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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Analysis of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015

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The federal budget is on a dangerous trajectory and immediate corrective action is required. The U.S. national debt is at $18.1 trillion. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), if the government remains on its currently planned course, it will spend $7 trillion more over the next 10 years than it will receive in taxes, piling on even more debt.
Heritage released a proposal in September to address the debt ceiling and fund the government without breaking the bipartisan spending limits established by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011.[1] The proposal recognizes that Congress faces the duty to appropriate funds for government operations and address the statutory debt limit. The proposal recommends that Congress:
  • Put the budget on a path to balance by cutting government spending before considering any increase in the debt limit;
  • Establish spending caps that include mandatory spending; and
  • Move toward a balanced budget requirement in the Constitution to enforce fiscal sustainability.
Rather than taking meaningful steps to address the growing debt, the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) of 2015 is a colossal step in the opposite direction. This deal does nothing to reduce the size or scope of government over any period of time.
The BBA would suspend the debt limit until March 16, 2017, allowing for unlimited borrowing by the Treasury for the next 17 months.
The BBA would increase the discretionary spending caps established by the BCA by $50 billion in FY 2016 and $30 billion in FY 2017 split evenly between defense and non-defense programs, but only $24.511 billion (30 percent) of the new spending is offset over the BCA budget window of FY 2016 to 2021. Of the $75.683 billion in offsets to pay for the new spending, $35.136 billion (44 percent) occur in FY 2025.
The BBA would increase spending on Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding by $15.536 billion above the President’s FY 2016 request. However, only $7.848 billion (50 percent) would go to defense, with the rest going to non-defense programs. The OCO designation, once used to provide resources to the military in times of war, has been converted by the bill into a general slush fund.
As this paper was being finalized for publication, it was reported that at least one provision might be modified by an amendment. The fiscal impact is unclear, but it is likely that the amendment will increase the size and scope of government. 

Title I – Budget Enforcement

Section 101 busts budget caps and turns war funding into a slush fund for non-defense programs. This section suggests that regardless of how much waste and corporate welfare weighs down the budget and the economy, fiscal discipline is just too hard to do for Congress.
The BBA busts through the BCA spending caps by $80 billion over two years. To add insult to injury, the agreement further proposes an additional $147 billion in “emergency spending” under the well-abused OCO (Overseas Contingency Operations) loophole. Never mind that the Budget Control Act provided for more than $2 trillion in spending for defense and non-defense discretionary programs and agencies.[2] It seems that for Congress it is never enough.
While defense has suffered from getting the short end of the stick of the Budget Control Act, Congress could have easily cut unnecessary and inappropriate domestic spending to make room for investments in the nation’s security position. Instead, in order to satisfy the Obama Administration’s demands for more domestic spending, Congress is proposing to increase spending across the board by the same amount, except defense spending is getting the bigger emergency spending (OCO) infusion.
Domestic spending is getting a boost because the President is holding the defense budget hostage to accomplish his domestic agenda. Taxpayers will suffer so that special interests can keep getting their favors.
The proposed budget agreement increases the Budget Control Act cap for defense for both FY 2016 and FY 2017, but is below both the President’s budget request and the budget passed by Congress. The BCA cap for the defense base budget is increased by $25 billion in FY 2016 and by $15 billion in FY 2017. The OCO funding is also increased by $8 billion for FY 2016. They claim an $8 billion increase for OCO for FY 2017 as well, but future year OCO numbers have historically been place holders. For example, the President’s FY 2016 budget proposed $26.7 billion for OCO in FY 2017, rather than a straight line of $50.9 billion requested for FY 2016.[3]
The BCA cap for defense would be set at $548 billion for FY 2016, $13 billion below the President’s request of $561 billion. The FY 2017 BCA cap for defense would be $551 billion. Both are well below the $584 billion for defense proposed by a Heritage paper,[4] and well below the FY2012 Gates budget.[5]
Of note, non-defense OCO is also increased by $8 billion. The bill specifies that this $8 billion is for budget function 150, which covers the State Department and international operations. The President requested $7 billion for the State Department for FY 2016, so it is not clear how the State Department plans to use this extra $8 billion.
However, it is likely that this $8 billion will be used to cover a portion of the State Department’s base budget, which frees up more of the non-defense money for domestic priorities. The State Department’s base budget request for FY 2016 is $46.3 billion. The appropriations committees could cut State’s base budget by $8 billion and cover these costs with the increased OCO. If this non-defense OCO is used to cover the State Department’s base budget costs, this means that the Administration is fully funding its non-defense discretionary budget request for FY 2016, while leaving the defense discretionary budget below the President’s request.
Section 102 deems a FY 2017 budget in the Senate at CBO baseline adjusted for higher level of discretionary spending included in the BBA. This section eliminates the need for the Senate to produce a budget by allowing the Senate Budget Committee Chairman to deem a budget for the purposes of budget enforcement and appropriations next spring.

Title II – Agriculture

Section 201 amends the federal crop insurance program, the most expensive agricultural program. The Standard Reinsurance Agreement, which is an agreement between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and crop insurance companies detailing numerous reimbursement and risk-sharing provisions, would have to be renegotiated no later than December 31, 2016, and at least once every five years thereafter.  Negotiations can benefit taxpayers through larger savings. The overall rate of return for insurance providers under the agreement would be reduced from about 14.5 percent to 8.9 percent for the 2017 to 2026 reinsurance years. CBO projects that savings would start in fiscal year 2018, and be $3 billion over the 2016–2025 time frame. Major reforms are needed in agricultural policy that go well beyond tinkering with existing policy; however, this section might be a good, albeit small step in the right direction.

Title III – Commerce

Section 301 allows automated calls to cell phones in order to collect a debt to the federal government. In the President’s 2015 proposed budget, the White House claimed that this would increase revenues by $120 million over 10 years. The new rule, however, creates a special rule for federal debt collectors creating an inequity in the rules for private and government debt collection.

