Going on six years ago, I moved back to my adopted hometown, snug up against the Canadian border. I came back after a long spell in the bad Washington — the one with D.C. after it. The Evergreen State has a reputation for being very liberal. That’s mostly due to the insufferable Lenin-venerating hipster socialists in Seattle. Washingtonians elect Democrats only to then undercut them at the ballot box, by passing initiatives that give progressive activists the dwindling number of newspaper editorial pages fits.
I moved back to a town that is full of Dutch farmers and Reformed Churches and Republicans. It’s a very conservative place and it fits me well. I’m getting married and moving away for the next year, but not far away and we’ll be back before too long, because Lynden is a good place to raise kids. In my time back here, I’ve learned a lot from listening to these ordinary, often extraordinary, folks. They belong to an America that is thoroughly alien to the Beltway and the green rooms of New York TV networks.
One thing people here tend to hate about the pundits is that they never want to admit their failures. KGMI’s Dillon Honcoop is a Lyndener and likely the most listened-to radio talk show host in the county. One time I got an election night prediction wrong and agreed to go on his program. Before we could get on to other things the next day, he razzed me pretty good, reminding me that if you’re going to say or write something, you’d better own it.
That is why, when writing about the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, I have usually tried to put in there somewhere that I got it wrong, and wrong in the squishiest way possible. I didn’t call for invasion and I didn’t pick up the anti-war banner either. I could see merit to both sides and said we’d see how this works out. I wrote that at the time. But the plain truth of the matter is, I could see much more merit in the side warning against invasion. It just seemed like a bad idea whose time had come, and how do you stand against that?
As part of the response to 9/11, America took on a nation and a strongman that hadn’t abetted the attack on us on 9/11. We did this because we were afraid of what they might do, and also for more obscure reasons. The watering down of American forces in Afghanistan likely allowed 9/11 plotter Osama bin Laden to escape to Pakistan, where he evaded rough justice for several more years.
That the anti side was right is so obvious now as to be nearly beyond debate. It’s depressing even to list all the things that went worse than the war’s backers and cheerleaders predicted. That war cost us more, in terms of American and Iraqi injured and dead, in time, in prestige, in money, than I could have possibly imagined. And it is costing us still.
Rather than learn from Iraq, the American government has doubled down on its errors and added more for good measure. The U.S. government has endorsed Middle Eastern “revolutions” that give more power to Islamist parties, worked to depose other strongmen who had kept the peace and protected religious minorities, badly underestimating ISIS, helped fuel a refugee crisis currently roiling Europe, and also funded proxy armies that we did not understand or control.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with proxies, America’s recent proxy-warring simply cannot be the right way to do it. It led to the tragicomic situation in Syria of two U.S. government-backed proxies, the CIA-backed Furqa al-Sultan Murad and the Pentagon-backed Kurdish rebels, going to war with one another. That’s right, army A and army B that we were funding decided to shoot it out with one another rather than go after Strongman C, which is the whole reason we were giving them support in the first place. They initially refused all requests of their sponsors, different agencies of our federal government, to stand down.
Raising the above objections in a Republican debate might have drawn charges of “isolationism!” from a certain recently departed Floridian presidential hopeful, who always seemed ready to come up with new way to justify the latest intervention and the next war. To folks around here, very conservative folks who may not have an overriding theory of world affairs but who do have eyes and ears and the brains God gave them, that sounds more than a little bit off.
“Had more money than sense,” is a popular idiom in Lynden to describe the folly of city slickers who come out to the countryside and manage to lose their shirts with bold new ideas, untempered by practical concerns. It also seems an apt description of our foreign policy misadventures, except that the money is all borrowed and, ultimately, we’ll all pay for it. I’ve heard more than a few farmers make similar noises over ubiquitous breakfast conversations at restaurants here.
The locals are not pacifists. Lyndeners generally don’t buy the “religion of peace” line on political Islam, laid down by George W. Bush and deepened by Barack Obama, in part because these are genuinely religious people who don’t think faith can be tamed or liberalized easily. Most wouldn’t bat an eyelash at Ted Cruz’s call for carpet bombing ISIS until some sand gets turned to glass. But they seem, on the whole, weary and wary of more wars. That gut sense of world affairs is no exception to their conservatism. Rather, it flows from it.
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