Regarding Libya: At what point does the 'pottery store rule' kick in? 

Before and during the Iraq War Secretary of State Colin Powell would refer to a "pottery store rule" or "Pottery Barn rule." From Bob Woodward's book:

'You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people,' he told the president. 'You will own all their hopes, aspirations, and problems. You'll own it all.' Privately, Powell and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage called this the Pottery Barn rule: You break it, you own it.

This is why we have to do the ugly, lengthy, painful, messy, difficult nation building we've been doing in both Iraq and Afghanistan -- we knocked out the existing governments.

But what if regime change is internal -- say, in Egypt. There's probably some limited role that prudence would dictate we play in helping a new regime rise up. But certainly there's no moral nor practical imperative for the U.S. to "own" Egypt after Mubarak. After all, we didn't take him out, the Egyptians did.

How about Libya? What if we decide to enforce a no-fly zone? What if we have some limited military intervention, through NATO? And then what if this helps take out Gadhafi? Have we "broken" the pot? Do we "own" it?

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Timothy P. Carney

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