Title IV – Strategic Petroleum Reserve

Section 401 requires that the Department of Energy notify Congress of any SPR test sale and submit a report following the sale.
Section 402 directs the Department of Energy to conduct a strategic review of the SPR to analyze its role in national policy and its long-term effectiveness.
Section 403 authorizes the sale of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) holds 695 million barrels of government-controlled crude oil.[6] Congress established the emergency reserve in the 1970s in response to the Arab oil embargo and as part of an agreement with the International Energy Agency. The proposal would sell 58 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) in years 2018–2025 and use that revenue[7] to pay for new spending.
If past is prologue, the agreement likely overestimates the revenue generated from SPR sales over that time frame. Previous bills that used SPR sales[8] as a pay-fors estimated the price of a barrel of oil at $90 — about double the price of oil today.[9] Oil prices may again reach $90 over the next decade. But very few predicted that oil prices would be $45 a barrel a decade ago. In 2009 when oil prices surpassed $140/barrel, many analysts said the price of a barrel of oil would never fall below $100 ever again. Projecting an accurate revenue estimate from SPR will prove to be very difficult. In fact, the government’s own Energy Information Administration projects prices will not reach $90 again until 2026.[10]
SPR holds little, if any, strategic value. The SPR has been a useless tool for responding to supply shocks,[11] which have occurred rarely throughout history; experience has shown that the free market is much more effective at responding to price signals. Instead, American Presidents have used the reserve more effectively for party politics[12] and to boost their administration’s public approval ratings as a show of “doing something” in response to crisis rather than as an efficient response to global supply shocks.
Congress should eliminate the SPR by selling all of the reserves.[13] Congress should authorize the Department of Energy (DOE) to sell the oil held in the SPR by auctioning 10 percent of the country’s previous month’s total crude production until the reserve is completely depleted. The DOE should then decommission the storage space or sell it to private companies. And Congress should direct that the revenues generated should go exclusively to deficit reduction, not to pay for other projects or mask spending in this bill.
Eliminating the SPR would not create the perception that the U.S. is without oil reserves, as America holds an abundance of privately controlled inventory ready to distribute. America is awash in natural resources and holds more crude and petroleum products in private inventory than it does in government-controlled inventory. Prices play a critical role in the market by efficiently allocating resources to their highest valued use. Whether a shortage or a surplus exists, the federal government should not distort the role of price signals with a centrally controlled stockpile of oil.
Section 404 creates a new Energy Security and Infrastructure Modernization Fund. The proposal would authorize an additional $2 billion in SPR sales to pay for an Energy Security and Infrastructure Modernization Fund for the maintenance and replacement of SPR facilities. The legislation would prohibit the sale of oil in the SPR if “such sales would limit the ability of the SPR to meet its strategic purpose of preventing and reducing the adverse impacts of severe domestic energy supply interruptions.”

Title V – Pensions

Section 501 increases PBGC premiums. Specifically, the proposal increases the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s (PBGC’s) fixed-rate premiums for single-employer plans from their current, inflation-indexed level of $64 in 2016 to $68 in 2017, $73 in 2018, and $78 in 2019. This is about a $10, or 15 percent, increase in single-employer premiums for 2019 and beyond. The agreement also increases the variable-rate premium for single-employer plans by $2 in 2017, $5 in 2018, and $8 in 2019.
While these higher premiums will help reduce PBGC’s $19.4 billion single-employer deficit, PBGC’s multi-employer deficit[14] is more than twice as large—$42.4 billion—in absolute terms and nearly seven times as large on a per-participant basis. However, the budgetary savings is being double-counted to pay for new spending under the BBA.
The agreement does nothing to PBGC’s multi-employer premiums, which, at $27 in 2016 and without any variable-rate premium, are significantly lower than single-employer premiums.
Section 502 would shift the timing of pension payments. Pension premium payments move forward by one month beginning in 2025 (from the 15th day of the 10th calendar month of the year to the 15th day of the 9th calendar month), effectively shifting premium payments forward by a fiscal year. This budget gimmick adds an additional year of premium revenues to the 10-year budget window.
Section 503 would rate pension plans based on expected mortality. Private sector defined benefit plans can apply to the Treasury Department to use an alternative mortality table based on the experience of their own plan and projected trends in mortality. If the alternative tables more accurately represent plans’ actual experiences, this will help improve pension funding levels. However, the only plans likely to seek alternative tables are those that stand to benefit through lower contributions. The accuracy of the alternative tables and Treasury’s willingness to approve them remains to be seen.
Section 504 extends pension-smoothing budget gimmick. The final pension provision is an interest-rate-smoothing adjustment that effectively allows single employers to delay their pension contributions (multi-employer plans are allowed to use whatever interest rates they see fit). Delayed contributions increase tax revenues by raising taxable income. Additionally, because the delayed contributions increase plans’ unfunded liabilities, they also raise additional revenues by increasing single employers’ variable-rate PBGC premiums.
In short, the pension provisions create budget gimmicks that generate additional revenues through cross-cutting measures. The rise in premiums will improve PBGC’s solvency, but the improved solvency is then used to increase other, non-related spending. Interest rate smoothing reduces the solvency of single employers’ pensions in order to generate additional tax revenue to, once again, offset higher spending.

