DEARBORN, MICHIGAN - FEBRUARY 27: Democratic voters uncommitted to President Joe Biden rally outside of a polling location at Maples Elementary School on February 27, 2024 in Dearborn, Michigan. Michigan votes headed to the polls today to vote in the Democratic and Republican primary elections.
Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The Briefing.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024. 

It’s Wednesday, February 28, 2024. 

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

Part I

What Happened in Michigan Won’t Stay in Michigan: Arab Voters Send Big Message to President Biden

Well, the big story in domestic politics yesterday was the Michigan primary. Let’s be honest, no one was really in any suspense as to how it was going to turn out on both sides. On the Democratic side, there was simply no doubt that the incumbent President of the United States was going to win in a landslide as you look at the Democratic primary. On the Republican side, it was also abundantly clear going into the Michigan primary that Donald Trump was going to win in a landslide. Nikki Haley got a respectable number of votes, but Donald Trump walked away with the Michigan primary. So in that sense, most people were probably saying, “That’s what we knew was going to happen. It happened. Where’s the news story?”

Well, there are a couple of big news stories with a lot of worldview significance embedded within them. The first has to do with the fact that it was a contested primary on the Democratic side, even with an incumbent President of the United States, and in this case, even with an incumbent who won the White House, at least largely in part, because of voters in Michigan. Back in the 2020 general election, Michigan voters gave Joe Biden about 100,000 vote margin. He won taking the state away from Donald Trump who couldn’t win without Michigan. Donald Trump had won Michigan in 2016, but with a margin of somewhere around 12,000 votes. Those numbers turned out to be really, really important, because the big story on the Democratic side is not that Joe Biden did win in a landslide, something like 80% of the Democratic vote. The big story is that tens of thousands of votes were actually placed against him in the category of uncommitted.

This was the result of an effort undertaken primarily by Arab Americans in the Detroit area. The campaign was known as Listen to Michigan. Layla Elabed was the director of this movement, and she is by no coincidence the sister of Rashida Tlaib, who is of course one of the liberal members of the squad, the Democratic left in the House of Representatives. Rashida Tlaib is particularly noteworthy, indeed, I would even say infamous because of her avid opposition to Israel, and her contention for the Palestinian cause, frankly, even to the point of appearing to offer some kind of support for Hamas in its efforts against Israel. But nonetheless, looking at the situation, it’s very, very clear that Joe Biden can’t afford to lose any votes in the general election in the state of Michigan if he wants to hold onto the White House.

Thus, even as you had this group known as Listen to Michigan, made up of activists who were seeking to get Arab Americans in the Michigan electorate to vote not for Joe Biden, but for uncommitted in order to send a signal, even as they were hoping for 10,000 votes, they got multiple tens of thousands of votes basically against Joe Biden. Now, all of this points to a very interesting demographic, and that is the fact that the largest Arab-American population in a metropolitan area in the United States is in suburban Detroit. As you’re looking at Detroit, you recognize you’re looking at a population of something like 200,000 Arab Americans. That’s a very large population, and it’s politically powerful. You might say that it is claiming now to be a swing vote in a swing state. A swing state and a swing vote that a democratic nominee simply has to have in order to win the White House.

So, this is an open threat against the President of the United States, and in this case, it is directly attributable to the Arab-American outrage at President Biden’s support for Israel as Israel is fighting Hamas there in Gaza. Of course, it has been a protracted military effort. It’s going to be even more protracted. Of course, it has come with untold civilian misery and very high civilian casualties, even children there in Gaza, particularly because Hamas embeds civilians in the population in order to mix civilian and military targets to frustrate an enemy, in this case Israel. But Israel has indicated from the start that it is absolutely committed to destroy Hamas or at least to significantly remove Hamas as a military threat there in Gaza.

So, one of the most important worldview developments in the United States in the aftermath of the brutal Hamas attack, that deadly terrorist attack of October 7th, 2023 there in Israel, one of the most interesting worldview developments on this side of the Atlantic is that many Jewish Americans have been made newly and painfully aware of a deep stream of antisemitism in the United States that has been masquerading as merely anti-Israel sentiment. But on the other side, it is also abundantly clear that a significant population of Arab-Americans is taking up the Palestinian cause, and is following much of the same logic of the oppressor-oppressed dynamic that is so reshaped American colleges and universities and the intellectual and cultural left, not only in the United States but around the world.

