You might remember Powell’s famous quip about Pottery Barn. In his advice to President George W. Bush before the Iraq invasion, Powell warned the president of the Pottery Barn rule: you break it, you own it. The United States would be responsible, Powell implied, for whatever wreckage the military incurred in its headlong dash to unseat Saddam Hussein.
The situation in Iraq is terrible -- sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites, which has killed way too many people in Iraq for years, is sure to kill more as a bunch of thugs called ISIS fight it out with the corrupt pro-Iranian al-Maliki regime for control of Baghdad and the battle-scarred country. But almost any "solution" that you're going to hear proposed over the next few days and weeks is likely to be just as bad. Just remember, the bad guys that Sen. John McCain wants to fight in the desert of Iraq in 2014 are the same people he would have armed in Syria in 2012. And his other solution was to keep troops in Mesopotamia for 100 years -- if you support that, McCain is eligible to run for president again in 2016.
This is the genie that Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and the rest let out of the Pottery Barn bottle with their reckless actions in 2003, and it can't be put back, because the bottle is broken. (And there was a reason that the same Dick Cheney thought invading Iraq was a terrible idea in 1991, and this was it.) The United States should do what it can -- short of lethal military force -- to encourage a peaceful solution, not because we're "the world's policeman" but because we're good citizens of the world.
As awful as the situation in Iraq is tonight, the Sunnis and the Shiite fighters want to kill each other, and not us...unless we foolishly get involved all over again. Otherwise, the best policy response is to keep doing something we've already been doing -- reduce our need for foreign oil, but with more renewable energy in the mix. We broke Iraq, and we can't take it back. Even if it accepted returns, that branch of Pottery Barn closed a long time ago.