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Iraq and the Pottery Barn rule

Screenshot of ISIS fighters from an ISIS video.
ISIS fighters (Screenshot from an ISIS video)

No sooner did the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) offensive in Iraq hit the headlines than a particular song refrain popped into my head: “You break it, you pay for it.” It was a ferocious earworm that I couldn’t identify and cannot get rid of. (I finally tracked it down. It’s from a song “You Break It” sung by Diana Dewitt; it was the only vocal on a 1989 John Tesh album, “Garden City.”) It’s a disturbing if simplistic summation of what’s happening in Iraq.

Most adults likely remember the saying as “You break it, you own it,” also known as the Pottery Barn rule. The principle was first cited by Gen. Colin Powell when, referring to the pending Iraq invasion in 2002, he warned Pres. George W. Bush:

‘You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people. You will own all their hopes, aspirations, and problems. You’ll own it all.’

Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward later wrote that Powell and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage referred to it privately as the Pottery Barn rule: “You break it, you own it.”

In any case, the song lyric was the first thing I thought of when I heard about the ISIS attacks. At the same time, my seething resentment of George W. Bush erupted again.

Heartbreaking. Frustrating. Infuriating. Bush broke it. By the time we got out, he was no longer in office and, conveniently, no longer responsible. And now it seems we may get sucked back in. Not because we have any business messing in Middle East politics, because we don’t, but because we’re stuck with a moral commitment to the country we broke (even though the troops we trained fled their posts and left their American-made equipment to ISIS) and because we have a huge investment there in blood and treasure. Neither is reason enough for us to go back into Iraq, but our government may not see it that way.

“Everything you do comes back on you.
You break it, you pay for it”

~ Diana Dewitt, “You Break It”

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