So, you are really looking at a deep problem, particularly for the Democratic Party, because it has sought to be the party that would include both Jewish Americans and Arab Americans inside its identity politics collection, but that’s going to be increasingly difficult as the Michigan primary, as just one event, makes very clear. On the Democratic side, it’s going to be a very interesting few days ahead of us as you’re going to hear democratic leaders, the White House, and others try to explain what happened in Michigan and what this means for their own party, and for President Biden’s reelection prospects. As you look at Michigan, as I said, ground zero for political concern on both sides of the partisan divide, but right now, the big story is on the Democratic side, and we’ll be tracking that story, vast worldview significance.

But as we look at the Michigan primary, on the Republican side, there’s also something else that’s at work that should have our attention, and that is that when you look at the American electorate, if you were to go back just a matter of, say, a few decades, when you had organized labor such as the United Auto Workers, when you had blue collar workers in the United States, they in general terms were considered a part of the larger democratic coalition. Big Labor and Big Democratic Party seemed to go together. When you’re looking at the college-educated population more concentrated in the business class, if you go back several decades, people would say they’re natural Republicans. But right now in the electorate, all of this has been reshifted. So on the Democratic side, you’re more likely to find college-educated professionals living in the suburbs of America’s cities.

When you look at the Republican side, there has been a gravitation of blue collar workers to Republican voting patterns. Donald Trump is actually quite hopeful of recapturing Michigan, and that would be in part by regaining or expanding the blue collar Republican vote there in the state of Michigan. So, you’re looking at big trouble on the Democratic side. You’re also looking at what Republicans understand are big stakes, because it is very difficult for a Republican to win the White House without Michigan’s electoral votes. If you don’t carry Michigan, it’s very hard to get to the White House, and that gets to a third worldview point. As we look at the 2024 election, we need to understand, of course, there are two dimensions to a presidential election. The first dimension is the popular vote, but the second dimension, which is far more important, is the vote in the electoral college.

As you look at the electoral college map, that’s why Michigan looms so large, because when you think about the red states that are almost assuredly going to vote Republican, and you look at the blue states that are almost assuredly going to vote democratic, of course, the big issue becomes the swing states, and there are a limited number of those, but you’re looking at three as you look at the east side of the Mississippi that are particularly historically important, and that would be Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. You used to put Ohio in that list, but now, Ohio is pretty predictably red. You might now put Georgia in that list, but we’re not sure, but we are sure Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, swing states in the electoral college, and the winning candidate is likely to gain at least two of those three. That may turn out to be vitally important to both of these candidates.

So, we’ll end this topic of discussion today by saying sometimes a primary is a way of answering a question, but when it comes to the Michigan primary, what took place in that state yesterday may raise more questions than it answers.

Part II

More Evidence Why a Two-State Solution Won’t Work: Palestinian Authority Plays Same Old Game

But next, we’re going to shift from conversation about those who’ve taken up the Palestinian cause as Arab-Americans in Michigan, and we’re actually going to turn to the Palestinian Authority operating primarily in the West Bank, because the big story is that the Palestinian Authority has shaken up the government. Its Prime Minister has resigned, and Mahmoud Abbas, who’s the president of the Palestinian Authority, announces that there will be a new Palestinian Authority government. The big story here is that it is the Biden administration’s plan to try to put the Palestinian Authority in place as the governing authority, not only on the West Bank, but in Gaza after Israel conducts the military operation.

Of course, the Biden administration has put that in the context of also calling for a so-called two-state solution, calling for a Palestinian state as a viable political entity alongside Israel as a Jewish state. Now, I stated over and over again that that is a very unlikely scenario for any number of reasons. Most importantly, the political support in Gaza has been primarily given to Hamas, and Hamas is a terrorist Islamist organization that is as opposed to a two-state solution as Israel is. They don’t want a two-state solution with a Palestinian state alongside Israel. They are calling for the destruction of Israel, and that’s been key to the identity of Hamas. It is absolutely key to understanding its ideology and its methodology as in the horrifying attack of October the seventh of last year.

Now, the media coverage of this story is pretty much typified by the Associated Press. The lead sentence is this, “The Palestinian Authority prime minister announced the resignation of his government on Monday paving the way for a shakeup in the governing body, which the U.S. hopes will eventually take on a role in post-war Gaza.” Well, notice the statement there. It’s pretty cautious. The Biden administration hopes that the Palestinian Authority will take up a role. But here’s where we need to understand that the Palestinian Authority had a role in Gaza, and it lost that role for two reasons. Number one, it lost an election to Hamas. Number two, Hamas physically and militarily excised the Palestinian Authority from governing there in Gaza. So, the Palestinian Authority now represents a declining administration on the West Bank, but the one word that almost everyone associates with the Palestinian Authority is the word corrupt.