Title VI – Health Care

Section 601 maintains the Medicare Part B and deductible rates at an “actuarially fair” level. Under current law, about 70 percent of Medicare beneficiaries are sheltered from exorbitant premiums under a “hold harmless” provision; increases in their Part B premium are limited to the annual dollar increase in their Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA). But in 2016, there is no COLA, and for them no dollar increase in their premiums, leaving about 30 percent of the Medicare population to bear the full brunt of the overall increase in Medicare Part B costs for the year. For these “unprotected” persons, this would amount to a 2016 monthly premium of $159.30. Section 601 would set the 2016 basic Part B premium for these beneficiaries at $120. To finance this “fix,” the bill provides for a special loan from the Treasury Department to the Supplemental Medical Insurance (SMI) Trust Fund to offset the costs of the “fix.” To repay the loan, Medicare beneficiaries (benefitting from the” fix” and exempt from the hold harmless provision) would pay an additional monthly premium of $3 until the Treasury loan is repaid. High-income Medicare beneficiaries, who already pay higher Medicare Part B premiums, would also pay a small, but proportionately higher, additional monthly premium. Section 601 would also be operable in 2017 if the 2016 situation would, for some reason, repeat itself.
Congress should not continue to increase Medicare spending without appropriate offsets to reduce the growing entitlement burden on the taxpayers. As Heritage has noted, this is an unusual situation. This provision is a prudent response, and the SMI loan repayment, based on small additional beneficiary premium increases for those advantaged by this provision, is a fair and rational response.
Section 602 changes Medicaid rebate policy. Companies providing prescription drugs in the Medicaid program must pay a rebate to state governments. Under current law drug manufacturers enter into an agreement with the Secretary of Health and Human Services to provide drug coverage in the Medicaid program, and pay the states that administer Medicaid a rebate, which is shared by the states and the federal government. These funds are used to offset the overall cost of Medicaid prescription drugs. Section 602 would specify that single-source drugs, where a company has exclusive rights to manufacture the drug, whose prices rise faster than the rate of inflation would pay an additional rebate to the Medicaid program. Section 602 expands this “inflation-based” rebate provision from brand name drugs to generic drugs.
The Medicaid rebate system, long the norm in Medicaid drug payment policy, is an odd combination of forcing private companies to pay to play in the “government market” with the economic impact of a price control. This Section 602 basically continues and expands that system, while applying it to generics. As Heritage research shows,[15] the impact of drug price regulation is pretty much the same: a reduction of the availability of the controlled product over time, and a cost shift from the controlled to the uncontrolled sectors of the health care economy.
Section 603 provides for new Medicare payment policy for new outpatient providers. Many hospitals have outpatient provider services “off campus,” defined under Medicare regulation as more than 250 yards from the main hospital campus. Under current law, outpatient medical services are reimbursed on a Prospective Payment System: a fixed, pre-determined price for a given medical service or procedure based on a diagnostic code. Under this provision any new (after the date of enactment) “provider-based” hospital outpatient department is “off campus” and physicians and other personnel would be reimbursed under the regular Medicare Fee Schedule or, if eligible, under the Medicare payment system that governs ambulatory surgical centers.
Medical services delivered by physicians are generally reimbursed at much higher rates in a hospital setting than they are in a non-hospital setting. Heritage research shows,[16] for example, that Medicare reimburses hospital-based services and procedures, including surgeries and colonoscopies, at dramatically higher rates than the same procedures would be reimbursed at ambulatory surgical centers. Given that the Medicare services are reimbursed through a complicated system of administrative pricing, this section rationalizes that system by providing that, at least for new provider-based outpatient services, the same payment for the same services delivered in hospitals. A level playing field is a good start. A potential benefit might be the emergence of entrepreneurial physicians, specializing in outpatient services, who are encouraged to compete directly with dominant hospitals, and perhaps slow the continual and devastating erosion of private medical practice.
Section 611 repeals the ACA auto-enrollment requirement. The provision would repeal the automatic health insurance enrollment mandate of current law. Under Section 1511 of the Affordable Care Act, all employers with more than 200 employees must automatically enroll new employees into a “qualified health plan”—a standardized health plan as defined by the ACA—if the employer offers such a plan; and the employer must continue to cover existing employees.
This provision was also included in the House’s reconciliation bill. Section 1511 of the ACA is a mandate on employers.

Title VII – Judiciary

Section 701 modifies how civil monetary penalties covered by the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act are adjusted for inflation. The agreement takes steps to ensure that the resulting increases are not inordinately large, by capping the increase at 150 percent. Agencies are further given a degree of discretion to increase civil penalties by amounts less than what Congress prescribes, if the full increase will negatively affect the economy or result in social costs that outweigh benefits. Going forward, agencies will be required to adjust their penalties for inflation annually. Such adjustments are common in statutory schemes, and not particularly troubling.
Section 702 rescinds and permanently cancels $1.5 billion from the Crime Victims Fund (CVF). The CVF provides assistance, compensation, and services to the victims of crime, paid for by criminal fines and forfeitures, and in 2012 reported $2.8 billion in revenue. It is unclear how the $1.5 billion transfer of assets will affect victims’ services. Even if these services are not impacted, it is unsettling that Congress proposes to take funds set aside for the victims of crime to cover its own deficit spending.
Section 703 rescinds $746 million from the Assets Forfeiture Fund (AFF). The AFF receives the proceeds of federal asset forfeitures, and is controlled by the Justice Department, with funds ordinarily dispensed to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. In fiscal year 2014, the AFF reported roughly $2.5 billion in net assets. The proceeds of forfeiture should be deposited into the general revenue fund of the United States rather than retained and controlled by law enforcement agencies, to alleviate the risks associated with agency self-financing. While there is a risk that Congress will use the revenue to cover new expenses rather than offset existing spending (the proposal is unclear as to this point), the funds are nonetheless best handled via the normal appropriations process rather than the largely opaque process presently in place.

Title VIII – Social Security

Title VIII makes a number of changes to the Social Security Disability Program. The Disability Insurance (DI) trust fund is estimated to run out of money at the end of 2016.[17] This proposal would “reallocate” about $150 billion over the next three years from the Social Security Trust Fund to the DI Trust Fund. This infusion of Social Security revenues should keep the DI program solvent through 2022, at which point lawmakers may try to rob Social Security yet again.
Congress has been kicking the can down the road on DI reform for decades and 2016 should have been the end of the road—time for meaningful reform. Instead, policymakers want to provide a little more roadway for the DI program by whacking off a portion of Social Security’s.
This is not the first time the DI program has run out of money and it isn’t the first time Congress has kicked the can down the road. As recently as 1994, the DI program was about to run out of money and Congress increased the DI payroll tax by 50 percent, from 1.2 percent to 1.8 percent. That increase was coupled with a stark warning that the DI program was in dire need of additional reforms to sustain it over the long run.
Rather than looking to improve the efficiency and integrity of the program, Congress sat idly by as the share of the working-age population receiving DI benefits increased from 2.8 percent in 1994 to 5.1 percent[18] today.
The DI program is so ripe for reform that it is hard to know where to start. There is the inefficient, inconsistent, complex, and excessively long adjudication process; inflexible and outdated medical and occupational rules; perverse work incentives coupled with ineffective continuing disability reviews that contribute to troublingly low return-to-work rates; fraud and abuse; and failure to prevent poverty among disabled individuals, just to name a few.
While the budget deal includes some small but positive steps to improve the DI program, it nevertheless provides a $150 billion bailout that leaves policymakers little incentive to meaningfully reform the DI program before it runs out of money again and they come demanding another bailout in 2022.
Policymakers should reject any deal that robs the Social Security Trust Fund and fails to meaningfully reform the DI program. Instead, Congress should allow the DI program to temporarily borrow[19] from the Social Security Trust Fund while it establishes meaningful reforms, such as a flat benefit,[20] a private disability insurance option,[21] improved return-to-work initiatives, case-specific time-limits on benefits, and commonsense reforms to the disability determination process.

