REPUBLICAN George Herbert Walker Bush took the oath of office as the forty-first president of the United States on 20 January 1989, after serving eight years as Ronald Reagan's vice president and comfortably defeating Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis in the 1988 election. Two years later, after leading a coalition of nations in a swift and decisive war to turn back the aggression of Iraq against Kuwait and negotiating the end of the Cold War with Soviet president Mikhail S. Gorbachev, President Bush's approval rating in public opinion polls was near 90 percent. He appeared to be unbeatable as a candidate for a second term.
But less than two years after that, in the election of 1992, Bush received only 37 percent of the popular vote and lost to Democrat William J. ("Bill") Clinton, governor of Arkansas and a man with no experience in Washington whatsoever. The history of the Bush presidency pivots on that remarkable and rapid reversal. Why had he risen to such heights of popularity and fallen so fast? How could defeat have been snatched so quickly from the jaws of victory? The answers tell us something of the strengths and weaknesses of Bush's leadership, but even more about the post-Cold War shift in American political priorities from foreign policy to domestic issues.
The Bush years were extraordinarily eventful from a foreign policy standpoint—the Cold War ended, Germany was reunified, the Soviet Union collapsed, relations with China were strained following the lethal suppression of student protest in Beijing, American troops intervened in Panama to overthrow a criminal dictator and in Somalia to save people from starvation, and the United States led a coalition to victory in the Persian Gulf War against Iraq. In domestic affairs, on the other hand, few new programs were launched, there was more gridlock than cooperation between the president and Congress, the economy went into recession, and unemployment increased along with the federal deficit. By 1992 the president was widely perceived as having failed to lead at home while his victories abroad did not translate into votes.
New England, Texas, Washington, D.C.
George Bush was a New England patrician partially transplanted to Texas, where he entered politics after almost two decades in the oil business. He was born on 12 June 1924 in Milton, Massachusetts, and grew up in the affluent New York suburb of Greenwich, Connecticut. His father, Prescott Bush, was a successful investment banker, a friend of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's, and a Republican senator from Connecticut from 1952 to 1963. His mother, Dorothy Walker, was from a prominent family that had migrated in the nineteenth century from New England to St. Louis, Missouri. George Herbert Walker, George's grandfather, established the Walker Cup competition between American and British amateur golfers. George Bush spent summers at Walker's Point, the family's spacious oceanfront compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. Later, Bush would use the residence as his presidential retreat.
In 1942, six months after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Bush graduated from Phillips Academy, in Andover, Massachusetts, a boarding school with a reputation for preparing boys for future leadership. He rejected the advice of commencement speaker Henry L. Stimson, secretary of war and former secretary of state, to continue his education before rushing off to war. On his eighteenth birthday he joined the navy and soon earned his wings as the country's youngest combat aviation officer. Bush flew fifty-eight combat missions in the Pacific as a torpedo bomber pilot based on the carrier San Jacinto. After being shot down by the Japanese in 1944 and rescued by an American submarine (his two crew members died), Bush received the Distinguished Flying Cross.
In December 1941 George, age seventeen, met Barbara Pierce, age sixteen, at a country club dance. She was the daughter of a magazine publisher and lived in Rye, New York. In 1943, on the eve of George's combat tour in the Pacific, they became secretly engaged. Barbara briefly attended Smith College but dropped out in her sophomore year. She and George were married in January 1945 and in the next decade and a half had six children: George (elected president of the United States in 2000), Jeb (elected governor of Florida in 1998), Neil, Marvin, Dorothy, and Robin (who died of leukemia before her fourth birthday). Barbara Bush devoted her life to nurturing the close-knit family and to helping her husband's career. As First Lady she chose to avoid the limelight, unlike Eleanor Roosevelt and her successor Hillary Rodham Clinton. She was proud and unapologetic about embracing a traditional lifestyle as helpmate to her husband. In a much publicized address to the women graduating from Wellesley College in 1990 she said: "As important as your obligations as a doctor, a lawyer, a business leader will be, you are a human being first, and those human connections with spouses, with children, and with friends are the most important investment you will ever make."
When World War II ended George Bush followed the tradition of both sides of his family by going to Yale. He graduated in less than three years, in 1948, with a degree in economics, a Phi Beta Kappa key, and membership in the fashionable Delta Kappa Epsilon ("Deke") fraternity and Skull and Bones, the most famous of Yale's secret societies. Tall, gangly, and nicknamed Poppy, he was first baseman (considered a good fielder and a mediocre hitter) and captain of the team that twice went to the finals of the national collegiate baseball championship. He also played soccer. As president he was an avid fisherman, boater, tennis and golf player, and pitcher of horseshoes.
