Iraq and Syria: Conflicting Views of Truth in the U.S.

Bill O’Reilly’s idea of a good leader seems to depend on whether he’s Russian or American.  He said in an interview with Katie Couric Wednesday that Putin is ‘Stalin light’. ((Katie Couric Interviews Bill O’Reilly, Yahoo News. Sept. 24, 2014. Available: https://news.yahoo.com/katie-couric-interviews-bill-oreilly-140355620.html)) He stopped short of accusing Putin of being a mass murderer, but he claimed that the two leaders share the same mindset. I couldn’t disagree more.

Divisive fear mongering is always a problem, but it is especially inappropriate in this case because it doesn’t describe reality. Whatever your opinion of Putin, there is evidence that he has been steering a moderate course relative to the direction urged on him by his own advisors. In other words, things might be much worse if he weren’t there. So no, Putin is not Stalin. But then neither is Russia the USSR. Contrary to the hype about Reagan’s part in the end of the Soviet Union, the Russians themselves painstakingly thought their way out of Marxism.((Epstein, Mikhail, An Overview of Russian Philosophy. Intelnet. Cited on May 16, 2014. Available: http://www.emory.edu/INTELNET/rus_thought_overview.html))

Strangely, O’Reilly then criticizes Obama for the opposite tendency. He thinks the president underestimated ISIS and that The Factor had it right all along and he urges escalation of the conflict in Syria and Iraq. He seems to have forgotten that in pre-Vietnam America, the country had to be dragged kicking and screaming into war. In fact, you could argue that it’s O’Reilly’s brand of saber rattling that got us into this mess in the first place.

That said, I’m aware that ISIS presents a complicated problem, especially in view of its apocalyptic thinking.  I realized when I wrote [intlink id=”1816″ type=”post”]the last post[/intlink] that on that basis there were reasons to take action: ISIS demonstrates a lack of interest in dialogue; it has the resources to pose a serious threat; apocalyptic jihad has all the trappings of a humanitarian disaster. On the other hand, apocalyptic thinking is like a hydra. You cut off one of its heads and two more grow in its place. So was it right to launch a campaign against ISIS? I don’t know, but contrary to O’Reilly I think it’s encouraging that Obama resisted as long as he did. Now the main danger for the United States is the possibility that the hawks will prevail and the conflict will escalate.

Because there are conflicting claims about the best possible strategy, it’s important that Obama continue to explain his plans to the American people and state his rationale for it. It’s not only important for this conflict, but it sets a precedent for the future. As for how this campaign measures up against the president’s foreign policy of not doing ‘stupid stuff’, the jury is still out on the decision to launch this campaign, but I think we have the beginnings of a list of smart stuff: no boots on the ground; form a coalition; Arab nations in the region must participate. This last one is maybe the smartest part. It’s not just the West imposing its will. Fellow Muslims are rejecting the claims of ISIS. And this suggests further action on the part of Muslim leaders.

The Christians dealt with the problem of apocalyptic thinking a long time ago. Christian apocalyptic thinking still exists and it can still be a problem, but not in the same way that apocalyptic jihadism is a problem. The Roman church dealt with it on a theological level. This is what Muslim leaders must do.

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