Title IX – Temporary Extension of Public Debt Limit

Sections 901 and 902 suspend the debt ceiling until March 2017. The BBA would not only increase the $18.1 trillion debt ceiling; but it would do so by waiving the debt limit for nearly one-and-a-half years. When Congress chooses to suspend the debt limit through a certain date, instead of limiting debt accumulation by a certain amount, lawmakers are effectively abdicating their constitutional power[22] to control the borrowing of the federal government. Congress is practically handing the executive a blank check[23] to borrow as much as needed to finance all authorized government spending during the period of the suspension.
In choosing against limiting debt accumulation by a specific amount, Congress is trying to avoid facing its constituents for having increased the debt limit without cutting spending by equal or greater amounts[24] to begin putting the budget on a path to balance. This debt limit waiver through March 15, 2017, will increase the debt limit by about $1.5 trillion, to a new level of $19.6 trillion.
This wholesale capitulation to fiscal recklessness is all the more damning, following the GOP Congress’s self-congratulations on passing the first balanced budget plan since 2001. Promises to balance the budget are cheap when Congress has no intention to follow through.[25]

Title X – Spectrum

Sections 1001-1008 propose to sell new spectrum to pay for new spending. Spectrum sale is good policy, but will not provide any revenue to the federal government until 2024 at the earliest. 
This section of the bill, based on a discussion draft of the “Spectrum Pipeline Act of 2015,” circulated by the House Commerce Committee, would direct the Commerce Department to identify by 2022 at least 30 MHz of spectrum now used by the federal government which could be reallocated for private sector use. The Federal Communications Commission would then be required to begin the auction of licenses for this spectrum by July 2024. Auctions can take a number of months to complete. The bill extends FCC auction authority to September 2025, at which time the auction would presumably have to be complete.
These provisions are substantively good ones. It is widely recognized that more spectrum will be needed to provide mobile broadband and other wireless services, and this helps meet that need. And the process is not a new one—on several other occasions, the Commerce Department has been asked to identify frequencies to be reallocated to private sector use. However, this plan would not provide any revenues for at least nine, and likely ten, years. Moreover, any estimates of the revenue to be gained are highly speculative. Valuing spectrum is more art than science, even in the short run, given the dynamic nature of the wireless marketplace. Valuing it with any certainty a decade out is based on pure speculation.

Title XI – Revenue Provisions

Section 1101 modifies partnership audit rules for large and small partnerships. This provision is based on the Partnership Audit Simplification Act (H.R. 2821). It would substantially change the partnership audit rules for both large (over 100 partners) and small partnerships. However, well-advised small partnerships can elect out of the new system by making a timely election and providing additional information to the IRS. By assessing increased taxes resulting from audit adjustments at the partnership level and requiring joint and several liability of the partners for the tax adjustment, the provision creates a potentially large contingent liability with respect to every partnership interest. Moreover, the provision does not take into account changes in the partnership percentage interests that may occur from year to year, leading to potential injustice for partners whose percentage interest increases because they will pay tax with respect to income that they did not receive. On balance, this provision increases complexity and will lead to unfair results.
Section 1102 clarifies Congress’s intent for partnership rules when ownership passes to family members. This is an arcane and technical provision pertaining to how ownership in a partnership is determined when a person passes their ownership interest in a partnership to a family member. Assuming that this is something Congress needs to address, it should not do so to raise taxes to offset spending hikes. Like all technical tax matters that need addressing, Congress should handle it in tax reform where any tax increase changes to the provision creates can be offset with tax cuts.

Title XII – Designation of Small House Rotunda

Section 1201 designates the first floor area of the House of Representatives wing of the U.S. Capitol as the “Freedom Foyer.” To include this provision at the end of a bill that would otherwise increase the size and scope of government is bad form.

[1] Paul Winfree, Romina Boccia, Curtis S. Dubay, and Michael Sargent, “Blueprint for Congressional Fiscal Action in the Remainder of 2015,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 3052, September 2, 2015,
[2] Congressional Budget Office, “Sequestration Update Report: August 2015,” August 14, 2015, (accessed October 27, 2015).
[3] U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2016: Summary Tables (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2015), (accessed October 27, 2015).
[4] Diem Nguyen Salmon, “A Proposal for the FY 2016 Defense Budget,” Heritage FoundationBackgrounder No. 2989, January 30, 2015,
[5] Diem Nguyen Salmon, “National Defense Panel Provides Congress an Honest Path Forward,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4257, August 1, 2014,
[6] U.S. Department of Energy, “Strategic Petroleum Reserve Inventory,” October 23, 2015, (accessed October 27, 2015).
[7] U.S. House of Representatives, “Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015: Section-by-Section Summary,” (accessed October 27, 2015).
[8] Eric Wolff, “SPR to the Rescue in Budget Deal,” Politico, October 27, 2015, (accessed October 27, 2015).
[9] Bloomberg Business, “Energy & Oil: Crude Oil & Natural Gas,” October 27, 2015).
[10] U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Annual Energy Outlook 2015: Table: Oil and Gas Supply,” (accessed October 27, 2015).
[11] Timothy J. Considine, “Is the Strategic Petroleum Reserve Our Ace in the Hole?” The Energy Journal, Vol. 27, No. 3 (2006), pp. 91–112, October 27, 2015).
[12] Nicolas D. Loris, “Why Congress Should Pull the Plug on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 3046, August 20, 2015,
[13] Ibid.
[14] Rachel Greszler, “Bankrupt Pensions and Insolvent Pension Insurance: The Case of Multiemployer Pensions and the PBGC’s Multiemployer Program,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 3029, July 30, 2015,
[15] Christopher M. Pope, “Legislating Low Prices: Cutting Costs or Care?” Heritage FoundationBackgrounder No. 2834, August 9, 2013,
[16] Christopher M. Pope, “How the Affordable Care Act Fuels Health Care Market Consolidation,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2928, August 1, 2014,
[17] Rachel Greszler, “Social Security Trustees: Disability Insurance Program Will Be Insolvent in 2016,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 3033, July 24, 2015,
[18] Ibid.
[19] Rachel Greszler, “Payroll-Tax Reallocation Would Rob Social Security and Prevent Necessary Disability Insurance Reforms,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2940, August 14, 2014,
[20] Rachel Greszler, “Improving Social Security Disability Insurance with a Flat Benefit,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 3068, October 23, 2015,
[21] Rachel Greszler, “Private Disability Insurance Option Could Help Save SSDI and Improve Individual Well-being,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 3037, July 20, 2015,
[22] Romina Boccia, “Bring Back the Debt Ceiling,” The National Interest, February 7, 2014, (accessed October 27, 2015).
[23] Romina Boccia, “Blank Check: What It Means to Suspend the Debt Limit,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4149, February 14, 2014,
[24] Paul Winfree et al., “Blueprint for Congressional Fiscal Action in the Remainder of 2015.”
[25] Romina Boccia, “The Debt Ceiling Cometh: Another Chance to Rein In Spending,” The National Interest, October 22, 2015, (accessed October 27, 2015).


