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 -- mostly slaughtering 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, 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.