By Andrew Feinstein
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US militarism – which a retired army colonel, Andrew Bacevich, describes as the thrall in which Americans hold military power and its perpetuation – has become the largely unchallenged underpinning of the country’s national identity. It is a complex network of economic and political interests tied in a multitude of different ways to American corporations, universities and communities, the so-called MICC which, true to Eisenhower’s prescient words, has come to ‘exercise misplaced power [which] endangers our liberties and democratic processes’.
Until the late 1970s the major US arms companies could, with the assistance of their government, bribe and strong-arm their way to pre-eminence around the world. The favoured Lockheed Corporation was extremely close to the CIA, selling to its client states and actively involving itself in some of the less reputable actions of the Agency in Latin America – described as a free-for-all for arms salesmen – and the Far East.
The company, the world’s largest defence contractor, dominates the weapons business along with fellow American giants Boeing and Northrop Grumman and Britain’s BAE. After a volatile early history that saw the company teeter in and out of financial crisis, it was bought by Robert Gross in 1932. Under his leadership the company became influential in the corridors of power. It built the Electra transport plane which featured as the getaway plane in the iconic Humphrey Bogart filmCasablanca. But the Electra was insufficient to make the company profitable, so Gross turned to ‘government contracts for war machines’ despite preferring ‘not to have to depend on the light and shadow of politics’. His concerns about military business were not grounded in morality, as evidenced by his sale of Electras to the Japanese army which strengthened the fascist regime in the run-up to war. From 1934 to 1938 US aircraft sales to Europe amounted to over $42m, with the UK, Nazi Germany and the fascist regime in Italy each receiving over $2m of these sales. Japan received $15.5m. In 1938, the UK’s Royal Air Force ordered 200 Hudson bombers from Lockheed. With the passing of legislation in September 1939 preventing any US citizen from delivering military goods to countries engaged in war, Lockheed bought an airfield that straddled the US border with Canada. The Hudsons were flown to the American side, and pulled into Canada before being flown to Britain. The deal transformed Lockheed into a major power in the weapons industry.
The end of hostilities posed a threat to the company’s well-being. So Gross set about insinuating himself into the political process to engender permanent high spending on military aircraft. Before a Senate committee investigating national defence he argued: ‘I find it very difficult to talk about the airplane as a weapon of war. It is a cause I would not be selfish enough to plead as a businessman, but it is my duty as a citizen to plead for it.’
As Bill Hartung, author of a book on the company and its role in the making of the MIC suggests, this conflating of the company’s and industry’s interests with the national interest was to serve Lockheed and its rivals well in the decades to come. But ultimately it was not the words and arguments that opened the military spigot, but war – the Korean War. Lockheed not only supplied the US military with goods and equipment, at a substantial profit, but also with the means to transport it.
The Cold War also served the company well. Lockheed produced missiles, space vehicles and sophisticated spy planes to enable the CIA to keep track of the military capabilities of the Soviet Union. Despite this windfall, by 1960 the company was once again in financial difficulty, relying on the Kennedy administration’s military build-up to return to health.
But even with this build-up, Lockheed, mirroring the history of many weapons manufacturers, was soon in trouble once more. At the centre of its difficulties lay the largest military aircraft ever built, the C-5A Galaxy. The Air Force decided it needed a colossal plane to move large numbers of troops and equipment anywhere in the world within days: hence the Galaxy, over 260 feet long, with a 223-foot wing span and a tail wing that is six storeys high. Despite its size it needed to be able to land on a dirt runway of just 4,000 feet.
This gargantuan plane, which would enable the US to have an instant military base wherever in the world it needed to, was criticized early in its conception. William Fulbright, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, argued in 1969 that such capacity would tempt the US to intervene in every conflict that broke out anywhere.
The Galaxy would never have been built if Air Force procurement officers had their way. A Boeing design was deemed superior to Lockheed’s, but had an additional $400m price tag. But Lockheed held the lobbying upper hand, to the extent that when its original design exhibited faults, it was allowed to fix them. Senator Richard Russell, from Georgia, where the plane would partly be built, chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Appropriations Committee’s defence subcommittee. He was also a close friend of President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Lockheed also placed a sub-assembly plant for the plane in the district of the House Armed Services Committee chairman, L. Mendel Rivers, an unapologetic practitioner of pork barrel politics in the Murtha mould. Legend in South Carolina held that if Rivers got one more military base for his Charleston area, it would sink into the Atlantic ocean.