Why Liberals Identify with Criminals

Tom Trinko

Liberals hate cops, honest citizens with guns, and hard sentencing laws because liberals identify with criminals.
When visiting a Federal prison Obama summarized the view of liberals when he said:
“These are young people who made mistakes that aren’t that different than the mistakes I made and the mistakes that a lot of you guys made."
While the people in the prison he was talking about were really drug dealers and violent felons, Obama, was repeating the liberal lie that the prisons are full of folks who just smoked a joint and got caught.
Liberals are five times more likely to use marijuana and cocaine than conservatives. A natural consequence of drug use is fear of the police. While the U.S. has an overly soft policy towards drug users, users are nonetheless afraid of the consequence of getting caught breaking the law. This fosters in liberals an anti-cop mentality, since the police are the agents of society that enforce society’s laws against drug use.
If a liberal dislikes the police because he thinks they are unfairly targeting his “harmless” drug use it’s not a big step for him to assume that cops are racist and violent towards other “innocent” people. After all if a liberal believes that cops are “racist pigs” then it becomes clear that arresting “innocent” drug users is an act of fascist repression and that drug users are actually victims of the “police state” not criminals.
This antipathy towards the law because of drugs is not new. During Prohibition Americans who liked to drink lost respect for the police. Anyone who likes to do things that are illegal is going to develop a distaste for the men and women in blue who enforce the law. It’s a natural consequence of the fact that human nature is such that we usually try and rationalize our behavior by scapegoating someone else.
The problem is exacerbated because for many liberals, such as Obama, drug use began when they were highly impressionable teens; biases developed at a young age are often much harder to escape than those developed later in life.
Further because illegal drug users are criminals, that is they are intentionally breaking the law, they tend to identify with other criminals rather than with the criminal justice system or victims.
Drug users rationalizes their criminal acts by saying it’s the law that’s bad, that the “system” is unjust, that they’re being unfairly persecuted; exactly the same sort of rationalizations that every criminal uses. It’s not surprising then that liberals will identify with the criminal rather than the victim or the police.
Like other criminals, liberal law breakers often believe that what they do doesn’t hurt others. Robbers will rationalize that they’re stealing from people who are rich only because the system is corrupt and that they, the robbers, are just getting what should be theirs, and anyway the “rich” they’re stealing from won’t miss what was stolen. Rapists will claim that the woman “asked for it” and that “no means yes.” Similarly liberals argue that their drug use doesn’t hurt anyone. Apparently liberals either don’t care or are unaware of the victims of their drug use.
Drug use however does have many victims; the gang wars in our cities, the massive deaths of blacks in our cities, the chaos and death in Mexico are all fueled by the dollars of American drug users. Mexico is turning into a cesspool of violence and corruption because Americans want their drugs and they don’t care who suffers.
The river of drug money also leads to the corruption of the police that in turn causes the very sort of police misconduct that liberals excoriate.
However, liberals tend to be people who eschew personal responsibility so they fail to see the connection between their giving money to criminal organizations and the violent acts of those cartels.
If liberals were to admit to themselves that the average cop is a decent person who tries to treat people fairly, they’d have to confront the fact that it’s a liberal’s choice to break the law that makes liberals fear the police. Sadly, liberal DNA just doesn’t include accepting responsibility for one’s actions so they continue to blame others for the consequences of their drug use, including their fear of police.
Of course, not all liberals are drug users. Some liberals probably view the police as the enemy because they’ve committed other crimes. For example, Hillary Clinton’s feeling that she’s been persecuted in encounters with the law over Whitewater and various other scandals may have put her on the side of criminals. And of course all the corrupt liberal politicians in Chicago and Detroit have ample reason to side with the bad guys.
Once we realize that liberals identify with criminals, their actions make sense. A person who thinks the justice system is anything but just will work hard to make cop’s job harder while giving criminals as many loopholes as he can.
Similarly if a person thinks of criminals as oppressed victims then they will have no problem with Supreme Court rulings that put impossible burdens on the police who have to make split second decisions in complex situations.
But worst of all, a person who views the police as the bad guys will buy into the lie of the Black Lives Matter movement that cops are killing people for no good reason. That in turn leads to lack of interest on their part concerning the safety of police.
In the end, liberal identification with criminals leads to the police knowing that the politicians don’t have their backs and to a reduction in effective crime control. It’s not an accident that liberals disagree with Giuliani’s “Broken Window” policing philosophy, since liberals don’t seem to care about the victims of “petty” crimes.
We need to tell the American people, our friends and neighbors, the truth that liberals aren’t like honest folk instead liberals identify with criminals and therefore support laws that favor criminals over victims and society.

It’s time to realize that liberals are rooting for the wrong side in the war on crime.

The disastrous Iraq policies that led to ISIS were not President Bush’s.