Its corruption is absolutely legendary. It’s hard to imagine how the Biden administration could come up with a less viable suggestion as some group that could have political credibility and moral credibility in the aftermath of Israel’s war against Hamas. But as you think about the rare combination of corruption and incompetence that is represented by the Palestinian authority, let me just remind you of one central fact. Mahmoud Abbas, long and associate of Yasser Arafat and the POO, was elected to a four-year term as the president of the Palestinian Authority in 2005. Yes, 2005, he was elected then. He is still in office now. He has not been reelected since. He was elected in 2005, and he has remained in office for nearly 20 years, as some people will say, he’s about to enter the fifth or sixth four-year term after he was elected once.

Even the Associated Press seems to understand if to understate the problem, speaking of the replacement of the prime minister and the shakeup in the government, the Associated Press report says this, “The move appears to be the first step in a process towards ushering in reform sought by the United States as international negotiations ramp up to bring about a ceasefire. The authority [that’s the Palestinian Authority] created under interim Israeli-Palestinian Peace Deals in the early 1990s administers parts of the West Bank, but is beset by corruption.” Yes, indeed, it administers parts of the West Bank, and is corrupt in all of those parts. The Wall Street Journal’s front page story underlines the reality a bit more clearly. Speaking of the shift, “The move falls short of changes. Western and Arab governments have pressured the Palestinian authority to make, including replacing longtime career politicians with a technocratic team, and for Mahmoud Abbas, the authority’s unpopular 88-year-old president to step aside, and invest a new prime minister with some of the president’s powers.”

Just to state the obvious, Mahmoud Abbas has not remained in power by giving up power. Even as the Palestinian Authority seems to want now to seize the opportunity, it is extremely unlikely that Mahmoud Abbas is going to seize the opportunity to step aside. At this point, by the way, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his government have made very clear there’s absolutely zero support for a so-called two-state solution. At this point, it’s very hard to imagine what kind of viable state could emerge out of the destruction there in the area of Gaza in particular, and it’s hard to imagine how any of this can take place so long as a majority of the population there is at least sympathetic to Hamas. As I stated before, Western governments and many Arab governments there in the region keep talking about the absolute necessity of a formal Palestinian state and of the so-called Two-State Solution, Israel and a Palestinian state.

But it is very hard to imagine two things, number one, how that might happen, but number two, if those who are pressing for it really mean what they are saying, or is this just decade after decade of political posturing? You might say time will tell, but we’ve been at this a very long time.

Part III

The Legacy of Putin Two Years into War with Ukraine: Ongoing War and Pushing Sweden and Finland into the Arms of NATO

But next, the other big story we just have to talk about is the two-year anniversary of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine. Even as the terrain in foreign policy is shifting so fast before our eyes, we do need to understand that this two-year anniversary is in some ways a 10-year anniversary, because Russia’s aggression against Ukraine began in 2014 when Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula, and that historic property, which had been a part of Ukraine since decades before, it was seized by Russia, and Ukraine did not respond with military force.

But the current Ukrainian government under Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been very clear in saying that the aim of Ukraine is to completely expel Russian troops from its territory. He’s very clear that that territory also includes the Crimean Peninsula. Here, we are looking at a very, very difficult situation. There is no doubt who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in this equation, and the Christian worldview reminds us that the moral context is really, really important. Russia is an imperialistic autocratic power, and it invaded a nation with sovereign rights, and it invaded it with an army. By the way, we now know that Russia was so arrogant in this invasion. It was so confident of an immediate victory over Ukraine that its officer corps was told when they invaded to take their dress uniforms so they could wear the dress uniforms in military victory parades on the streets of Kyiv.

To state the obvious, that has not happened, but it’s also obvious Ukraine has been unable to gain the upper hand against Russia. Russia is a far larger nation. Its population is a multiple of the population of Ukraine, and Russia has nuclear weapons, although at this point, it has not of course used to those weapons, but nonetheless, it is a very, very uneven fight. But on the Ukrainian side, there is enormous patriotism, and there is commitment to Ukraine as a nation that frankly has surprised many inside and outside the nation. Here’s another lesson the Christian worldview helps to underline, and that is that when you are looking at a situation of warfare, an invading force has less moral energy than the invaded. That’s particularly true in this case. Historically, it’s true as a rule. It’s far harder to invade with energy and conviction, than it is to defend the homeland with energy and conviction.

Ukraine has done that very bravely, but at the same time, it is also important to recognize that the current situation really is a stalemate. That language is not liked by either the Russians or the Ukrainians. A senior Ukrainian defense officials said there is a shifting of initiatives, but nonetheless, it is a stalemate, and you’re also looking at a demographic reality. You’re looking at a verdict of history and the complications of a very, very convoluted history. As you look at a map, Ukraine is of course to the west of Russia. Mother Russia, however, long included some regions that are now classified inside Ukraine. The most important of these regions known as the Donbas, and the majority of the citizens in those regions speak Russian, and many of them clearly consider themselves Russian.

