Monday, January 15, 2024

It’s Monday, January 15, 2024.

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

Part I

The Attacks Necessitated a Response: U.S. and Allies Rightfully Strike Back Against the Houthi Rebels over Repeated Strikes in the Red Sea

Some massive issues that we’re going to have to be looking at this week. We will be taking a closer look at some of the new headlines and some of the enduring issues related to Israel’s war against Hamas after the deadly Hamas terror attack of October 7th of last year. Big developments there and huge questions that are going to have a great deal to do with the shape of this conflict in months and weeks ahead. And to make no mistake, this will be a conflict that will last for months and will have ramifications far into the future.

But we’re also going to look at developments here in the United States. The 2024 presidential election is gearing up. The first big electoral question falls today. We’re going to be talking about that in the nomination process, and we’re also going to have to look at other big issues related to world questions, some big theological developments. And well, there’s just a lot going on, and we need to start with the effort undertaken at the end of last week in a coalition led by the United States to wage war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Now, it may not be stated clearly that that’s what’s going on. Instead, you’re going to have media references and government references to targeted attacks, defensive attacks undertaken by the United States leading a coalition of other nations in order to seek to send a message to the Houthi rebels that they must stop their attacks on shipping in the Red Sea. But there’s actually a lot more to this, and it has to do with not only the Houthi rebels there in Yemen, but it has to do with Iran, which is very much in the background, if not in the foreground to the story. And thus, we do need to take a closer look, what happened on Thursday, Friday, maybe happening even now. Concerted attacks undertaken by the United States and a coalition of nations that also will include Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands. And these attacks are undertaken in order to send a message to the Houthi rebels that they must stop their attacks upon shipping, Western shipping in particular, on the Red Sea.

Now remember that a good deal of the shipping traffic that occurs worldwide has to go through the Red Sea on the way to the Suez Canal, and the Houthi rebels have been waging war there. Now a lot’s going on here theologically because we’re talking about an Islamic group, an Islamist group, but we’re also talking about a Shiite Muslim group.

Remember, the great divide in Islam is between the Sunni, which is the vast majority and the Shiites. The Shiites are a sect considered heretics by the majority Sunni Muslims. But the Shia or the Shiites are very much in the driver’s seat in places such as Iran, and it’s actually Iran, the mullahs of Iran that are in the driver’s seat in this sense. And the big agenda here is the widening of the war in the Middle East, and the agenda here is being driven by Iran. And in this sense, Iran has directed its subversive attempts at undermining the United States, not only in that region but around the world, because of course, the Shiite regime of the mullahs in Iran considers the United States the great Satan, something the United States learned to great cost in the 1970s, into the 1980s and beyond.

Iran is the largest and most significant Shiite state when it comes to military and for that matter, subversive espionage power. And there’s no doubt that Iran works through proxies. Those proxies include one of the groups menacing Israel from the North. Indeed, a group far more powerful than Hamas when it comes to the reach of its terror organization and its armaments that would be Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, but you’re also looking at the Houthi rebels there in Yemen. And so Iran is not sending these drones against Western shipping directly, even if not targeting American naval vessels and our allied naval vessels, then at least sending drones in the vicinity. So these attacks were undertaken.

What originally started to take place is that the American forces began to shoot down the drones and missiles sent by the Houthi rebels, but the attacks that were undertaken Thursday and beyond were attacks on installations inside Yemen itself. Now, the Houthi rebels, remember both of those words are important. They are Houthis, that’s a tribal, and it’s also a religious identification, but they are rebels. They’re rebels within what amounts to a civil war in Yemen. And it’s not a question as to whether or not Yemen will be in Islamic nation; it’s a question as to which Muslims will be in control, what regime will be in control. This has been a direct threat to the most important of the Sunni nations in the region, and that’s Saudi Arabia.

United States, by the way, put pressure on Saudi Arabia to disengage from its direct activity in the civil war in Yemen. That probably was a mistake on the part of the United States. Further mistakes when it comes to the big issue, which is the threat of Iran, were made by the Biden administration, which has taken a far too passive approach to Iran. And even now doesn’t want to state the obvious when it comes to what is probably direct Iranian involvement, not only with Hezbollah, but also with the Houthi rebels, and frankly, inspiration, if not further logistical support, if not armaments to Hamas as well.

