Politics & Policy

The ‘To Hell with Them’ Doctrine

The attitude that there’s little the U.S. can do for the Muslim world is back.

Maybe everyone is misreading America’s views on foreign policy?

Among Republicans, there’s a big argument between the so-called isolationist wing of the party and the ostensibly interventionist wing. On the left, there’s a similar debate (though liberals are never described as isolationists no matter how isolationist they might be). Among Democrats, the dividing lines are murkier if for no other reason than the Democratic party takes its lead from President Obama, and his own views are murky, to put it charitably.

#ad#

The biggest boon to the anti-interventionists is the simple political reality that Americans just don’t want to intervene in Syria. They also want to get out of Afghanistan. They don’t seem to care much that Iraq is slowly sliding back into chaos. The footage out of Egypt may be horrific, but I would be surprised by any groundswell of sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Some commentators paint all of this as part of a general isolationist or inward-looking attitude on the part of the American people. And Lord knows that after so much American blood and treasure has been spilt since 9/11, nearly everyone is war-weary.

But there’s a simpler reason for American reluctance to intervene in the Middle East that plays a much bigger role in people’s attitudes about foreign policy. It can be summed up with the words “to hell with them.”

I borrow the phrase from my National Review colleague Rich Lowry. In 2006, as even the rosiest scenarios in Iraq turned gray, Lowry wrote an essay on how the Bush administration was losing the support of the “to hell with them” hawks. These were, in Lowry’s words, “conservatives who are comfortable using force abroad, but have little patience for a deep entanglement with the Muslim world, which they consider unredeemable, or at least not worth the strenuous effort of trying to redeem.”

Recall that this was the time when the Palestinians held an election in Gaza and proceeded to elect a repugnant terror organization, Hamas, as their dictators. President Bush routinely responded to every fresh atrocity by insisting “Islam means peace” until it became a punch line.

Over the preceding two decades, the U.S. sent troops into harm’s way five times to liberate Muslim people — in Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Iraq — and yet America’s reputation generally worsened. And whenever Muslim fanatics launched horrific and brutal terrorist attacks — slaughtering, mostly, fellow Muslims — the supposedly vast reservoirs of moderate Muslims rarely voiced much outrage. Meanwhile, our supposed partners in Afghanistan and Iraq, never mind our allies in Egypt and elsewhere, didn’t express much interest in democracy that extended beyond saying the right words to keep the river of U.S. tax dollars flowing.

The understandable — if not necessarily laudable — response from many pro-defense conservatives was, “To hell with them.” They don’t want our help and, besides, we can’t help them when we try. If they attack us, we will attack back, but beyond that, they’re on their own.

That attitude is back with a vengeance, and not just among self-described hawks. There’s even a version of that attitude among doves. Though they probably wouldn’t say, “To hell with them,” they share a similar attitude that there’s little the U.S. can do for the Arab and Muslim world. Indeed, this exasperation is something of a boon for segments of the anti-American Left, who’ve always seen U.S. power as a force for ill in the world. President Obama offered the Muslim world a grandiose do-over, promising to be, in effect, an anti-Bush president. He’s now less popular among Arabs and Muslims than Bush was in 2008.

The “to hell with them” attitude is no doubt prevalent among Americans who dislike Muslims, but having animus in one’s heart is not a prerequisite for exhaustion and exasperation with large swaths of the Middle East. All you need to do is read the headlines coming out of the Middle East and feel like, “I’ve seen this movie before.” And thanks to fracking and other technological boons, the fact that we’re becoming less and less reliant on Middle Eastern oil only serves to undermine arguments that we need regional stability at any cost.

You can’t prove a negative, but my hunch is that support for Israel or South Korea, never mind our NATO allies, remains quite strong. If real friends were threatened, the American people would support coming to their aid. It’s just that there’s a growing — or, in many cases, deepening — sense that we don’t have real friends in the Muslim world.

— Jonah Goldberg is the author of The Tyranny of Clichés, now on sale in paperback. You can write to him by e-mail at goldbergcolumn@gmail.com, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Most Popular

White House

The Democrats’ Burisma Bait and Switch

Imagine you get indicted in a swindle. The prosecutors represent that they can prove you and your alleged co-conspirators planned to fleece a major financial institution. You counter that you weren’t fleecing anyone. Sure, you were asking for millions in loans, but the collateral you were prepared to post was ... Read More
White House

The Democrats’ Burisma Bait and Switch

Imagine you get indicted in a swindle. The prosecutors represent that they can prove you and your alleged co-conspirators planned to fleece a major financial institution. You counter that you weren’t fleecing anyone. Sure, you were asking for millions in loans, but the collateral you were prepared to post was ... Read More

A Nation of Barbers

It seems almost inevitable that long hair is unwelcome at Barbers Hill High School. There’s a touch of aptronymic poetry in Texas public-school dress-code disputes. When I was in school in the 1980s, at the height of the Satanism panic, the local school-district superintendent circulated a list of ... Read More

A Nation of Barbers

It seems almost inevitable that long hair is unwelcome at Barbers Hill High School. There’s a touch of aptronymic poetry in Texas public-school dress-code disputes. When I was in school in the 1980s, at the height of the Satanism panic, the local school-district superintendent circulated a list of ... Read More
Politics & Policy

15 Flaws in Adam Schiff’s Case

Adam Schiff did most of the heavy lifting for the House managers, and if he performed ably, he also relied on arguments and tropes that don’t withstand scrutiny. The Democratic case for impeachment and removal is now heavily encrusted with clichés, widely accepted by the media, meant to give their ... Read More
Politics & Policy

15 Flaws in Adam Schiff’s Case

Adam Schiff did most of the heavy lifting for the House managers, and if he performed ably, he also relied on arguments and tropes that don’t withstand scrutiny. The Democratic case for impeachment and removal is now heavily encrusted with clichés, widely accepted by the media, meant to give their ... Read More

When There Is No Normal

One of the ancient and modern critiques of democracy is that radicals destroy norms for short-term political gain, norms that they themselves often later seek as refuge. Schadenfreude, irony, paradox, and karma are various descriptions of what happens to revolutionaries, and unfortunately the innocent, who ... Read More

When There Is No Normal

One of the ancient and modern critiques of democracy is that radicals destroy norms for short-term political gain, norms that they themselves often later seek as refuge. Schadenfreude, irony, paradox, and karma are various descriptions of what happens to revolutionaries, and unfortunately the innocent, who ... Read More