When it became clear that the C-5A had enormous cost and performance problems, Rivers ensured that the House Armed Services Committee never made serious inquiries into them.
But the most important factor in Lockheed winning the contract was the Pentagon’s desire to keep the company’s Georgia operation in business as part of the defence industrial base. As Hartung notes:
The practice of doling out contracts according to the financial needs of the arms makers rather than the merits of a particular weapons design is a long standing practice in the MIC, where the investments needed to keep factories at the ready to build modern armaments can run into the billions of dollars. As a result, a symbiotic relationship has developed between the Pentagon and its top contractors in which each needs the other to survive and prosper.
The Air Force overruled its own selection board and opted to buy the C-5A rather than the Boeing design. The Pentagon went so far as to draw up a new form of contract for the project, requiring the company to estimate R&D and production costs up front, and commit to explicit timing and performance yardsticks. Slipping up on the schedule would bring fines up to a maximum of $11m, a minuscule amount in relation to the size of the project budget, reflecting the loopholes that riddled the contract. The government was on the hook for the vast majority of any overspending. Crucially, there was a repricing formula that would allow the overruns on the first batch of C-5As to be folded into the costs of the second batch. So the rewards for ramping up costs actually far outweighed the penalties.
Ernie Fitzgerald, a courageous cost estimator in the Air Force, repeatedly blew the whistle on the problems with the programme, until he could no longer be ignored. After his initial misgivings were concealed within the Pentagon, Fitzgerald finally discovered that the projected costs for the programme had increased by almost $2bn, since the initial estimates. It was the most expensive aircraft project ever undertaken by the US, and set records for excess costs as well. The Air Force continued to tell Congress that all was well and few on Capitol Hill were interested in asking tough questions of a scheme that was delivering billions in pork barrel projects for their constituents.
Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin, a fitness fanatic and former journalist with a legendary reputation as an opponent of government waste, was an exception. He refused to accept campaign contributions and turned down several large projects for his own state on the grounds that he viewed them as a waste of money. His Joint Economic Committee’s subcommittee on Economy in Government called Fitzgerald to give evidence, during which the whistle-blower acknowledged the possibility of the multibillion-dollar overrun.
Fitzgerald was immediately excluded by his superiors from any serious work on cost assessment or acquisitions. Investigations were launched into all aspects of Fitzgerald’s personal and professional life and eventually he was fired, a year after his original testimony. He was told that his unit was being eliminated as a cost-cutting measure. The irony of removing the organization’s premier cost-cutter to make savings was lost on the Air Force bureaucrats whose primary concern was to be rid of Fitzgerald so they could continue to offer sweetheart deals to Lockheed and other defence contractors. Four years later, after an extensive lawsuit, Fitzgerald was allowed to return to the Pentagon in a circumscribed role. The most frightening revelation in his lawsuit was that the decision to fire him went all the way to the Oval Office, where Nixon admitted he had issued an instruction ‘to get rid of that bastard’.
Fitzgerald nevertheless managed to access key documents to fight the Air Force’s propaganda machine. He revealed not only the extent of the overruns, but also that top officials in the Air Force had known about them for years and had misled Congress. The cover-up was eventually acknowledged under pressure from a handful of Congressmen, leading to an SEC investigation, which discovered that senior executives in Lockheed had also sold off shares at about the time misgivings were being expressed about the C-5A, without informing other shareholders. Remarkably, the SEC decided that no law had been broken and no insider trading had occurred.
An internal Pentagon study in 1969 suggested that buying the second batch of C-5As – which would help Lockheed recoup the money it had lost to cost overruns on the first batch – was unnecessary. In 1971, the General Accounting Office (GAO) revealed that the Air Force was accepting the planes with major deficiencies to the landing gear, wings and avionics. It also noted that the plane was unable to land on unpaved runways as required. Twenty-five defects were identified, including that it could only carry half of the projected capacity.