Big worldview issue here. How can a nation like the United States or the United States with our allies, how can we not fight back when there is a direct attack upon our interest and our allies by such a rebel force? But you need to understand that there are many people inside the United States and in the global community who have advised the United States not to bite the apple when it comes to the Houthi rebels, and instead largely to seek to ignore and restrict the activities rather than to respond directly.

But the lessons of history include this, and this is just really important from a worldview perspective. The lessons of history indicate when you do have a major power that is attacked, if it does not respond to that attack, it loses not only what amounts to political prestige and authority, it loses the ability to make very clear to others that they must not do what this group has done or they must not do what this nation has done. And so the United States morally had no choice but to respond. And frankly, this has to do with things that the American public would notice very quickly, most importantly, prices. Because all of that shipping, when it’s diverted from the Red Sea and has to go around the Horn of Africa, it can add as much as 10 days to the shipping trip. And that can also add multiple millions of dollars. And all of that could lead to a doubling of shipping costs, and that’s going to be passed directly on to the American consumer.

Thus far, that impact has been limited, but the Biden administration has to know, especially in an election year, and we are now in an election year, that the president’s reelection prospects would be basically tanked if Americans came to the conclusion that he was allowing this threat to international shipping. And he was basically allowing this rise in costs to Americans of almost everything without an appropriate response. But as I said, the Biden administration actually bears an even deeper responsibility for an inadequate strategy and an inadequate approach to Iran. We are paying the price for that right now.

Internally here in the United States, another very interesting development on this story has to do with two editorials that appeared just in the last couple of days. And they appeared in two of the most influential newspapers in the United States on this issue. That would be the Washington Post, the most influential paper in the nation’s capitol, a liberal paper by almost any estimation; and the Wall Street Journal that at least in the editorial page, is considerably more conservative. Why am I mentioning them together? It is because in an unusual pattern, these two editorial boards both put out major editorial statements saying that the response to the Houthis was deliberate, and it was proportionate, and it was right. And both of the editorial boards made that moral and strategic point in the headlines of their pieces.

For instance, the Washington Post: “US strikes on the Houthis were strong, proportionate, and overdue.” The Wall Street Journal: “Hitting the Houthis, at last.” The Wall Street Journal said this, “Mr. Biden,” that means President Biden, “had to respond if he wanted his warnings to have any force. The Houthis have now paid a price for their piracy, and they say five of their own died in the attacks.” The editors then said, “Now we’ll see whether the US strikes will restore America’s vanishing deterrence in the region. The strategy of warnings without military follow-through had failed.” Indeed, that strategy had failed. And the Washington Post made precisely the same evaluation.

So who would think that the United States and our allies should not have responded to this deadly aggression there in the Red Sea? A very dangerous aggression. Why would we not have responded to it? And the answer is that there are people who said, look, this is what the Houthis want. The Houthis want to be made famous, and they’re going to be made famous in the Islamic world if the United States leads a coalition to attack them. This is going to be a great propaganda victory for the Houthi rebels. Well, you know what? This is where a superpower, a major nation on the world stage has to understand one of the rules of the playground. And so if you don’t know the rules of the playground, I’m going to tell you one of them. If there’s a kid who wants a fight, eventually he’s going to get a fight.

It may be that the Houthis think that the United States has just made them famous, but the United States is only going to have deterrence in the region, and that includes moral deterrence if it makes the Houthis hurt. Hurt in this sense, with reference to their ability to exercise aggression.

Part II

The Race for 2024 Republican Nomination is Fully On: Looking Ahead to the Significance of Tonight’s Iowa’s Caucuses

But now, very importantly, we need to come back to the United States. We need to go to the heart of the nation. We need to go to the state of Iowa because tonight the Iowa caucuses will be held and most importantly, the Republican caucuses. The doors are going to open about five o’clock and the caucuses will begin at seven o’clock in designated locations. This requires us to talk about what a caucus is, why a caucus is different than a primary.

