Wikipedia, in describing how the upscale home furnishings store entered the world of geopolitics, offers this background: “According to Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, US Secretary of State Colin Powell cited the rule in the summer of 2002 when warning President George W. Bush of the consequences of military action in Iraq: ‘You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people,’ he told the president. ‘You will own all their hopes, aspirations, and problems. You'll own it all.’ Privately, Powell and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage called this the Pottery Barn rule: You break it, you own it.”
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know how the American effort in Iraq, in contrast to the effectiveness with which Saddam Hussein was ejected from power, was badly botched from the start.
The White House brushed off warnings about what would become Iraq’s descent into chaos following the initial invasion. It sent US troops into battle without proper equipment, and some veterans have received shoddy medical care after returning home. The conflict has seriously damaged America’s global standing, and, according to our own intelligence agencies, it has made worse the fight against terrorism. The ultimate cost of the war, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives, is expected to be in the trillions. And while the surge has diminished violence in Iraq (at least to the level of 2006), the outlook for a more stable future for that country remains uncertain.
One suspects that if a Democrat were presiding over this misadventure, people would be calling for his head.
Yet although President Bush’s popularity has certainly suffered, he has largely evaded the responsibility of “owning” the mess in Iraq.
The situation defies easy solutions. Even some of those critical of the war are flummoxed about how reducing the US presence in Iraq will severely worsen a situation that our country set in motion. Bush, as he said again recently, feels that he will be vindicated by history.
Yet those who have suspected that Bush wanted to slough off his mess on his successor seem prescient.
As the New York Times reported Tuesday, “It now appears likely that any decisions on major reductions in American troops from Iraq will be left to the next president. That ensures that the question over what comes next will remain in the center of the presidential campaign through Election Day.”
So the Pottery Barn rule requires some explication: you can create a big, big mess on the global stage, and pretty much walk away without owning it.
: This Just In
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