Since 1966, when the problems had been known about, the fixes proposed sometimes caused more harm than the original problem. Henry Durham, a production supervisor on the C-5A, blew the whistle from inside the Lockheed plant. He described ‘mismanagement and waste’ in all parts of the factory and saw ‘what appears to be collusion with the Air Force to receive credit and payment for work on aircraft which had not been accomplished’. Durham’s job and life were threatened, requiring federal marshal protection for him and his family. Threats notwithstanding, Durham testified before Senator Proxmire’s committee in 1971 and set out Lockheed’s pricing policies, including charging $65 for a simple bolt along with dozens of other examples which cost the taxpayer millions of dollars. He suggested that this practice characterized Lockheed’s production processes and contributed to the massive cost overruns. Describing planes being rushed through the production line with crucial parts missing so that the company could receive progress payments from the Air Force, Durham raised a host of safety issues with the aircraft.
As the C-5A scandal was unfolding, Lockheed’s finances continued to crumble. The Air Force attempted to bail the company out by buying additional C-5As on even more relaxed terms. In terms of the absurd contract formula, because the first fifty-three planes cost 100 per cent more than estimated, so the second run of planes would cost 240 per cent of the original projected cost. Lockheed was, in effect, being rewarded for its own enormous cost overruns. The Air Force rammed through the order for the second batch of planes in January 1969 without notifying Congress or the incoming Nixon administration, just hours before Senator Proxmire was to hold hearings on the deal. At this point, only four of the original run of planes had been delivered and seventeen others were in bits and pieces.
When Congress attempted to stop the programme at eighty-one planes, rather than the planned 120, Senator John Stennis argued against the cut, claiming it was part of an effort to ‘cut the bone and muscle out of our military capability’ rendering America ‘a second rate nation’ that would be ‘second best to the Russians’. During the debate, Mendel Rivers, the arch-supporter of the C-5A, limited some critics of the plane to as little as forty-five seconds’ speaking time.
Even after Ernie Fitzgerald revealed that the overruns on the C-5A were being used to finance Lockheed’s troubled commercial airliner business, Congress continued to support payments to the company. As Fitzgerald remarked: ‘advocates of infinite contributions to Lockheed reacted as if [a] pallid little amendment [to hold back some payments] would have wrecked the national economy and ensconced Bolsheviks in the Pentagon in one fell swoop.’
But the Pentagon’s profligacy was insufficient to restore Lockheed’s financial health, so the company was dependent on a $250m loan guarantee from the federal government. This came after the company was reimbursed $757m in cost overruns on the C-5A and several other projects. Ernie Fitzgerald described it as ‘the great plane robbery’.
In the midst of the C-5A foul-up, Lockheed had another disaster on its hands, the Cheyenne helicopter. Described as an aircraft that could take off and land like a helicopter, the Cheyenne experienced a tripling of costs and constant technical problems, resulting in the crash of a prototype in March 1969, killing the pilot. Lockheed was unable to fix the problems and the contract was cancelled, with nearly half a billion dollars in public money washed down the Lockheed drain. This debacle was made worse by the revelation that Lockheed’s selection was the result of a significant conflict of interest. Willis Hawkins, the army official whose office awarded the contract, had only left the company’s executive suite two years previously. Hawkins had sold his stock in the company when he joined government but continued to receive deferred compensation. This conflict appears even more damaging when considering that Lockheed had never built a helicopter before. As the Cheyenne programme was imploding, Hawkins returned to Lockheed along with his assistant, General W. Dick Jr. Mendel Rivers defended Hawkins, arguing that Congress should not find ‘guilty every businessman who comes down here’.
This instance of the revolving door between government and defence contractors was just the tip of the iceberg: a 1969 report released by Senator Proxmire’s office found that over 2,000 military officers had gone to work for major defence contractors as of that year. Lockheed led the way with 210 former military officers on its payroll. Proxmire described this practice as ‘a real threat to the public interest because it increases the chances of abuse. . . . How hard a bargain will officers drive when they are one or two years away from retirement and have the example to look at over 2,000 fellow officers doing well on the outside after retirement.’
Lockheed’s CEO, Dan Haughton, in arguing for the federal bailout of the company, described the C-5A programme as an unqualified success that resulted in ‘the greatest airplane that had ever been built, without question’. The successful lobbying for the loan guarantee, in which the Nixon administration played a crucial role, was driven as much by pork barrel politics as ideology or the merits of the case. An otherwise liberal Democrat, Alan Cranston of California, the centre of Lockheed production of its commercial airliner, sang the company’s praises. He extolled the virtues of the relationship between the Pentagon and defence contractors, whom he described as ‘quasi-governmental companies dependent largely on defence contracts . . . [ just as] our country is dependent on them in this world of deadly, sophisticated weapons, for national defense and security’.