The Deciders

illustration by Michael Hogue


 In May 2003, in the wake of the Iraq War and the ousting of Saddam Hussein, events took place that set the stage for the current chaos in the Middle East. Yet even most well-informed Americans are unaware of how policies implemented by mid-level bureaucrats during the Bush administration unwittingly unleashed forces that would ultimately lead to the juggernaut of the Islamic State.
The lesson is that it appears all too easy for outsiders working with relatively low-level appointees to hijack the policy process. The Bay of Pigs invasion and Iran-Contra affair are familiar instances, but the Iraq experience offers an even better illustration—not least because its consequences have been even more disastrous.
The cast of characters includes President George W. Bush; L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer, the first civilian administrator of postwar Iraq; Douglas Feith, Bush’s undersecretary of defense for policy; Paul Wolfowitz, Bush’s deputy secretary of defense; I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Richard B. Cheney (and Cheney’s proxy in these events); Walter Slocombe, who had been President Clinton’s undersecretary of defense for policy, and as such was Feith’s predecessor; Richard Perle, who was chairman of Bush’s defense policy board; and General Jay Garner, whom Bremer replaced as the leader of postwar Iraq.
On May 9, 2003, President Bush appointed Bremer to the top civilian post in Iraq. A career diplomat who was recruited for this job by Wolfowitz and Libby, despite the fact that he had minimal experience of the region and didn’t speak Arabic, Bremer arrived in Baghdad on May 12 to take charge of the Coalition Provisional Authority, or CPA. In his first two weeks at his post, Bremer issued two orders that would turn out to be momentous. Enacted on May 16, CPA Order Number 1 “de-Baathified” the Iraqi government; on May 23, CPA Order Number 2 disbanded the Iraqi army. In short, Baath party members were barred from participation in Iraq’s new government and Saddam Hussein’s soldiers lost their jobs, taking their weapons with them.
The results of these policies become clear as we learn about the leadership of ISIS. The Washington Post, for example, reported in April that “almost all of the leaders of the Islamic State are former Iraqi officers.” In June, the New York Timesidentified a man “believed to be the head of the Islamic State’s military council,” Fadel al-Hayali, as “a former lieutenant colonel in the Iraqi military intelligence agency of President Saddam Hussein.” Criticism of de-Baathification and the disbanding of Iraq’s army has been fierce, and the contribution these policies made to fueling extremism was recognized even before the advent of the Islamic State. The New York Times reported in 2007:
The dismantling of the Iraqi Army in the aftermath of the American invasion is now widely regarded as a mistake that stoked rebellion among hundreds of thousands of former Iraqi soldiers and made it more difficult to reduce sectarian bloodshed and attacks by insurgents.
This year the Washington Post summed up reactions to both orders when it cited a former Iraqi general who asked bluntly, “When they dismantled the army, what did they expect those men to do?” He explained that “they didn’t de-Baathify people’s minds, they just took away their jobs.” Writing about the disbanding policy in his memoir, Decision Points, George W. Bush acknowledges the harmful results: “Thousands of armed men had just been told they were not wanted. Instead of signing up for the new military, many joined the insurgency.”
Yet in spite of the wide-ranging consequences of these de-Baathification and disbanding policies, they—and the decision-making processes that led to them—remain obscure to most Americans. What is more, it is unclear whether Bush himself knew about these policies before they were enacted. In November 2003, theWashington Post claimed, “Before the war, President Bush approved a plan that would have put several hundred thousand Iraqi soldiers on the U.S. payroll and kept them available to provide security.” There had apparently been two National Security Council meetings, one on March 10 and another on March 12, during which the president approved a moderate de-Baathification policy and a plan, as reported by the New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon, to “use the Iraqi military to help protect the country.” (The invasion of Iraq began on March 19.) President Bush later told biographer Robert Draper that “the policy was to keep the army intact” but it “didn’t happen.” 
So the question remains: if CPA Orders 1 and 2 weren’t Bush’s policies, whose were they? In 2007, Doug Feith told the Los Angeles Times that “until everybody writes memoirs and all the researchers look at the documents, some of these things are hard to sort out. You could be in the thick of it and not necessarily know all the details.” Now that the memoirs have been written, it is time to establish just who the policymakers were in May 2003.
The various accounts present an array of neoconservative thinkers—notably Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, and Walter Slocombe—who implemented their own policies rather than those of the president they served. Moreover, one of the major influences on these policies was the Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi, who had thought he would be put in charge of postwar Iraq, having “been led to believe that by Perle and Feith,” as General Garner related to the journalist Thomas Ricks. And while the responsibility for what happened ultimately lies with George W. Bush—who, to his credit, avers as much in his own memoir—this episode demonstrates how knowledgeable mid-level advisors can hijack the American presidency to suit their own goals.
At the start of May 2003, the chief administrative entity in Iraq was the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (OHRA), which was replaced shortly thereafter by the CPA under Bremer. The head of OHRA was General Garner, who worked “under the eyes of senior Defense Department aides with direct channels to Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz and Under Secretary for Policy Douglas J. Feith,” according to the Washington Post. For his part, Garner strongly favored a policy of maintaining the Iraqi army, and preparations towards this end began almost a year earlier. For instance, Colonel John Agoglia told the New York Times that “Starting in June 2002 we conducted targeted psychological operations using pamphlet drops, broadcasts and all sorts of means to get the message to the regular army troops that they should surrender or desert and that if they did we would bring them back.” The Times reported earlier that under Garner’s leadership, “Top commanders were meeting secretly with former Iraqi officers to discuss the best way to rebuild the force and recall Iraqi soldiers back to duty when Mr. Bremer arrived in Baghdad with his plan.”
In the same story, the Times claimed that “The Bush administration did not just discuss keeping the old army. General Garner’s team found contractors to retrain it.” Bremer, however, showed up with policy ideas that diverged sharply from Garner’s.
In his memoir, Bremer names the officials who approached him for his CPA job. He recounts telling his wife that:
I had been contacted by Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, and by Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense. The Pentagon’s original civil administration in ‘post-hostility’ Iraq—the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, ORHA—lacked expertise in high-level diplomatic negotiations and politics. … I had the requisite skills and experience for that position.
Regarding the de-Baathification order, both Bremer and Feith have written their own accounts of the week leading up to it, and the slight discrepancy between their recollections is revealing in what it tells us about Bremer—and consequently about Wolfowitz and Libby for having selected him. At first blush, Bremer and Feith’s justifications for the policy appear to dovetail, each comparing postwar Iraq to postwar Nazi Germany. Bremer explains in a retrospective Washington Post op-ed, “What We Got Right in Iraq,” that “Hussein modeled his regime after Adolf Hitler’s, which controlled the German people with two main instruments: the Nazi Party and the Reich’s security services. We had no choice but to rid Iraq of the country’s equivalent organizations.” For his part, Feith goes a step further, reasoning in his memoir War and Decision that the case for de-Baathification was even stronger because “The Nazis, after all, had run Germany for a dozen years; the Baathists had tyrannized Iraq for more than thirty.”