Russia has invaded that territory, and even in recent days captured another very important city, but Russia is in no military position right now to claim that it is going to be successful in a general invasion of Ukraine. But it’s also increasingly clear that Ukraine is not going to expel Russia from all of its borders anytime soon. It’s going to be a very long process if it happens, and it’s almost assuredly not going to happen with the inclusion of the Crimean Peninsula. So, this means that even as Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president in Ukraine, and his government and his military and his people have fought bravely and courageously offering, quite frankly, an example to other nations in the defense of freedom, at the same time, they’re up against a far larger enemy, and they are looking at a military situation that needs to be addressed.

Honestly, this is at least a part of what is going on in America’s national conversation. The Biden administration has been very bold and, I think, quite eager and consistent in supporting Ukraine, but Republicans in the house, and at least some in the Senate, are now quite concerned about moving forward with writing what amounts to a blank check without knowing, with honesty, what the likely outcome or what the goal is of that kind of military support. Now, this is where an awful lot of people, even among, say, conservatives aren’t honest about the fact that the military action undertaken in Ukraine is actually something that prevents Russia from extending that military action further, or its threat further. This becomes absolutely clear as you look at a map of Europe, and recognize that Russia’s ambitions almost assuredly go far beyond Ukraine.

Even as you think of the old map of the former Soviet Union, Vladimir Putin has been quite clear about wanting to reconstruct his vision of a greater Russia. There is a lot of history behind all of that, but the important thing for us to recognize right now is that the American people are involved in this simply because of the involvement of vast sums of money, billions of dollars from the American Treasury, and our own self-defense and our understanding of America’s place in the world, and America’s defense of freedom loving allies around the world means that the American people deserve a very public conversation on the part of the administration, and, frankly, both houses of Congress as to what is the end game and what is the goal. What is the likely outcome, and where will negotiations likely lead?

A final note for our consideration today, Sweden is just about to become the 32nd member nation of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which is the allied organization of Western nations over against what had been the Soviet Union and is now Russia under Vladimir Putin and Russia’s allies. The importance of NATO has never been greater. But even as you’re looking at Vladimir Putin, and you’re looking at his ruthlessness toward Ukraine, the end result, at least right now of what he has accomplished is to push nations, including Finland and Sweden, on the border there with Russia directly into the embrace of NATO. You’re also looking at NATO member nations vastly increasing their defense spending precisely because they now know the kind of threat Russia actually represents.

While we’re talking about Sweden, let’s just remind ourselves that that freedom loving country requires all teenagers by the age of 16 to be actively involved in the defense of the nation. As the Swedish government says on the government website, “Everyone between the ages of 16 and 70 living in Sweden is a part of Sweden’s total defense.”

Part IV

Rest in Peace, Flaco: Central Park Zoo’s Famous Escapee (Eurasian Eagle Owl) Dies After Building Strike

But finally, we need to take note of the death of Flaco, an Eurasian eagle-owl who died, it is believed, after crashing into a building in New York City, there in Manhattan. Flaco became very famous for escaping from the Central Park Zoo. He had been born in captivity, and of course, for a Eurasian eagle owl, that means hatching as an egg, but he then was raised in captivity. He became a rather well-known member of the cast at the Central Park Zoo.

Yet, one way or another, it’s not abundantly clear how this happened, he escaped, and when he escaped, officials at the Central Park Zoo were quite concerned about this owl. By the way, the Eurasian eagle-owl is a beautiful animal and a very big owl, one of the biggest predatory birds on planet earth. But the big question was, “Can Flaco survive outside the zoo?” He never had to hunt for himself. He’s been fed the entire time. But as you know, Manhattan is one of those places that is most camera intensive, and there were a lot of people out watching for Flaco, and they found him. They also found video of him devouring a rat, which he had caught using the old Eurasian eagle-owl skillset. But he went missing in recent days, and a lot of concern was registered. He was found dead, and it is believed that he died of a building strike.

It turns out that hundreds of thousands of birds likely meet their end by striking buildings there in New York every single year, and something like a billion birds do so worldwide. Now, you might immediately think, “Well, that must be a remarkable danger, because of all of those super tall buildings in Manhattan.” But observers of bird deaths by building strikes say that most of the buildings struck are struck at fairly low levels. The birds simply no longer notice the building, and run into them. Ornithologists tell us that the Eurasian eagle-owl is an apex predator in the aviary world, but as it turns out, they are no match for concrete and glass, an amazing creature.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Orange County, California, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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