And herein lies a key ambiguity about large defence contractors: they are pillars of the free market economy whose shareholders are supposed to provide oversight, while receiving extensive state support which insulates them from market vagaries and meaningful oversight. One thing, however, is constant: this either-or status has resulted in companies that are often badly managed and regularly find themselves in financial difficulties, despite their government’s efforts, sometimes illegal, to find them business.
Human nature being what it is, the MICC comprises avaricious individuals who seek to gain private benefit at public cost. But the idea that all the players knowingly conspire to mastermind so intricate a system is difficult to prove, and unnecessary. Instead corruption among defence contractors, Representatives in Congress and the military brass is standard operating procedure camouflaged by an incestuous labyrinthine system and the primacy of ‘national security’. Not only do the corrupt actors need to be held to account but, as importantly, the system needs to be untangled.
To further understand this entanglement, I met Chuck Spinney, a lifelong Pentagon insider who experienced this labyrinth on a daily basis for over two decades. He produced a vast body of work explaining how the Pentagon really operates. His efforts culminated in the wrath of all participants in the MICC but saw him featured on the cover of Time magazine. In retirement, he now travels the world on a yacht. I managed to see him on a couple of his brief stopovers in the US. We met first at the tidy apartment he and his wife keep in Alexandria outside Washington DC. A shortish, pugnacious man with light-brown hair, Spinney has a face that exudes determination: a tough jaw, Roman nose and searching eyes. He describes himself as an outsider, prone to be critical and unorthodox, driven by his belief in the Socratic method. To describe him as feisty would be an understatement, while the term maverick underplays his contempt for overbearing authority, sense of conviction, steely determination and personal courage.
Franklin ‘Chuck’ Spinney was born into the military, quite literally. He took his first breaths at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, the son of an Air Force Colonel. A mechanical engineer by training, he worked in the flight dynamics lab at the base before leaving military life for two years. In 1977, he joined the Pentagon as a civilian analyst in the Office for Systems Analysis working under his mentor, a famous fighter pilot and iconoclastic military reformer, John R. Boyd. Boyd was not only the best fighter pilot the Air Force had, but also developed a theory on air tactics which is still used today and a hugely influential thesis of aeroplane design. He was known variously as ‘the Mad Major’ for his intense intellectual passion, ‘Genghis John’ for his abrasive and confrontational interpersonal communication, and ‘the Ghetto Colonel’ for his extreme, spartan lifestyle. Boyd once said to Spinney: ‘the most important thing in the world is to be free. There are two ways to be free, you can be rich or you can crank down your needs to nothing. I am never going to be rich so I am going the other way.’
Boyd had a massive influence on the young Spinney, who was a fast learner. In 1975, the Pentagon was trying to figure out what to do with the B1 bomber, the costs for which had already gone through $100m. Spinney realized they were going to have to pretty much give up everything, destroy the Air Force, to keep ‘this high-cost turkey’. When he presented his report to General Chapman, who led the team undertaking the review, the General went through the roof, exclaiming: ‘You can’t show this.’ Spinney responded: ‘Well that’s what the numbers show.’ The senior officer put his foot down: ‘You’re not going to show this because I have better information than you and we are going to get more money than you say we are going to get. You just understand, Captain! I am giving you a direct order, you are doing it my way not your way.’ In the presentation to the senior decision-makers, Spinney laid out every possible option, including the forbidden doomsday figures he had calculated. When asked which option he would go for, the 24-year-old chose his own scenario. Chapman went berserk. Chuck immediately called Boyd to tell him he was in trouble with the General. ‘There is silence on the end of the line, and all of a sudden Boyd starts roaring with laughter. He pulls the phone away and I hear him shouting: “My captain just fucked Chapman.”’
Eventually, because of the budget implications he had raised, the Pentagon wanted to find a way to get rid of a plane they had been saying was essential to the survival of the Western world. When he became President, Jimmy Carter saved them, by killing off the B1. Up to that point its manufacturers had been working with the Governor of California, Ronald Reagan, and their Congressional allies, to keep it alive using money intended for the space shuttle. When Reagan was elected President they reinvented the B1 as a sub-sonic plane.
