President Bush's radical presidency is the underlying number one issue in the mid-term elections campaign. His drive to concentrate unaccountable and unchecked power in the executive has depended on one-party Republican control of the Congress. Without a Republican Congress that does the White House bidding, the Bush agenda would never have been enacted and be supported, despite its consequences. The interlocking of the radical president and Congress has frozen the natural checks and balances in the system, as I document in my new book "How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime."
Unlike past Congresses that shared the same party of an incumbent president, the Republican Congress during the Bush period has largely abdicated its constitutional obligation to assert its institutional authority. Whether Bush's power will be limited for his remaining two years in office or whether he will have a clear path for further adventures is a question that will be decided in the mid-term elections.
Congressional Republicans leaders have hardly been embarrassed by the exposure of Bush's errors, mistakes and misleading efforts. From the experience of the Bush disinformation campaign used to justify the invasion of Iraq the congressional Republicans have apparently learned that they must advance disinformation campaigns even more aggressively than before. What the Republicans have to fear is the absence of fear itself.
Now, Republicans in charge of the House Intelligence Committee are attempting to buttress the case against Iran, fear-mongering about its potential for developing nuclear weapons, a real enough problem but one that the Republicans are hyping into a war scare through a fresh disinformation campaign, an echo of the earlier one that preceded the Iraq war. By raising anxiety about Iran's capability, the Republicans hope to tighten public dread that can be exploited for Republican advantage in the elections.
Last month, the House Intelligence Committee issued a report, according to its chairman, Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, "to help increase the American public's understanding of Iran as a threat." Claiming to be authoritative, the frightening report, however, bore the earmarks of a partisan political operation. A single Republican staff member (Frederick Fleitz, a former aide to John Bolton, now the hard-right ambassador to the United Nations) wrote the document without any input from or consultation with the Democrats. It painted a dire picture and blamed the usual suspects for complacency and worse: the CIA for inadequately assessing the threat and the International Atomic Energy Agency for complicity in "Iranian deception."
In the run up to the Iraq war, the Bush administration tried unsuccessfully to oust IAEA director Mohammed ElBaradei for having stated with pinpoint accuracy that Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction and that Bush's case, moreover, was based on forged documents. This week, the IAEA responded with a counter-report debunking the Republican document as "outrageous and dishonest." "This is like prewar Iraq all over again," David Albright, a former nuclear inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, was quoted in the Washington Post.
The Bush White House needs a Republican Congress to protect and defend it for its radicalism to thrive. And congressional Republicans continue to stifle oversight, instead manipulating national security fears for political advantage. The closer the mid-term elections approach, the more desperate the tone.