In the last couple of weeks, lots of politicians and newscasters have
been offering minor variations on what they call the "Pottery Barn
Rule"—it's an idea that's caught on—or a script someone has handed
them. Christopher Shays, Connecticut's 4th district Representative,
has it too. On Sunday in his Westport town meeting, Rep. Shays said
"You break it, you own the place." On Saturday in Wilton he said that
we should not be paying to reconstruct the Iraqi economy; the Iraqis
should be doing that themselves.
The Pottery Barn Rule I know goes, "You break it, you own it." Very
simple. But all the people who are talking about it now mean something
different. They are using it as a justification for staying in Iraq.
Their rule goes, "You break Iraq, you own the place."
Let's apply the two rules. By my interpretation, you drop a pot, you
apologize, you pay the owner, and you leave—with or without the shards
of the pot you bought.
By their interpretation, you drop the pot, you own the Pottery Barn,
you bring in a bunch of guys with machine guns, tell the owner where
to sit, shoot around his feet, tell him he doesn't know how to run his
store, and tell him you're staying until he learns, and spray the
store with .50 caliber rounds. When some of his employees protest the
owner's just sitting there, you nail them. You tell them you had to
because they have issues with each other. You tell them they don't
know how valuable their pots are, that they might have not only 10% of
the world's pots right there under their roof, but 20%--and the
world's in desperate need of pots. You tell them you are guaranteeing
pots for the world, so you might have to stay for 50 years, but you
might be satisfied with less if they run their store right.
Let's apply the REAL Pottery Barn Rule: pay for what we have broken,
apologize, and LEAVE.
If you drop a pot in the Pottery Barn, do you tell the owner how much
the pot was worth? Or does the owner tell you? What if you disagree
with him? You go to court, right?
So let's assume there's going to be some agreement. After all, the US
military SAYS we don't count Iraqi bodies, so we can hardly turn
around and say we have the right figure for the number of people we've
killed, directly and intentionally or negligently. We certainly don't
know how many people we have left maimed and diseased, let alone how
many are suffering from the pollution by uranium dust. Though the
UNHCR says more than 4 million Iraqis are homeless, we don't have a
good estimate of the condition of each home they've had to abandon,
let alone of the condition of all the infrastructure, factories, and
public buildings we've destroyed. Estimates of damage to the Iraqi
economy run to 30 years' worth of their economic activity. So we
should expect the bill to be pretty large.
BUT NOT AS LARGE AS WHAT WE'RE ALREADY PAYING. The Iraqi GDP in 2006
is estimated at 87.9 billion in purchasing power parity dollars. The
entire bill for all the economic damage we've done would be 2.6
trillion in PPP dollars—400 billion less than the 3 trillion Nobel
laureate Joseph Stiglitz says we're paying for our criminal occupation
of Iraq. The exchange rate for the Iraqi dinar has always favored us,
so the real figure would have to be lower.
So let's go to court. We should go to the International Criminal Court
to determine guilt and to the International Court of Justice to
We'd better show some good faith efforts to ameliorate the damage
we've caused. So let's start by paying all the refugees who have left
their homes to rebuild their homes. Let's pay the government to
rebuild the infrastructure.
We don't need to stay in Iraq to do this. We can leave NOW. Lots of
other countries will be glad to work in Iraq so long as we, the
international criminals, are not running the show. The UN can
distribute the money to get Iraqis back on their feet while the ICC
and ICJ do their work.
Think of the benefits. It will be the first war in which the winners
have submitted to international law, admitted their guilt, and made
amends. If we do this, we can look forward to a sort of peace that has
never before existed on earth, peace based on justice, not mere force.
We will regain our self-respect, and even, perhaps, the respect of the
And we'll have learned our lesson. Next time we'll be more careful in
choosing our president. We'll choose congressional representatives who
will take their oaths of office seriously—and so will impeach criminal
presidents to defend the Constitution. We'll have earned our