John Boyd was the intellectual ring-leader of what became known as the Military Reform Movement (MRM). The MRM were the only insiders who believed that the Pentagon, not the politicians, had lost Vietnam. Their intention was to move beyond the primitive perspective of war held by the military. They wanted to develop weapons that worked from a tactics and strategy perspective, but also provided a defence capability that was affordable.
To do this they had to reveal the inner workings of the Pentagon and the influence of the MICC as a force that corrodes US policy making, leading not just to misbegotten expenditures but ultimately to war:
The MICC is incredibly complex with each component textured by competing interests: interservice, corporate and congressional rivalries respectively. They then interact in more complex ways than a simple co-conspiracy. At times they collaborate, at others compete. It is a system in which the components of the Complex evolve through their competition toward a state of heightened voracity whose cumulative effect accrues to the benefit of the system as a whole.
The sponsors of any specific weapons programme are a diffuse alliance of people in Congress, the Pentagon and the defense industry. Each has his own agenda. The defense contractor wants the programme to sell for obvious reasons. The program manager at the Pentagon wants it to happen for career reasons. And the Congressman wants it because it will increase his political clout or bring him some other kind of benefit.
The contractor and service arm talk about what is needed and develop products to match. But then the contractors add all sorts of bells and whistles, with which the Pentagon is seduced. The collaboration in getting to this point unfortunately increases the risk that the public interest represented by the service arm becomes blurred by the private interest of the contractor. (Interview with Chuck Spinney, Alexandria, 1 March 2010.)
For instance, a commander at the Pentagon described his relationship with Lockheed Martin in matrimonial terms: ‘Whenever we find a new way to improve the processes, Lockheed is involved. We are wedded to the factory and the company. They are our prime source of parts and expertise. And they are a part of all we do. It is a wonderful marriage of industry with military.’
Working in matrimony, the service arms and the company develop a proposal for a weapons system and then work together to win the support of those in the Pentagon and Congress who control the purse strings. The Pentagon has developed two basic power games. Spinney calls them front loading and political engineering.
In front loading they over-promise what the system is going to do and underestimate the kind of economic and other burdens it’s going to impose. When the benefits don’t materialize and the burdens are higher than predicted a safety net is created that makes it impossible to shut off the money flow. This is political engineering, in which the defence contractor intentionally spreads contracts and subcontracts for a particular system to a wide range of Congressional districts in order to build a constituency in Congress that provides long and lasting support for that system, with the elected officials effectively becoming representatives of the producer to his colleagues on Capitol Hill and to the executive. It actually benefits a very small percentage of the American people, but they are strategically placed to ensure enough members of Congress have to commit to the system.
Most of the people who are making the decisions are benefiting from them. That’s why I call it ‘Versailles on the Potomac.’ It’s very similar to Versailles: You’ve got people who are parasitic, they feed off the masses while of course keeping the masses in ignorance. I think one of the things you have to realize is that the majority of people that are doing this are not evil-intentioned people, they are not ripping the system off consciously. In the government, like in the Pentagon, it’s not to say there are not rotten apples, there are a lot of them. But you are also dealing with a lot of dedicated, hardworking people. In fact, one of the central questions to me has always been: how can so many well-intentioned people create such a mess?
In 1977, I was trying to kill this program, which I actually did. It wasn’t a big programme, about 6 or 800 million dollars. The guy I was working with was a good engineer and obsessed with bringing this thing in. He got diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and took early retirement. He heard that I was being successful at canceling the program. He came in to put a stop to it. He got off of his early retirement, came back on active duty for the last days of his life to take me out. This guy had nothing to gain, absolutely nothing!
The mentality they have is: ‘we got to do this to save the country.’ They sit around saying this to each other and they really believe it.
The defense contractors are a little different because, first of all, their survival is much more directly related to it. The higher ups in the defence contractors are uniformly more venal. And over in congress you have got a system that is so overwhelmed by information. The staffers are flooding the information in. A lot of these staffers wanna go work for a K street lobbyist or become an Assistant Secretary over at the Pentagon or wherever.