Regarding the order itself, Bremer writes,
The day before I left for Iraq in May, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith presented me with a draft law that would purge top Baathists from the Iraqi government and told me that he planned to issue it immediately. Recognizing how important this step was, I asked Feith to hold off, among other reasons, so I could discuss it with Iraqi leaders and CPA advisers. A week later, after careful consideration, I issued this ‘de-Baathification’ decree, as drafted by the Pentagon.
In contrast, Feith recalls that Bremer asked him to wait because “Bremer had thoughts of his own on the subject, he said, and wanted to consider the de-Baathification policy carefully. As the new CPA head, he thought he should announce and implement the policy himself.”
The notion that he “carefully” considered the policy in his first week on the job, during which he also travelled halfway around the globe, is highly questionable. Incidentally, Bremer’s oxymoronic statement—“a week later, after careful consideration”—mirrors a similar formulation of Wolfowitz’s about the disbanding order. Speaking to the Washington Post in November 2003, he said that forming a new Iraqi army is “what we’re trying to do at warp speed—but with careful vetting of the people we’re bringing on.”
Simply put, Bremer was tempted by headline-grabbing policies. He was unlikely to question any action that offered opportunities to make bold gestures, which made him easy to influence. Indeed, another quality of Bremer’s professional persona that conspicuously emerges from accounts of the period is his unwillingness to think for himself. His memoir shows that he was eager to put Jay Garner in his place from the moment he arrived in Iraq, yet he was unable to defend himself on his own when challenged by Garner, who—according to Bob Woodward in his bookState of Denial: Bush at War, Part III—was “stunned” by the disbanding order. Woodward claims that when Garner confronted Bremer about it, “Bremer, looking surprised, asked Garner to go see Walter B. Slocombe.”
What’s even more surprising is how Bremer doesn’t hide his intellectual dependence on Slocombe. He writes in his memoir:
To help untangle these problems, I was fortunate to have Walt Slocombe as Senior Adviser for defense and security affairs. A brilliant former Rhodes Scholar from Princeton and a Harvard-educated attorney, Walt had worked for Democratic administrations for decades on high-level strategic and arms control issues.
In May 2003, the Washington Post noted of Slocombe that “Although a Democrat, he has maintained good relations with Wolfowitz and is described by some as a ‘Democratic hawk,’” a remark that once again places Wolfowitz in close proximity to Bremer and the disbanding order. Sure enough, in November 2003 theWashington Post reported:
The demobilization decision appears to have originated largely with Walter B. Slocombe, a former undersecretary of defense appointed to oversee Iraqi security forces. He believed strongly in the need to disband the army and felt that vanquished soldiers should not expect to be paid a continuing salary. He said he developed the policy in discussions with Bremer, Feith and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz. ‘This is not something that was dreamed up by somebody at the last minute and done at the insistence of the people in Baghdad. It was discussed,’ Slocombe said. ‘The critical point was that nobody argued that we shouldn’t do this.’
Given that the president agreed to preserve the Iraqi army in the NSC meeting on March 12, Slocombe’s statement is evidence of a major policy inconsistency. In that meeting, Feith, at the request of Donald Rumsfeld, gave a PowerPoint presentation prepared by Garner about keeping the Iraqi army; in his own memoir, Feith writes, “No one at that National Security Council meeting in early March spoke against the recommendation, and the President approved Garner’s plan.” But this is not what happened. What happened instead was the reversal of Garner’s plan, which Feith attributes to Slocombe and Bremer:
Bremer and Slocombe argued that it would better serve U.S. interests to create an entirely new Iraqi army: Sometimes it is easier to build something new than to refurbish a complex and badly designed structure. In any event, Bremer and Slocombe reasoned, calling the old army back might not succeed—but the attempt could cause grave political problems.
Over time, both Bremer and Slocombe have gone so far as to deny that the policies had any tangible effects. Bremer claimed in the Washington Post that “Virtually all the old Baathist ministers had fled before the decree was issued” and that “When the draftees saw which way the war was going, they deserted and, like their officers, went back home.” Likewise Slocombe stated in a PBS interview, “We didn’t disband the army. The army disbanded itself. … What we did do was to formally dissolve all of the institutions of Saddam’s security system. The intelligence, his military, his party structure, his information and propaganda structure were formally disbanded and the property turned over to the Coalition Provisional Authority.”
Thus, according to Bremer and Slocombe’s accounts, neither de-Baathification nor disbanding the army achieved anything that hadn’t already happened. When coupled with Bremer’s assertion of “careful consideration in one week” and Wolfowitz’s claim of “careful vetting at warp speed,” Bremer and Slocombe’s notion of “doing something that had already been done” creates a strong impression that they are hiding something or trying to finesse history with wordplay. PerhapsWashington Post journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran provides the best possible explanation for this confusion in his book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, when he writes, “Despite the leaflets instructing them to go home, Slocombe had expected Iraqi soldiers to stay in their garrisons. Now he figured that calling them back would cause even more problems.” Chandrasekaran adds, “As far as Slocombe and Feith were concerned, the Iraqi army had dissolved itself; formalizing the dissolution wouldn’t contradict Bush’s directive.” This suggests that Slocombe and Feith were communicating and that Slocombe was fully aware of the policy the president had agreed to in the NSC meeting on March 12, yet he chose to disregard it.
Following the disastrous decisions of May 2003, the blame game has been rife among neoconservative policymakers. One of those who have expended the most energy dodging culpability is, predictably, Bremer. In early 2007, he testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and the Washington Post reported: “Bremer proved unexpectedly agile at shifting blame: to administration planners (‘The planning before the war was inadequate’), his superiors in the Bush administration (‘We never had sufficient support’), and the Iraqi people (‘The country was in chaos—socially, politically and economically’).”
Bremer also wrote in May 2007 in the Washington Post, “I’ve grown weary of being a punching bag over these decisions—particularly from critics who’ve never spent time in Iraq, don’t understand its complexities and can’t explain what we should have done differently.” (This declaration is ironic, given Bremer’s noted inability to justify the disbanding policy to General Garner.) On September 4, 2007, the New York Times reported that Bremer had given the paper exculpatory letters supposedly proving that George W. Bush confirmed the disbanding order. But theTimes concluded, “the letters do not show that [Bush] approved the order or even knew much about it. Mr. Bremer referred only fleetingly to his plan midway through his three-page letter and offered no details.” Moreover, the paper characterized Bremer’s correspondence with Bush as “striking in its almost nonchalant reference to a major decision that a number of American military officials in Iraq strongly opposed.” Defending himself on this point, Bremer claimed, “the policy was carefully considered by top civilian and military members of the American government.” And six months later Bremer told the paper, “It was not my responsibility to do inter-agency coordination.”
