Sunday, August 28, 2005

If This is Pottery Barn, I'd Hate to See Pier 1

Can we call a halt to the "Pottery Barn Rule" phrase? It didn't apply back when Colin Powell reportedly said it in 2002, and it doesn't apply now.

Today Tim Russert had a quartet of retired generals on Meet the Press to discuss Iraq. The options advocated by the generals ranged all the way from A to B, from "Stay the Course" to "Stay the Course, But With a Bigger Boat."

One of the guys urged that the U.S. stay the course, and he mentioned the "Pottery Barn Rule:" You break it, you bought it.

Can I just point out that once you start talking about launching Tomahawk cruise missiles off of a destroyer in the Persian Gulf, we're really beyond the scope of a shopper dropping a fragile porcelain candle holder on the floor in a home furnishings store. So right off the bat the "Pottery Barn Rule" is pretty unhelpful, is it not?

Even if we allow the "Pottery Barn Rule" People some poetic license, what is the military equivalent of a customer breaking something in a home furnishing store? Well, in Iraq, it certainly couldn't entail much more than the first shock-and-awe bombing of March 2003. Seems like in that case, the next step under the Pottery Barn Rule would have been to say, "Oops, sorry about that," and then to send the Iraqis a check for $45.6 million or whatever it took to repair the damage, with a little extra for maybe some hummus or a nice cup of coffee.

Obviously, we've done a bit more in Iraq than the military equivalent of breaking a candle holder. Imagine that you are a manager of a Pottery Barn store. The biggest dude in town thinks that to protect everyone he needs to come in to your store and throw everything on the floor, tip over shelves, pour the dirt out of the planters, and then punch everyone in the gut for good measure.

Then, once he starts trying to "clean up," it turns out that this big dude is more of a Jerry Lewis type. He starts slipping and sliding all over the place, dropping the stuff that didn't break the first time, saying things like "Whoa, Dean! Friction burning!" and "Whoa Dean! Hot water, burning hand!" and even a "Ladeee!" or two. Generally making the mess worse, in other words.

If you're the store owner, do you really want this guy to keep on trying to "clean up?" No. You'd probably say, "Hey, friend, thanks for your 'help,' but you're really doing more harm than good here right now so why don't you pay me for the damage and then GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!"

At this point, if we really want to observe the "Pottery Barn Rule," we should ask how much Iraq needs to repair the damage we caused, leave the money on the counter, and leave. Because that's what would really happen in a Pottery Barn.



Eve's Apple said...

I guess I was sleeping when the Pottery Barn Rule was announced. What happened to that thing about the bull in the china shop?

dirk said...

And actually, i think Pottery Barn is one of those places where the customer is always right. So whether you break it or shoplift it, Pottery Barn ain't gonna come after you.

And with us as the customer, THIS looks more accurately like the US foreign policy. We come barging in and knock down half of the display cases (bull for sure, Rosemary), and complain about our injuries as a result.

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