A primary, as you know, is a competition generally in one party to determine who will gain the nomination of that party for a general election vote. And that primary process means that people go to the ballot, they go to the box, they go to the electoral site, to the voting place, pretty much like they do in any other election. They go in the voting booth or whatever the modern mechanism is, and they cast their vote. It’s very different in a caucus. A caucus is by the very structure of the word. It’s a meeting, it’s an event. It’s not a place you go, it’s an event you attend at a specific place. And both parties for decades now have looked to the Iowa caucuses as kind of the official start off of the official race for delegates for the presidential nominations of the two respective parties. But on the Democratic side, we can just say very quickly for two big reasons, Iowa is not an issue in the caucuses this year.

The most important reason is that it wouldn’t be anyway, because the Democrats have an incumbent president who has pretty much guaranteed the party’s nomination. No need for a caucus. The second issue, however, in worldview terms, is a lot more interesting. And that is that if you look at the Iowa caucuses, it really is pretty representative, it can be argued of the Republicans, on the Republican caucus side. But on the Democratic side, let’s face it, the Iowa caucuses are not representative of the National Democratic Party.

And thus the left in the Democratic Party that always feels that it comes up short in the Democratic caucuses in Iowa because Iowa is so conservative, well, there was an effort successful undertaken to dethrone Iowa as the start of the delegate process. We’ll talk more about that when it becomes interesting. This year it’s not really interesting because Joe Biden, the incumbent president, is going to be the Democratic nominee unless something unexpected happens. And the fact that I say it’s unexpected, that really does mean it’s unexpected at this point. And the Democrats have pretty much baked into their cake for 2024, at least at this point, that Joe Biden is their nominee, unless there is some publicly plausible reason why he would not be, which leads to all kinds of speculation. Today we’re going to look at the Republican side.

On the Republican side, well, some people could say it’s a wide open race. No, it’s not. It’s a race in which there are really only three important names. Those important names are former President Donald Trump, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and former South Carolina Governor and Ambassador to the United United Nations, Nikki Haley, because only those three candidates are really credible going into the Iowa caucuses. But even that requires some interesting redefinition because at this point, Donald Trump is leading in the expectations for the caucus vote tonight. He’s leading by such a large margin that the only really interesting question in terms of the plausible math is who will come in second and what will be the relationship between the front-runner and the number two candidate.

Now, in that sense, what’s interesting is that almost everyone would’ve thought, even as recently as say a week ago, that Governor DeSantis would be that second-ranked candidate in Iowa. But at least according to some polling, Nikki Haley has pulled ahead of him in the Iowa caucuses. Now, I’m going to just go ahead and fast-forward. If Ron DeSantis loses in the Iowa caucuses by coming in third, it’s going to be very, very difficult, if not implausible for him to continue as a serious candidate for the 2024 Republican nomination. And all of this got reshaped just a little bit, at least in recent days because former New Jersey governor Chris Christie dropped out of the race.

Now, Chris Christie is a more liberal, his own term would be moderate Republican, and he never had any serious chance of gaining the 2024 nomination. And let’s just state this, even if you took Donald Trump out of the equation, Chris Christie wasn’t going to be the 2024 Republican nominee. Indeed, governor Christie said he got into the race simply to somehow prevent Donald Trump from gaining the nomination. Well, he was not successful. He dropped out in order to perhaps make a path forward more plausible for Nikki Haley. But okay, just a minute, let’s go back to Iowa. Let’s just look at Iowa. Let’s look at the thermometer. It’s going to be extremely cold. It’s going to be one of the coldest caucus nights in all of Iowa electoral history tonight. Will that have an impact? It almost surely will have an impact, because again, you have to get dressed, you have to get in your car, you have to go to a location. It’s going to be spectacularly cold. And there may be some people who simply decide, “I’m not going to go to the caucus tonight.” Well, in the case of the Iowa caucuses, if you don’t go, you don’t vote.

Now, the strategy behind the Iowa caucuses from the Republican side is to gain momentum coming out of Iowa by winning there in the Midwest, which is the very heart of Republican territory. And it’s retail politics there in Iowa, and Iowans like it that way. The state is a population of just over 3 million people, but they’re accustomed to shaking hands with presidential politicians virtually every year. And that means everybody’s looking to the next presidential election cycle. It’s also the case that some people decide, look, they’re going to put everything into New Hampshire and others decide they’re going to put everything into the first official primary itself, which comes just days later, New Hampshire. New Hampshire, very historic Republican territory. But in political terms, very different than the state of Iowa. More on that in just a moment.

