In 2006, I accepted a two-week assignment to the Philippines to inspect food plants that had requested kosher certification. It was my first time in that part of the world, and I did careful research, as during the ongoing war in Iraq, there had been an upswing in terrorism in certain parts of the world.
I saw that some parts of the Philippines were considered very dangerous. The Philippines is where the expansion of Islam eastward met the expansion of Christianity westward, and the result has not always been peaceful co-existence. I saw on the internet that both the U.S. and Australian state departments warned against travel to Mindanao, the large island at the southern end of the Philippines. A very active Islamist terrorist group there was quite busy kidnapping and murdering attractive targets. The Australian warning went so far as to say that even if you are already ticketed and booked for travel there, you should cancel your tickets and reservations and stay away.
I phoned our certification company’s office and a secretary responded to my query by telling me that Mindanao was not on the itinerary. She read me a list of the place names on it, and sure enough, Mindanao wasn’t there. But I was scheduled to be in Davao and Cagayan de Oro, which my map revealed to be on Mindanao Island. I phoned back the office and told them I wasn’t going to go.
Biden has not shown the character necessary to own up to his role in the Hunter Biden scandal. That makes Putin in control of his political future.
I received a call back from a senior rabbi at the headquarters who had done the Philippines run previously. In his deep bass voice, he asked, “Shmuel, do you know how to walk around a big city at night? If so, you will be okay.”
I knew what he meant, and I went. And he was right. I did three tours of the Philippines that were blessedly uneventful.
When you walk around Manhattan at night, or any big urban area that can be dangerous, you learn how to walk. You walk purposefully. You are not naïve, you know dangers exist, but you are going somewhere, you have clearly calculated the dangers, and you are not afraid.
Human carnivores pick up the smell of fear and of dithering even before there is any blood in the water or on the ground. Whether leading a small terrorist band or an aggressive despot at the head of a nation-state, they are supreme opportunists. They see the orderly and peaceful societies of the democracies as weak and aimless. They see our aversion to risk as an invitation to take bold, aggressive action that will cement their status as the alpha leader.
The supreme example of such a reckless gambler in recent times was Hitler. He smelled the weakness of the democracies that had defeated Germany in 1918 and he surprised them time and again by risking everything on the gamble that they would be too dazzled and scared to respond effectively. As Arthur Herman wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal:
Hermann Goering had warned Hitler about “going for broke” when he was about to risk war over Poland in 1939. Hitler had responded at the time: “It’s the only call I ever make.”
Weak, dithering, and gullible leaders in the West confirmed the predator’s instincts, which only blood, tears, toil, and sweat were able to overcome, at horrendous cost.
Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping are both far more rational than Hitler, whose paranoid fantasies about the Jews led him to the fatal mistake of declaring war on America. Yet they share in some large measure that despot’s keen predatory sense.
Facing them, Joe Biden is the guy who is walking aimlessly in the big city at night, his senses dulled, suddenly realizing he is in danger and finding himself without a plan. The strategic advantage that President Ronald Reagan exploited, Russia’s weak economy, was thoughtlessly discarded by Biden on the first day of his presidency when he closed down the pipeline to Canada and cracked down on the booming American petroleum industry. Then he overturned Trump’s sensible veto of Germany’s joining the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and green-lighted Germany’s decision to become Putin’s energy tributaries.
Joe looked like a man adrift in Afghanistan, singlehandedly transforming a conditional withdrawal into an ignominious, catastrophic rout, leaving behind broken promises, rich troves of military assets, thousands of vulnerable allies, and worst of all, the stench of American self-absorption to the point of perfidy.
Putin grabbed his main chance during the feckless Obama-Biden years, unilaterally annexing Crimea and the Donbas regions of the independent Ukraine. A leaderless West slapped him on the wrist lightly and pretended that it didn’t matter. There was no odor of fear during the Trump years, and he lay quiet, but now he’s back and pushing his main chance, reckoning that Biden’s type will fold in the end.
And there is the ever-present possibility that Putin owns a Biden whose version of his own life regularly lapses into fantasy when he thinks it helps his hold on power. His public record has not shown him to be the type of person capable of facing hard truths if they bring political risk. Despite the media cover-up, the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop and the story of influence peddling that it revealed are widely known. So is the video record of Biden bragging about using his high office to withhold aid from Ukraine unless it fired a prosecutor. Biden has not shown the character necessary to own up to his role in the scandal. That makes Putin in control of his political future.
Lee Smith wrote this week in Tablet:
The likelihood that Russia is sitting on a wealth of compromising Ukraine-related material on Joe Biden and his family may come as a shock to media that pushed the Trump-Russia collusion narrative for four years. But the Biden-Russia kompromat story may be more than a political funhouse mirror. It may explain the president’s curious passivity toward Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline and why, almost as soon as Biden took office, Putin seized the opportunity to move more than 100,000 troops to Ukraine’s border.
Human beings have a God-given potential to come clean, to change their lives, and turn them around. The media today is telling of an American threat to shut down Nord Stream 2 in case of a Russian incursion. But then again, Biden blustered a lot about never leaving Americans and allies who risked their lives for us behind in Afghanistan and it didn’t come to much. Putin is paying much more attention to the smell of fear than the words of a failing leader. Street thugs and dictators pay little attention to words that won’t be stood by. To Putin or Xi, the smell of fear reveals all they need to know.
We all have the potential to live heroically in the full moral sense of that word. We need to pray that everyone realizes that potential, in particular those granted grave responsibility for world peace and the freedom of billions of people.
The question right now — and for history — is: will the occupant of the most powerful position in the world (for the time being) rise to moral heroism before his compromised choices bring ruin on himself and on those for whom his high power makes him responsible?