Pottery Barn and foreign policy

Reuters

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Article Highlights

  • Was Iraq “broken” when Barack Obama “got it”? Not noticeably.

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  • There’s always been appeal in slogans; Madison Avenue bets the bank on that every year. But they’re not much of a guide when it comes to foreign policy.

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  • So it was the United States that broke Iraq, eh? Not Saddam, mind you? Not the Iran-Iraq war? Not Ba’athist ideology?

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The “Pottery Barn Rule,” implies that states have a responsibility to fix countries they have broken, like the United States in Iraq, France in Mali, or Belgium in Rwanda. Does the “Pottery Barn Rule” have merit in foreign policy?

There’s always been appeal in slogans; Madison Avenue bets the bank on that every year.  But they’re not much of a guide when it comes to foreign policy.  And inevitably, what sounds good one year doesn’t work that well the next.  Consider General Powell’s “Pottery Barn Rule”, a poor excuse for a pseudo-policy in an arena where standards are remarkably low already.   So it was the United States that broke Iraq, eh? Not Saddam, mind you?  Not the Iran-Iraq war?  Not Ba’athist ideology?

Another question: Was Iraq “broken” when Barack Obama “got it”?  Not noticeably.  It has broken rather because a war that no one appears to care about – Syria – has spilled over into Iraq, as it has into Lebanon and elsewhere.  Because powers now shaking Iraq’s foundations should never have risen from the grave of the Iraq war, and were permitted to do so because of the indolence and callousness of Western leaders in the face of extremists and tyrants.

Better than slogans or mindless assignments of responsibility (Belgium in Rwanda?  What?), the right answer is for the United States to have a president with a foreign policy vision that shapes his or her understanding of the nation’s role and responsibilities in the world, with a clear understanding of interests and morality.  That vision will never be a cookie cutter model of foreign policy, but it will help leaders and the public better weigh the challenges now facing us.

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