Feith and Slocombe have been similarly evasive when discussing President Bush’s awareness of the policies. The Los Angeles Times noted that “Feith was deeply involved in the decision-making process at the time, working closely with Bush and Bremer,” yet “Feith said he could not comment about how involved the president was in the decision to change policy and dissolve the army. ‘I don’t know all the details of who talked to who about that,’ he said.” For his part, Slocombe told PBS’s “Frontline,”
What happens in Washington in terms of how the [decisions are made]—‘Go ahead and do this, do that; don’t do that, do this, even though you don’t want to do it’—that’s an internal Washington coordination problem about which I know little. One of the interesting things about the job from my point of view—all my other government experience basically had been in the Washington end, with the interagencies process and setting the priorities—at the other end we got output. And how the process worked in Washington I actually know very little about, because the channel was from the president to Rumsfeld to Bremer.
It’s a challenge to parse Slocombe’s various statements. Here, in the space of two sentences, he claims both that his government experience has mostly been in Washington and that he doesn’t know how Washington works. As mentioned earlier, he had previously told the Washington Post that the disbanding order was not “done at the insistence of the people in Baghdad”—in other words, the decision was made in Washington. The inconsistency of his accounts from year to year, and even in the same interview, adds to an aura of concealment.
This further illustrates the disconnect between what was decided by the NSC in Washington in March and by the CPA in Iraq in May. In his memoir, Feith notes that although he supported the disbanding policy, “the decision became associated with a number of unnecessary problems, including the apparent lack of interagency review.”
The blame game is nowhere more evident than in a 2007 Vanity Fair article entitled “Neo Culpa,” which was previewed online just before the 2006 midterm elections. Writer David Rose spoke with numerous neoconservatives, who roundly censured George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Rumsfeld, and Bremer for the chaos in Iraq. Speaking broadly about the Bush administration, Adelman said, “They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the postwar era.” And Perle complained, “The decisions did not get made that should have been. They didn’t get made in a timely fashion, and the differences were argued out endlessly. At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible.”
Yet Perle’s reflection on the timeliness of decisions conflicts with President Bush’s account rather strikingly. In his memoir, Bush writes:
I should have insisted on more debate on Jerry’s orders, especially on what message disbanding the army would send and how many Sunnis the de-Baathification would affect. Overseen by longtime exile Ahmed Chalabi, the de-Baathification program turned out to cut much deeper than we expected, including mid-level party members like teachers.
In June 2004, Bill Kristol was already censuring the president for his “poor performance,” musing that his school of thought has been collateral damage in a mismanaged foreign policy: neoconservatism, he wrote, “has probably been weakened by the Bush administration’s poor performance in implementing what could be characterized as its recommended foreign policy.” Kristol argued that “This failure in execution has been a big one. It has put the neoconservative ‘project’ at risk. Much more important, it has put American foreign policy at risk.” Perle echoed this view two years later when he told Vanity Fair, “Huge mistakes were made … they were not made by neoconservatives, who had almost no voice in what happened, and certainly almost no voice in what happened after the downfall of the regime in Baghdad.”
This downplaying of neoconservative influence in “what happened after the downfall of the regime in Baghdad” is curious, and Perle is not the only person to have tried it. Max Boot, writing in the same 2004 collection as Kristol, does the same thing when, after naming Wolfowitz, Feith, Libby, Elliott Abrams, and Perle as neoconservatives who served Bush, he argues:
Each of these policy-makers has been an outspoken advocate for aggressive and, if necessary, unilateral action by the United States to promote democracy, human rights, and free markets, and to maintain U.S. primacy around the world. While this list seems impressive, it also reveals that the neocons have no representatives in the administration’s top tier.
But apparently it didn’t matter that there were no neoconservatives in top positions—not when one considers the knowledge and prior government experience of Vice President Cheney, the neoconservatives’ sponsor. In A World Transformed, George H.W. Bush writes of Cheney that he “knew how policy was made.” Barton Gellman observes in Angler, his book about Cheney: “Most of the government’s work, Cheney knew, never reached the altitude of Senate-confirmed appointees. Reliable people in mid-level posts would have the last word on numberless decisions about where to spend or not spend money, whom to regulate, how to enforce.” In the end avoiding the highest positions in the administration makes it all the more easy to dodge blame.
Americans are painfully familiar with stories like this one, in which a coterie of advisors takes policy in a dangerous direction with little or no knowledge on the part of the president. But the case of the Iraq War and the decisions that followed the toppling of Saddam Hussein has a unique importance—because we are still living with the consequences, and others are dying for them.
Democrats may be tempted to dismiss all that happened in the Bush years as simply the other party’s fault. Republicans have a comforting myth of their own in the belief that President Bush’s 2007 “surge” of U.S. forces into Iraq ended the country’s instability, which only returned after President Obama fully withdrew troops from Iraq in 2011. But as the role of Walter Slocombe—the Democratic counterpart to Doug Feith in more ways than one—illustrates, Clintons no less than Bushes are susceptible to this personnel problem.
Republicans, meanwhile, should consider retired Lt. Col. Gian Gentile’s verdict that “the reduction in violence” in Iraq in 2007 “had more to do with the Iraqis than the Americans,” specifically with the Sunni tribesmen’s newfound willingness to fight (for a price) alongside Americans against al-Qaeda and with Moqtada al-Sadr’s de-escalation of Shi’ite activity. But regardless of what the surge did or did not contribute to quelling the bloodshed in Iraq, the intensity of the civil war that raged there in the first place was in considerable part a product of misguided de-Baathification and disbanding policies—and the Islamic State today depends on the military and intelligence forces that Bremer, Feith, and Slocombe casually dismissed.
When you have the wrong diagnosis, you risk coming to the wrong solution, no matter how clever you think you are. As the GOP candidates for the 2016 presidential election have made their campaigns official, they have been pummeled with hindsight questions about the Iraq War and ISIS, and no one has a harder time facing this than Jeb Bush. In order to correctly address what to do about the Islamic State, it is important to acknowledge what specifically went wrong with decision-making in the Iraq War.
This episode highlights a weakness in the executive branch that is ripe for exploitation under any administration. When the neoconservative Frank Gaffney, speaking about George W. Bush, told Vanity Fair, “This president has tolerated, and the people around him have tolerated, active, ongoing, palpable insubordination and skullduggery that translates into subversion of his policies,” it seems incredible to think that he failed to see the irony of his assertion. But for those who have a deep understanding of how the government works, it is quite possible to undermine a president, then step back and pretend to have had minimal involvement, and finally stand in judgment. But now that the story is known, the American people can be the judges.
John Hay is a former executive branch official under Republican administrations.