After Yale, Bush turned down a chance for a comfortable career in New York investment banking and moved with his growing family to Texas and an apprenticeship with Dresser Industries, a large oil firm on whose board of directors his father served. Soon he and a partner formed an independent oil exploration company, Bush-Overbey. He and additional partners in 1953 formed Zapata Petroleum and in 1954 Zapata Off-Shore for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Bush followed his father's example in switching from financial success in business to politics. He was an unsuccessful Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from Texas in 1964 and 1970, losing to Democrats Ralph Yarborough and Lloyd M. Bentsen, Jr., respectively. Bush was elected to the House of Representatives in 1966 and again in 1968. Although in 1964 he had followed GOP presidential candidate Barry M. Goldwater in denouncing President Lyndon B. Johnson's civil rights program, in 1968 he voted for open, nondiscriminatory federal housing—thereby alienating conservatives. This was not the first time Bush would be confronted with a contradiction between his own moderate inclinations on social issues and the need for support on the far right.
After losing the race for the Senate in 1970, Bush was appointed by Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford to a succession of important positions: U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, 1971–1973; chairman of the Republican National Committee, 1973–1974; liaison (equivalent of ambassador) to the People's Republic of China, 1974–1975; and director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), 1976–1977. At the United Nations he dueled verbally with the tough old Soviet diplomat Jacob Malik on many issues, but was sad to observe the expulsion, in October 1971, of the Republic of China (Taiwan) as a UN member and the seating of the People's Republic (Beijing) in its place.
His stint as chairman of the Republican National Committee coincided with the Watergate scandal and President Nixon's August 1974 resignation in the face of certain impeachment. The scandal originated with a 1972 break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters by people working for Nixon's personal campaign, the Committee for the Re-Election of the President (CREEP). Neither Bush nor the Republican National Committee had any involvement in Watergate. Bush could only watch, lament, and in the end add his voice to those urging Nixon to resign.
Vice President Gerald Ford became president upon Nixon's resignation on 9 August 1974. Under the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the Constitution it was Ford's responsibility to nominate a new vice president for confirmation by a majority vote of both houses of Congress. Bush hoped he would be selected and was disappointed when Ford picked Nelson A. Rockefeller. As a consolation, Ford offered Bush his choice of diplomatic assignments. Bush chose China.
A quarter century of mutual hostility and isolation between the United States and the Communist People's Republic of China had ended two years before with President Nixon's trip to Beijing, but relations were awkward and not yet "normalized" by the establishment of full-fledged embassies. Bush's assignment was to head the U.S. Liaison Office. During his thirteen months in Beijing he tried to break through the formidable barriers to communication with a regime not yet ready for major reforms, listened to lectures from Chinese officials about the Soviet threat, and created a minor sensation by bicycling around the city with his wife. The position provided more frustration than influence. As he commented afterward, "It was a submarine environment, very restricted. We were engaged in people-watching, watching changing political relationships, analyzing visits, analyzing toasts and the order of protocol, asking other ambassadors what they thought."
Next, President Ford asked Bush to head the Central Intelligence Agency, an institution demoralized by congressional investigations of assassination plots and other dubious practices. The Senate confirmed Bush's nomination by a vote of 64 to 27. The opposition argued that an ambitious politician should not head the nonpartisan intelligence agency. President Ford answered the critics by declaring he would not consider Bush as his vice presidential running mate in 1976. Again Bush was disappointed.
As head of the CIA, Bush was skeptical of optimistic assessments of the Soviet Union. He commissioned the famous Team B report of hard-line anti-Soviet analysts from outside the CIA. Team B warned that Soviet leaders still sought world domination and that under certain circumstances were prepared to wage nuclear war. In January 1977 Bush resigned as head of the CIA so that incoming Democratic president Jimmy Carter, victor over Ford in the 1976 election, could nominate his own choice.
Bush returned to Texas, decided that Carter would be a one-term president, and in 1978 began campaigning for the job himself, with a formal announcement in 1979. He lost the nomination to the more glamorous and conservative Ronald Reagan. Bush's comment that Reagan's proposal to increase federal revenue by lowering taxes was "voodoo economics" earned headlines and years later came back to haunt him.
