(Deep breath, as one draws before jumping into a cold shower)
My friend Mike Hastings is not being fair to George W. Bush here:
With Libya, Obama would demonstrate for the first time, through his actions, how he viewed America's role in the world, attempting to live up to the lofty declarations he made when he had crafted his National Security Strategy a year earlier. Going forward, he wrote, the U.S. would "avoid acting alone" and "reject the notion that lasting security and prosperity can be found by turning away from universal rights." Democracy, he insisted, "does not merely represent our better angels, it stands in opposition to aggression and injustice, and our support for human rights is both fundamental to American leadership and a source of our strength in the world." It was a resounding rejection of the cowboy unilateralism and human-rights-be-damned ethos of the Bush era.
There's an unfortunate tendency that writers on the left have developed to conflate Bush's actual human rights record with the human rights record he wanted. Any attentive reader of conservative interventionist argumentation over the years cannot help but notice a frequent concern with human rights and with democracy. Are those arguments pretextual and convenient? Cynics like me will say yes, since they tend to be made loudest against U.S. enemies (Iran, Syria) and rarely when it causes conservative cognitive dissonance (i.e., the human rights of Palestinians to live free of Israeli occupation).
But that's a far cry from saying that they, or George W. Bush, have a "human-rights-be-damned" ethos. They have a substantially different view of how to promote human rights than do liberals. I don't share it, because I'm not a conservative, but it does no one any good to pretend that it doesn't exist.
The uncomfortable truth is that a belief in human rights is a disruptive force in global affairs. It scrambles ideological boundaries and takes people down intellectual roads they did not anticipate travelling. It's why the Responsibility To Protect is a force for -- let's strip it of euphemism -- war. Not because, say, Ken Roth or Samantha Power are warmongers; that's absurd. But because the world, and America, has yet to come to terms with the obligations that human rights place on nations, particularly hegemonic ones.
To support the R2P seems like a recipe for endless war; to oppose it, a recipe for endless injustice and impunity. The responsible work of intellectuals and policymakers is to bridle it, to make it commensurate with American capabilities and American interests; to shape a world in which America is not the only nation burdened with enforcing it; and not to avoid the circumstances in which it conflicts with American capabilities and American interests. Conservatives will and should be a part of that work, because they believe in human rights as well.