Saturday, April 17, 2004

The Pottery Barn Rule

The NY Times has some information about the new Woodward book today, the best of which is Gen. Powell's rule on invading another country: "You break it, you've bought it." He calls it the "Pottery Barn rule," and it's a damn fine rule if I do say so myself.

Quotes include:

Over a period that began in early 2002, Mr. Powell is depicted as having cautioned Mr. Bush and other advisers repeatedly about the potential drawbacks of military action in Iraq. The "you break it, you own it" principle he cited in delivering those warnings was privately known to Mr. Powell and his deputy, Richard L. Armitage, as "the Pottery Barn rule," the book says.

"You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people," Mr. Powell is said to have told Mr. Bush in the summer of 2002. "You will own all their hopes, aspirations and problems. You'll own it all."


In Mr. Woodward's account of the meeting between Mr. Bush and Mr. Powell in January 2003, the president is described as having simply informed the secretary of state of his decision to go to war in Iraq, as part of a 12-minute meeting in which Mr. Bush made a conscious decision not to ask Mr. Powell for advice.

You're sure?" Mr. Powell is quoted as asking Mr. Bush in the Oval Office on Jan. 13, 2003, as the president told him he had made the decision to go forward. "You understand the consequences," he is said to have stated in a half-question. "You know you're going to be owning this place?"


According to the book, Mr. Bush did ask Mr. Powell "Are you with me on this?" and told him, "I want you with me." Mr. Powell is quoted as having replied: "I'll do the best I can. Yes sir, I will support you. I'm with you, Mr. President."

I think it might have worked better if Powell had just come right out and told him, "remember, sir -- you break it, you've bought it." It might have jarred Bush a little more.

And, on a slightly different (and more ominous) tack, there's this quote:

Among the previously unknown episodes presented in the book was a White House meeting in December 2002 in which Mr. Tenet and his deputy, John McLaughlin, met with Mr. Bush and his top advisers for what was intended as a dress rehearsal for a public presentation of the administration's claim that Iraq possessed illicit weapons.

Mr. Bush was not impressed by the presentation, the book reports, and urged that it be refined to make a stronger case to "Joe Public." He is said to have turned to Mr. Tenet and said, "I've been told all this intelligence about having W.M.D. and this is the best we've got?"

In response, Mr. Tenet is described in the book as having twice assured Mr. Bush that the intelligence information supporting the American claims meant that the case was a "slam dunk." A C.I.A. official said that Mr. Tenet was reflecting an assessment spelled out in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate that declared unambiguously that Iraq possessed both chemical and biological weapons.

Stop and stew on that last one for a moment.

There are people in this country that ferociously support Dubya because they feel he's a good man -- that he gives off vibes that he is a man they can trust. And I think that's probably true. When he engages the faculties that got him elected -- the faculties that made him one of Texas's greatest governors -- he is a good man with very good instincts. But once in the White House, he allowed himself to be hijacked by the head-in-the-clouds neoconservatives. When Dubya was finally presented with the evidence supporting his long-planned war on Iraq, for the first time all in one place, his first reaction was "...this is the best we've got?" But he didn't challenge his intelligence director; he allowed someone to tell him that what he had just seen was a "slam dunk," despite his better instincts.

In fact, more than anything, it reminds me of the apocryphal rumor that Gen. Powell, while preparing for his UN presentation, threw a bundle of documents in the air and exploded "I can't say this! This is b*llsh*t!" He then suppressed his rage and went back to work, because he is a soldier and he follows orders.

Consider that comparison.

Consider the possibility that the person most like the President in temperament and attitude is the person with the least power and influence.

And if you still feel sympathy for the man, think back to his most recent press conference, where he had an earpiece feeding him answers and yet he still couldn't think of a single mistake he had made while in office.

In completely unrelated news, fighting in Iraq is up to 1971 levels.

God grant that it goes no farther. And God grant that Dubya be given a long, Jimmy-Carter-like lifetime to consider what he did wrong and to make amends.

 10:01 AM

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