Reagan, however, picked Bush to be the vice presidential candidate in a traditional gesture of political unity between wings of the Republican party. The Reagan-Bush ticket easily defeated Carter and running mate Walter F. Mondale in the 1980 election and won even more easily in 1984 against Mondale and vice presidential candidate Geraldine A. Ferraro. When President Reagan was shot and seriously wounded by John Hinckley, Jr., in March 1981, Vice President Bush performed the duties of the president with dignity and quiet competence until the president recovered. With a staff of sixty-eight, he kept informed on international issues, maintained his political friendships, and prepared for 1988, when he would again seek the presidency. He headed a task force on the interdiction of the illegal drug trade and another on simplifying and reducing federal regulations. Neither was very successful. Bush also traveled tirelessly at home and abroad, sometimes on substantive missions, more often as a ceremonial representative. He set an attendance record at the funerals of foreign leaders—including three Soviet chiefs of state: Leonid Brezhnev (1982), Yuri Andropov (1984), and Konstantin Chernenko (1985). At Chernenko's funeral Bush met the new, youthful, and energetic leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Vice President Bush attended many high-level policy meetings in the White House, including those of the National Security Council, of which he was a member. The degree of his knowledge of the illegal sale of arms to Iran and the funding (via profits made from this sale) of rebel soldiers fighting a Marxist government in Nicaragua, in violation of congressional restrictions—the linked scandals known as the Iran-Contra affair of the mid-1980s—remains a matter of dispute. But since he was not a policy maker he suffered no personal political harm from the scandals.
Bush in 1988 was a youthful sixty-four-year-old eastern aristocrat—soft-spoken, courteous, conscientious, considerate (famous for his thank-you letters), cautious, hardworking, better on details than on the big picture, and rather bland. But with Texas as his home base and a need to appeal to anti-eastern elements in the Republican party he affected a fondness for slang and country food. Experience was his strong suit. Ideas were not. His name was associated with no particular program or blueprint for the future. He was first to admit that he was not much for "the vision thing."
The 1988 Campaign
Vice President Bush's most formidable rival for the 1988 Republican nomination was Senator Robert J. ("Bob") Dole of Kansas. The race was close in the beginning, but well before the nominating convention the vice president had accumulated a winning majority of delegates. At the convention in August he sought to conciliate the Republican right wing by selecting James Danforth ("Dan") Quayle, a young, conservative, and relatively unknown senator from Indiana, as his vice presidential running mate. Democrats and critics in the press ridiculed Quayle as an intellectual lightweight, but over the next four years the vice president emerged as an effective, sharp-tongued battler for conservative causes. The Democrats nominated Michael Dukakis, liberal governor of Massachusetts, and conservative senator Lloyd Bentsen of Texas as the vice presidential candidate.
Bush appealed to moderates by promising a "kinder, gentler nation"—an implicit criticism of the abrasive social policies of the Reagan years. He was helped by the apparently healthy state of the economy and the warm afterglow of President Reagan's personal popularity. The broad message of the campaign was, in effect, "If you liked the last eight years, you'll love the next four." The most important theme was Bush's oft-repeated promise: "Read my lips: no new taxes."
A negative theme was the accusation that Governor Dukakis was an extreme liberal ("a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union") and soft on criminals because he supported furloughs from prison for convicts. In a television blitz organized by political adviser Lee Atwater, the Bush campaign focused on the case of Willie Horton, a convicted murderer who raped a woman while on a weekend pass from prison in Dukakis' Massachusetts. Horton's picture appeared again and again on television with the implication that Dukakis as president would unleash an army of Willie Hortons on a defenseless public. A third theme was the claim that Bush had the experience to handle foreign policy and threats to national security, an area in which Dukakis was a novice. Dukakis made an unsuccessful attempt to overcome this charge by having himself photographed riding around in a tank.
Bush won the election by the wide margin of 426 to 112 in the electoral college, and 53 percent to 46 percent in the popular vote. He was the first sitting vice president to be elected president since Martin Van Buren in 1836. But Democrats made small gains in Congress, resulting in majorities of 55–45 in the Senate and 260–175 in the House. For his entire term President Bush was faced with Democratic control of both houses of Congress. At the same time, he was constrained from seeking common ground with the Democrats because of his dependence on the growing conservative wing of his own Republican party. Unlike Ronald Reagan, Bush refrained from dramatic appeals to the people against Congress, and chose instead to veto many congressional bills and implement others according to his own interpretation. The result in domestic affairs was four years of acrimony between Congress and the White House and a relatively thin record of legislative achievement.
