to the other, sometimes with the very same candidate in decades past in the earlier years of the 20th century. But the man elected there, Javier Milei, is a right winged libertarian who is identified as an anarcho-capitalist. And as The New York Times says on its front page, this particular anarcho-capitalist, newly elected president of Argentina “has a drastic plan for Argentina.” Indeed, he does. More about that in just a moment.

But here’s what we need to recognize, you are looking at two strategic nations. Argentina has one of the largest economies in South America. It’s a very influential nation, very long history, very turbulent political history as well. Just think of someone like Juan Peron back in the 20th century. And just remember that Juan Peron in one sense played both sides of the street, serving at one point as a far right leader, at another time as basically a far left leader. But nonetheless, Argentinian politics tends to be both polarized and pretty energetic.

The election of Javier Milei is going to be something that will take some time to digest, but it is really important for us to recognize that he’s a very colorful figure. Just his hair, his hair on his head, his facial hair, it’s all meant to send a message of a very unconventional candidate. He ran as a populace, something that was also shared by the conservative candidate in the Netherlands who will serve as that nation’s prime minister, Geert Wilders. Both of them very colorful characters, but there’s no doubt that Javier Milei is the more colorful of the two characters.

But as you’re looking at this, recognize that he identifies himself as an anarcho-capitalist. Now, what in the world does that mean? Well, the phrase anarcho-capitalism emerged in the United States in rather far right political and economic discussions in the 20th century. The idea of an anarcho-capitalism is that the only way for human liberty to survive is if government is severely reduced, and by that I mean severely reduced. That’s the anarcho part of an anarcho-capitalist.

Capitalism would be the economic system, anarcho, in this case, which of course harkens to the word anarchy, refers to the fact that there should be as little government as possible, as small a government as possible. Javier Milei ran there in Argentina by pledging to cut the federal government by something like 50%. But we need to understand that the voters didn’t vote for this particular far right candidate. That’s the way the media describes him. They didn’t do so in a situation of economic stability.

Argentina now faces one of the highest inflation rates in the entire world, something like 140% a year. That means that something that costs $5 this year is going to cost well north of $10 next year, something even closer to something like $14 by some calculations. And the reality is that a nation can’t survive economically that kind of inflation for long. Parents can’t feed their children. Families cannot survive. The economy begins to break down. The currency itself is not trusted. Javier Milei actually ran on the platform.

Now, whether he follows through with this, we’ll have to see, but he ran on the platform of replacing the Argentinian currency with a more stable currency. What would that be? The American dollar. Now, one problem with that is going to be that if you have a nation like Argentina with a massive economy and with a massive debt and it tries to start buying up all those dollars, it’s going to drive the price of dollars high.

And at that point, Argentina may not be able to afford the dollar, even though the pledge of the newly elected president is that he would exchange the Argentinian currency for the American currency as the basis of the Argentinian economy. Now, just to state the obvious, if you have someone making economic promises like this and running on this kind of economic platform, it only makes sense over against a really dire economic situation.

But let’s face it, when people can’t feed their children, when families can’t survive, when businesses can’t operate, when it looks like the entire civilization is in danger of falling economically, people do drastic things. Now, that’s one lesson from all of this, but there’s something else, and that is this. In the case of both Argentina and the Netherlands, but also in other nations as well, you are looking at a resurgent right wing, and the only way you can explain that very resurgent right wing is that it represents the voter’s rejection of leftist policies.

Now, that doesn’t mean they stay in one direction for very long. It is to say that it is in response to the failure of leftist policies that many of these, and I’ll just use the media term for them, far right candidates and parties begin to gain influence. Now, coming to the United States, we’re in a very different situation. We’re in a two party system. We have a constitutional system of governments.

It’s different than what you have in the electoral process either in Argentina or in the Netherlands, but it is very important for us to recognize that the political left in this country pushing things as hard as it has been, especially in moral and cultural terms for a number of years, but also when it comes to the economic and political demands made by so many in the left now surging in power in the Democratic Party, this will bring about a reaction. And that scene right now in the polling indicating the weakness of the reelection prospects of President Biden.