But here’s the point. Nikki Haley has basically staked her hope originally on the New Hampshire primary. Ron DeSantis had staked his hope on the Iowa caucuses tonight, but as I said, recent polling indicates that Nikki Haley’s pulled ahead of Ron DeSantis. This is going to be a huge problem for Ron DeSantis. On the other hand, if he does pull out something of an electoral surprise tonight in the Iowa caucuses, that will be the big headline story. Someone’s going to be number two after Donald Trump. The big question is by what margin and with what momentum going into New Hampshire?

Now, Ron DeSantis had a strategy there in Iowa. He visited every single county in Iowa. He did the traditional Iowa strategy. Will it work? Well, it is unlikely that he will win the primary, but here’s a very interesting statistic. I find this one of the most interesting statistics in American presidential politics. On the Democratic side, ever since 1972–o that’s a long time ago, so say 50-plus years ago–for the last half century, in 55% of the cases, the Democrat who won the Iowa caucuses went on to win the Democratic Party nomination. So that’s 55%. But on the Republican side–and Iowa’s very much a Republican state–on the Republican side, only 43% of those since 1973 who won the Iowa caucuses on the Republican side, went on to win the Republican nomination.

So let me just ask you a point of trivia. Who won the 2016, the last contested Iowa caucuses on the Republican side? Well, that would be Texas Senator Ted Cruz, but he did not win the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Donald Trump did. Now, if Trump wins, especially by the margin that is expected in Iowa tonight, you can pretty much count on him declaring that he’s won the nomination. It’s just a matter of sewing it up. However, the equation could be changed if someone like Nikki Haley does come in second, the big story becomes her momentum, and she goes into New Hampshire where actually she has some rather considerable support. But even in her own state of South Carolina, she was governor there, Donald Trump is vastly outpolling her.

So it’s going to take something of a complete reshuffling of the surface of the game here if Nikki Haley or Ron DeSantis is going to be a serious challenger to Donald Trump for the Republican nomination. That’s just the way it is. The numbers just aren’t adding up for either one of them. Both of them are looking for a case to break out. Right now it looks like advantage Nikki Haley on that score. And that’s going to be very frustrating to many conservative Republicans because at least on many issues, it certainly appears that Ron DeSantis is more conservative than Nikki Haley. And of course, all three of them are far more conservative than the incumbent President Joe Biden on the Democratic side. So it’s going to be very interesting.

Will we know tonight? Well, in the Republican pattern, we probably will know late tonight, but I probably will hold consideration of the outcome of the presidential caucuses there in Iowa tonight until Wednesday morning, simply because we want firm figures that are very reliable and frankly, as close as possible to final before we begin to read the message that the Republicans in Iowa send tonight. On the other hand, if the results are really clear, well we’ll be back to talk about them tomorrow. Time will tell.

Part III

Denmark’s New King: King Frederik X Takes the Throne After Monarch Abdicates for First Time in Almost 900 Years

Meanwhile, we also need to look at developments in a very different place than either the Red Sea or a red state like Iowa. We need to look at the Kingdom of Denmark because as of yesterday, Denmark has a new king. After more than a half-century of the reign of Queen Margrethe II, Denmark now has King Frederik X, and his Queen Consort Mary. Interesting story here. Denmark is one of the oldest monarchies in Europe, and we just need to recognize many Americans would be surprised to know that the king of Denmark was at times more powerful than just by any other European monarch, and that would include the king of England. Now, it’s not that way now in terms of the relative power and influence of these monarchies, but in the monarchial system, antiquity counts for a whole lot. And this particular monarchy goes at least back to about the 1100s.

Denmark is one of the three Scandinavian monarchies that would include Sweden and Norway. And by the way, all of those monarchs are well predictably cousins, and all of them include at least some descendants of Queen Victoria. The intermarriage of the royal families is another part of the story. But the big issue for us to consider is that Queen Margrethe, the constitutional monarch who had reigned for the last 52 years, abdicated on Sunday. She announced this on Christmas Eve, surprising the Danish people, but she did so because of health reasons and the continuity of the throne. There was considerable heraldry and the formality, the ceremony on Sunday there in Copenhagen as the transition took place. The Queen signed the document of abdication, spoke to her own son as his Majesty and departed the room. She had come in a gilded horse-driven carriage as queen to sign the abdication. She left in a car. The new king, her son, King Frederik X left in the gilded carriage.

