You were famously quoted as saying “if you break it, you own it” about the consequences of an American invasion of Iraq. So do we own it? And, as a practical matter, is it possible for the United States to declare at this late date that we don’t take part in other people’s Civil Wars, and to withdraw our troops?
The famous expression, if you break it you own it—which is not a Pottery Barn expression, by the way—was a simple statement of the fact that when you take out a regime and you bring down a government, you become the government. On the day that the statue came down and Saddam Hussein’s regime ended, the United States was the occupying power. We might also have been the liberating power, and we were initially seen as liberators. But we were essentially the new government until a government could be put in place. And in the second phase of this conflict, which was beginning after the statue fell, we made serious mistakes in not acting like a government. One, maintaining order. Two, keeping people from destroying their own property. Three, not having in place security forces—either ours or theirs or a combination of the two to keep order. And in the absence of order, chaos ensues.
What has been gained and what has been lost by not talking to Syria and to other states in the region?
I did talk to them.
And did you find that to be productive?
Yes. I talked to Syria for four years. I went to Damascus twice. We had low-level conversations with the Iranians. That’s a different account; you can’t compare the two of them. We have diplomatic relations with the government of Syria. As to why we’re not talking to them, you’ll have to ask those who are not talking. They pulled the ambassador out last spring, and have not returned her. I agree with the ISG [Iraq Study Group] that you should talk to people.