Let me give you a concrete example. I have a friend who is a congressional staffer for a guy who represented a district in Florida. My friend was a really moral guy. The Senate had decided to terminate the production of the F-16. The House then decides they are going to fund this fully. The whole idea is you are gonna negotiate a compromise in the middle and keep the line open. So as soon as the Senate zeroes it, the lobbyists let loose and they start spreading letters around the Hill. They’ve got a letter from General Dynamics saying ‘The F-16 is absolutely essential for national security and accounts for so many jobs.’ My friend was incensed. He called me up and says, ‘this is nothing but extortion.’ The benefits were supposedly going to about 44 states, one in every congressional district. I remember this one district in Alabama, it had something like 132 dollars going to it. And by the way, these jobs, if you wanna make jobs, defence spending is about the worst way to do it.
What you have is huge economic distortion taking place because when these guys go and work for defense contractors, the engineers learn cost plus economics – where basically your profits are a function of your costs. The higher your costs, the more you make. These companies are insecure, they are basically welfare queens. They have to live on the government dole. That’s another reason why we can’t turn this off, because you’ve got a disproportionate size of the shrinking manufacturing sector tied up in defense. So we’ve got this real monster on the loose, it’s Eisenhower’s nightmare writ large. You have a lot of people scratching each other’s back and they are making out like bandits. (Interview with Chuck Spinney, Alexandria, 1 March 2010.)
Crucially, this dependence manifests itself in a greater belligerence in foreign policy too. To keep defence spending high and thus the defence contractors growing, it is essential that the US continue to fulfil the role of the world’s policeman, the defender of freedom wherever it may be threatened, at home and abroad. So every President enters the Oval Office with enormous pressure, from the industry and its lobbyists, from both sides of Congress and from the military, to keep this ‘virtuous circle’ spinning through continual increases in defence spending and constant expansion of the imperial role of the US military around the world while always ensuring homeland security.
Chuck Spinney has described the way in which the MICC takes care of itself as ‘a self-licking ice-cream’. Spinney believes that it is largely business as-usual under Obama:
You see, these ‘think-tanks’ and the contractors are essentially holding pens for the political appointees in the administrations and so basically what you will see is people that you have seen before or clones of those people, protégés of those people. Bill Perry is a classic case. He was in the Carter Pentagon, then he was in the Clinton Pentagon, and many of the people in the current Pentagon are protégés of his, like Ashton Carter, the Under Secretary for Acquisition, and Michele Flournoy, the Under Secretary for Policy. Usually the constancy between the administrations has to do with the money and the people who are benefiting from the money go back and forth between industry, think-tanks, and the Pentagon – this is especially true of the so-called policy wonks, who, usually in my experience, are the people who write these great global tomes without having screw-all to do with the reality. Obama has been particularly vulnerable to their pernicious influences.(Interview with Chuck Spinney, 1 March 2010.)
The Obama administration has painted a mixed picture on the issue. The initial retention of Robert Gates as Defense Secretary was a pointer towards the status quo. As Spinney said: ‘Gates is a slick bureaucrat, and no reformer, not even close.
Bill Hartung has suggested that Gates’s approach mostly involved moving money around, not actually cutting weapons spending. Similarly, Gates and his team announced a new efficiency drive meant to save $100bn over five years (i.e. $20bn per year out of a $700bn annual budget for military spending). The $100bn was supposed to come from cutting bureaucracy (fewer generals and admirals, eliminating the Joint Forces Command, reducing use of private contractors). But even if the savings were achieved, Gates’s plan was to plough the money back into ‘the warfighter’, which will mostly translate into more weapons spending. This is change the weapons companies can believe in.
Gates’s approach will make sense to his successor: cut waste if possible, make a big deal about how you’re seeking ‘efficiencies’ and spending every penny wisely, then use that to try to slow the decline in spending – if there is a decline in real terms; Gates spoke about a 1 per cent per year increase on top of the largest military budget since the Second World War – hardly ‘austerity’.
On assuming office with the hope of change still fresh, Obama said that he would look at everything. He wanted to beef up oversight, slow down the revolving door, get rid of no-bid contracts and build better accountability in procurement. As one of his advisers on Capitol Hill, who wished to remain anonymous, put it at the time: ‘His people feel it’s gone too far, but whether they can roll it back is unclear politically.’