President Biden seems unable to come to terms with that math, but at least many in the Democratic Party are beginning to sharpen their pencils and do the math themselves, and it’s not looking good for November of 2024. But while we’re talking about Argentina and the Netherlands, just to say that Geert Wilders has been on the political scene in the Netherlands for a long time. The great shock is that he won a plurality in the election, at least his party did, and thus, he at least will have the opportunity to try to form a government which he would serve as prime minister.

That leads to the question as to which parties might agree to form a coalition with him. Time’s going to tell on this, but I will tell you this, a very clear signal, a very clear jolt has been sent through the Dutch political system. But because of the historic role of the Netherlands in Europe, this isn’t just about the Dutch vote. This is about the fact that there is tremendous unrest throughout much of Europe when it comes to the leftward policies that have been pushed for a very long time.

You have nations like Hungary. It’s been under a more conservative government for years now. Poland, very similar kind of pattern. But now you’re not in Eastern Europe, historically defined. Now you’re in Western Europe, and there is no doubt that the Netherlands is sending a very clear signal that’s going to have to be watched elsewhere. For one thing, you have major news reports coming out of Germany indicating that not only in regional elections, but now in the national picture, the right might well be resurgent, and there are reasons for that.

Economic stagnation and all kinds of issues play into this, but at least part of it is an understanding at the most basic level that the nation is heading in the wrong direction. And liberals have been in the driver’s seat in so many of these nations for a very, very long time.

Part III

Should You Be Able to Sell a Kidney? Anarcho-capitalism Bursts Onto the World Stage

But before we leave Javier Milei, the newly elected president there in Argentina, we need to go back to the fact that he identifies himself as an anarcho-capitalist, that is as little government as possible.

And he means really Draconian cuts in the size of the government itself, not just in government spending, but the size of the government itself. He has also indicated he wants pro-life legislation, but his basic worldview is that of libertarianism. And perhaps the greatest example of that is the fact that he has called for an open market in human organs for transplantation.

Now, when you talk about anarcho-capitalism, I can’t think of a greater illustration of what you’re talking about than the idea that you would create a free market, so to speak, that’s the capitalism part, without government intervention, that’s the anarcho part, and you would allow the creation of a market for human organs. Now, is that an exercise of freedom, or is that an assault upon human dignity?

Actually, very interesting arguments can be made on either side, but the arguments against creating an open market for human transplant organs, it’s a far more compelling case than the argument of the anarcho-capitalists for simply turning it into an illustration of how a capitalist market would operate, because we are talking about human life, and the argument for this would be expanding the number of organs that might be available just to take one to say kidneys.

And of course, human beings under normal conditions have two kidneys that can survive on one, but there will be enormous economic pressure on people then to sell their organs. And that Christian ethicist have understood for a long time is a very dangerous incentive, and it’s an incentive that might well turn into an expectation. It might be listed as an asset. And in a situation of economic distress, it might be an asset that people feel they’re under pressure to surrender or to sell.

The other thing is that if you remove regulation in this sense, you really are opening a market for unregulated human organs, and that leads to opportunity for all kinds of very serious medical problems to ensue, including a lack of quality control, a lack of say the verifiability of the link between the donor and the recipient, all kinds of issues related to tissue matching. Now, there will be those who will say, well, that’s a small price to pay if you can radically expand the market, so to speak, of human organs for transplantation.

After all, this will improve lives. In some cases, it would save lives. But the Christian worldview says that simply doing the math is not adequate as a moral consideration because the human body is not a commodity. The biblical worldview denies any ability for Christians to think of the human body simply as a host or a commodity. It’s not that indeed, the fact that human beings are made in God’s image. And Christians are told that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. We are simply told that our bodies matter to God in a way that is actually undermined by anarcho-capitalism.

But perhaps the most important thing we can recognize in this consideration today is the fact that we’re talking about these things. The very fact that we’re talking about them because of elections in the Netherlands and in Argentina, that tells us that vast changes are taking place in the landscape of world politics. That is no small matter. It offers Christians plenty about, which we need to think and think very seriously, and put that in the context of what is looming before us, which is the 2024 presidential election in the United States.

We’re in for some very interesting days ahead, and I’ll look forward in those days to thinking through these issues with you.

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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