The saying "if you break it you buy it" can be misleading. It is often unenforceable, in some cases it is not even practical. In the case of foreign policy, accepting such a notion can cause America to be far less likely to step in where needed, or cause us to undertake the costly and unrealistic job of nation building. In real life such rules often do not hold true, in fact the real Pottery Barn has no such rule, and in fact it's a bit weary of being associated with the remark that is often quoted and attributed to them in newspaper and television reports. "This is very, very far from a policy of ours," said Leigh Oshirak, public relations director for the brand, owned by Williams-Sonoma Inc. of San Francisco. "In the rare instance that something is broken in the store, it's written off as a loss."
Even if it were the rule, should invading Iraq or getting involved in the internal strife of a country like Syria really have anything in common with sending a
wine glass crashing to the floor while browsing at Pottery Barn? Absolutely not, say the folks at Pottery Barn, who are miffed
by a metaphor attributed to Secretary of State Colin Powell. In 2004 U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was quoted in "Plan of Attack" as
cautioning President George Bush before the war that he would "own" Iraq
and all its problems, after military victory. That was based on what Powell
and his deputy Richard Armitage called "the Pottery Barn rule" of "you
break it, you own it."
This means this rule or ones like it should not be carved in stone or used as a mandate in how to develop and conduct foreign policy. Other over simplifications must also be questioned, such as having a clear exit strategy, and the need for overwhelming force to be in place before dipping your foot in the water. These and other ideas, like if a any Americans are captured and executed the price is "far to high," acts to limit our options. An expanded concept of what is acceptable does not mean we should jump into every problem or try to shape every event. Intervention should be the exception rather then the rule, and if we do get involved it does not mean we have to go "full in". The most effective returns on our actions comes when a little help or risk can be the game changer that produces something good.
We must pick our battles carefully and only intervene in fights where we think we can make a positive difference. In a complicated world simplifying what you interpret as reality may just gum up the works or create blow-back rather then guarantee the outcome you desire. In the smoke of war, and many other situations, our vision is blurred by emotions, lies, misinformation, hidden agendas, and more, sometimes we must just do the best we can and try to limit the downside and minimize any loss. In a situation like Syria little question exist that broken best describes the Assad government. A limited involvement and effort to reduce the loss of life now, and in the future, including trying to influence who controls the large stash of chemical weapons outweighs the option of doing nothing.
Footnote; This relates to what America should do in Syria, see the artical below,