Did the Bush administration intentionally set a trap for its successor? Probably not. However, the current occupier of the White House could be forgiven if he thinks so. For one, Bush's ridiculously high spending (including the first $700 billion TARP bank bailout) which caused the national debt to soar to unprecedented levels has helped impair Obama's own agenda (though this year's trillion dollar deficit belongs completely to the current president).
But more importantly, one controversial area that President Obama doesn't want to dive into is second-guessing the national security decisions made by the Bush-Cheney administration. Part of it is that he doesn't want to create distractions from his own ambitious and controversial agenda. It's also the case that Obama has adopted many of those policies. Even before being sworn in, Obama said that he was planning on looking forward, not backward -- a pointed statement to those on the left who were demanding a legal inquiry into issues like warrant-less wiretapping and torture.
But now Obama (via his attorney general, Eric Holder) has been dragged back into the torture probe tar pit, with the possible appointment of a special prosecutor. As the Ken Starr probe of Bill Clinton showed, these investigations rarely end where they start.
Even more problematic, it has come to light that there exists a secret CIA program (that may involve assassinating al Qaeda leaders) that the Agency was told not to divulge to Congress. Supposedly by former Vice President Dick Cheney.
This confluence of events practically forces Obama's hand. 1) Democrats have historically been wary of the Central Intelligence Agency. It was a Democratic senator, Frank Church of Idaho, whose hearings in the 1970s exposed alleged excesses on the CIA (including assassinations of foreign leaders). Congress subsequently placed curbs on intelligence gathering -- including the original Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. 2) No Congress -- regardless of who's in charge -- likes to be told that an agency has been told not to inform the legislative branch. Especially when the person telling the CIA is, 3) Dick Cheney -- need we really say why the Democrats' bete noire is just icing on the cake for a political left that has gone apoplectic on this latest revelation?
Of course, another huge reason exists for not wanting to really go down this road? The Obama White House is, collectively, smart enough to realize that the American people are not going to get too upset knowing that covert approval existed for the CIA to kill members of al Qaeda. After all, this is the group that launched an attack on the American homeland -- killing nearly 3,000 people.
One would hope that the CIA had the authority to kill them. Much more cost-effective than, say, launching a full-fledged war, right?
In any event, these developments insure that either a prosecutor, Congress or both will keep the exploits of the Bush-Cheney years front-and-center for a good part of Obama's first term -- likely poisoning any chances of bipartisan cooperation on the new president's ambitious plans.