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June 30, 2004

Colin’s Break or Break Opportunity (or: “Help! I’m a Prisoner in the Pottery Barn!”)

Powellmirror
(On the mirror in the private bathroom inside the Secretary of State’s office)

One of the most significant things that came out of Bob Woodward’s book was “the Pottery Barn rule.” Specifically, Colin Powell is cited as having told President Bush that, if he sent troops into Iraq, he was going to end up “owning the place.” As the rule states: “If you break it, you own it.”

In all the cosmetic hype of the past few days, the most drastic hand over that took place was probably not the one between the U.S. and Iraq, so much as the one that occurred (or, has seemingly begun to occur) between the Pentagon and the State Department.

If you’ve been following the Iraq debacle carefully for the past year and a half, you know that the State Department (doing what State Department’s are supposed to do) had all kinds of plans in the works for managing “post-conflict” affairs. You’d also know, however, that the Pentagon came in and steamrollered everyone out of the picture.

It’s incredibly ironic how innocent the (mainstream) media can act about these (known) events. In all the retrospective chronicles of the occupation filling the major papers these past few days, people treat the Pentagon’s role as some kind of big discovery. Take the piece in this morning’s NYTimes, for example, titled “Reality Intrudes on Promises in Rebuilding Of Iraq.” The following is the section of the article just preceding the last paragraph:

In the initial months of the American occupation, the hard-earned lessons of earlier nation-building campaigns by the United States and the United Nations in places like Bosnia, Afghanistan and East Timor were ignored by Pentagon planners, who tried to rush ahead with showcase infrastructure projects before securing public safety and a sense of participation, critics say.

“We mostly did what we know how to do, instead of what needed to be done,” said James Dobbins, a retired diplomat who led American recovery efforts in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia and elsewhere and said it was a mistake to put the Pentagon in charge of Iraq’s economy.

In distancing himself politically from Iraq (a completely different exercise, by the way, from distancing the U.S. from the management of Iraq), Bush is insulating himself as best he can from any breakage. Obviously, passing the nominal leadership of the country to Iraqis (or former Iraqis) functions as the best and biggest story line. For additional backup, however, the Bush, Cheney, Rummy, Wolfy team (love that comb!) now have some additional insurance.

If the so-called “transition” shatters, they can always say that Powell broke it.

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