Now, the Danish monarchy is ceremonial, of course, and all the ceremony is important, but you know what wasn’t present at either the abdication of the queen or the announcement of the new king? There was no crown. Now, obviously, there is a crown. The crown is the symbol of monarchy, but the Danish monarchy is a bit more low-key than say the British monarchy when it comes to things ceremonial. As a matter of fact, the king or queen almost never wears a crown, even for ceremonial occasions. But nonetheless, Queen Margrethe was widely beloved by the people there in Denmark. And she’s going to continue, by the way, to be known as Her Majesty according to the Danish custom, but it is her son who is now the king. And Mary the queen consort of all things was born and raised in Australia, and that’s a new thing for a European royal house.

It has been a very long time since a Danish monarch has abdicated. Indeed, that would be Eric III all the way back in 1146. King Frederik made a statement, “My hope is to become a unifying king of tomorrow.” And the new king said that from the balcony of Christiansborg Palace there at the heart of Copenhagen, which is considered itself to be the seat of the government there in Denmark. He kissed his queen, who’s now Queen Mary. And as the Washington Post reported, “The crowd waving Danish and some Australian flags roared with delight.”

Well, Denmark, of course, is a constitutional monarchy, which is to say the monarchy has basically ceremonial and head of state functions. No direct political role. Indeed, the monarch is not to take sides or party positions on questions of controverted policy. And the Danish monarchy has been rather predictably stable in hewing to that line.

But there is something to ask here from a worldview perspective, and that is why is there a hunger for a king? Why did Israel hunger for a king? Why did they demand a king eventually with God telling Samuel to consecrate Saul? Why? Well, it had to do with the fact that we find security in having a king we can see, or a queen, a reigning monarch we can see. One who bears the seals and insignia of the authority of the civilization or culture itself.

The greatest argument for monarchy is continuation, stability. It’s tradition. That is the greatest claim. The greatest power of monarchy has been the power of credibility, having a credible government. That’s what Israel demanded. And by the way, that was a direct assault to the dignity of God who was their king. They demanded a human king, a king that could see, and a lot about monarchy is actually quite visible. The golden carriage, the throne, the visage, the royal attire, the medals, all the rest. The waving from a balcony of a royal palace. That’s all the modern accoutrements of this stability and tradition and continuity.

Now, that’s exactly what Americans rejected. That’s exactly what the American Constitution forbids. It was a revolution against a king that the Americans undertook. But again, we sometimes fail to understand our own history. The American Revolution didn’t begin with a revolution against the king, but rather with a call to the British King George III to rescue the American colonists from the tyranny of Parliament. Had the king responded to the colonist’s plight, it’s very likely that what we now know as the United States of America would be at least tied to a constitutional monarchy. But George III did not respond in that way, and the Americans responded with an anti-monarchial tradition. But it is very interesting to note that even in the office of President of the United States, and in particular in the person of the first President of the United States, George Washington, there was an effort to create a constitutional president with all the dignity of a European king or queen.

The Washington Post account, by the way, had a couple of fascinating comments. One came from Jakob Steen Olsen, a royal commentator for a newspaper in Denmark, who compared the Danish transition rather simple to the British transition. And he said this, “The Brits are very heavy on mysticism. You have this old man being massaged with mysterious oils. It’s very weird.” Well, to the Danish, you may look rather weird, but to those who know the Bible and the British monarchy, this harkens right back to the priest anointing the king with oil according to what the Lord had commanded.

But just in terms of a lighthearted observation, I want to quote Linda Martinsen, who was a citizen standing close to the balcony. Again, a comparison with the British monarchy. “We probably could have had a little more fuss,” she said, “but not as much fuss as they do in Britain; that’s too much.” She said, “I don’t want to offend anyone, but it’s too much to wear a robe and a scepter.” Well, this American just has to ask the question, how exactly do you draw the line between just enough and too much? The new Danish king has palaces. He has all of the uniforms. He has all the grandeur. He rode away from the abdication as the new king in a golden carriage. But you know the robe and the scepter, that would just be too much. It’s over the line. Evidently, a king’s got to know his limitations.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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