The three envelopes
Old Soviet joke:
Moscow, 1953. Stalin calls in Khrushchev.
"Niki, I'm dying. Don't have much to leave you. Just three envelopes. Open them, one at a time, when you get into big trouble."
A few years later, first crisis. Khrushchev opens envelope 1: "Blame everything on me. Uncle Joe."
A few years later, a really big crisis. Opens envelope 2: "Blame everything on me. Again. Good luck, Uncle Joe."
Third crisis. Opens envelope 3: "Prepare three envelopes."
In the Barack Obama version, there are 50 or so such blame-Bush free passes before the gig is up. By my calculation, Obama has already burned through a good 49. Is there anything he hasn't blamed George W. Bush for? The economy, global warming, the credit crisis, Middle East stalemate, the deficit, anti-Americanism abroad -- everything but swine flu.
It's as if Obama's presidency hasn't really started. He's still taking inventory of the Bush years. Just this Monday, he referred to "long years of drift" in Afghanistan in order to, I suppose, explain away his own, well, yearlong drift on Afghanistan.
This compulsion to attack his predecessor is as stale as it is unseemly. Obama was elected a year ago. He became commander in chief two months later. He then solemnly announced his own "comprehensive new strategy" for Afghanistan seven months ago. And it was not an off-the-cuff decision. "My administration has heard from our military commanders, as well as our diplomats," the president assured us. "We've consulted with the Afghan and Pakistani governments, with our partners and our NATO allies, and with other donors and international organizations" and "with members of Congress."
Obama is obviously unhappy with the path he himself chose in March. Fine. He has every right -- indeed, duty -- to reconsider. But what Obama is reacting to is the failure of his own strategy.
There is nothing new here. The history of both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars is a considered readjustment of policies that have failed. In each war, quick initial low-casualty campaigns toppled enemy governments. In the subsequent occupation stage, two policy choices presented themselves: the light or heavy "footprint."
In both Iraq and Afghanistan, we initially chose the light footprint. For obvious reasons: less risk and fewer losses for our troops, while reducing the intrusiveness of the occupation and thus the chances of creating an anti-foreigner backlash that would fan an insurgency.