President Bush's inaugural address called for the United States "to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world." He subtly rebuked the materialism of the Reagan years by saying "we are not the sum of our possessions.. . . We cannot hope only to leave our children a bigger car, a bigger bank account. We must hope to give them a sense of what it means to be a loyal friend, a loving parent, a citizen who leaves his home, his neighborhood and town better than he found it." He called for a partnership between the government and lauded the "thousand points of light . . . all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the nation, doing good." The address, however, lacked any specific agenda for domestic affairs.
In foreign affairs Bush rejoiced that "a world refreshed by freedom seems reborn," but emphasized the importance of maintaining the nation's alliances and military strength. He spoke cautiously about the Soviet Union. "Our new relationship in part reflects the triumph of hope and strength over experience. But hope is good. And so is strength. And vigilance."
The Bush Team
President Bush filled his cabinet and senior White House staff with middle-aged men, many of whom were trusted friends. The only women among his original high-level appointments were Secretary of Labor Elizabeth H. Dole, wife of Senator Dole, and Special Trade Representative Carla A. Hills. Most of the appointees had previous experience in the Reagan or Nixon and Ford administrations. His closest political friend and campaign manager in 1980 and 1988, James A. Baker III, became secretary of state. Although Baker had relatively little experience with foreign affairs, he had been chief of staff for President Reagan (1981–1985) and secretary of the treasury (1985–1988). Baker, a lawyer, had a reputation for negotiating skills and excellent political judgment. As secretary of state he was criticized for ignoring the career foreign service professionals, but he worked closely and effectively with his most important client, the president, especially on relations with the Soviet Union. In August 1992 Baker left the State Department to become Bush's chief of staff in an effort to save the faltering campaign for reelection. Lawrence S. Eagleburger, an experienced foreign policy professional, served as secretary of state for the closing months of the administration.
The only cabinet choice by the president not to be confirmed by the Senate was former Texas senator John G. Tower to be secretary of defense. Tower was rejected because of his reputation for drinking to excess and inappropriate behavior with women. The president's second choice for secretary of defense, former congressman Richard B. ("Dick") Cheney of Wyoming, was easily confirmed. Cheney was a believer in a strong military establishment, doubted that the Cold War was really over, and questioned the supposedly peaceful transformation of the Soviet Union. He was tough, laconic, somewhat humorless, and a strong administrator. Secretary of the Treasury Nicholas F. Brady, a personal friend of Bush's, was a holdover from the Reagan cabinet who did not require reconfirmation. Attorney General Richard ("Dick") Thornburgh, former governor of Pennsylvania, was another holdover from the Reagan cabinet, having been appointed with Bush's approval just before the 1988 election.
Bush inherited Reagan's final director of the CIA, William H. Webster, a former federal judge and director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). When Webster retired in 1991 Bush nominated Robert M. Gates, once deputy to the controversial Reagan-era CIA director William J. ("Bill") Casey. In 1987 Gates had been blocked from succeeding Casey because of his connections with the Iran-Contra affair. In 1991 he still faced considerable opposition but not enough to prevent confirmation. Gates was another Cold War hardliner who doubted that the Soviet Union could be trusted.
President Bush's most important military nomination was that of General Colin L. Powell to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). In October 1989 Powell became the youngest officer and the first African American to hold the nation's highest professional military position, as well as the first chairman to have entered the military from the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC). Powell was the first JCS chairman to operate for his full term under new legislation (the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986) giving him the power to advise the president directly and not merely pass on a consensus of the heads of the military services. Powell, a Vietnam combat veteran, was an experienced Washington military insider with previous tours in the White House and Defense Department. He had served in 1988 as Ronald Reagan's last national security adviser, bringing needed order to the National Security Council staff system in the wake of the Iran-Contra debacle.
Powell would be a central player in every foreign policy question involving the actual or potential use of force. In common with most officers of his generation he had been scarred by the experience of the Vietnam War and condemned the leadership of that time for sending Americans to die for unclear objectives and without public support. Powell believed, and so advised Bush, that the nation should use military force only when the objectives were clear, the means fully sufficient, and Congress and the people understood and supported the cause. Sometimes these ideas were called the Powell doctrine. Powell in 1989 stood apart from most high military officers in believing that the Soviet threat was gone. "The Soviet system is bankrupt, and Gorbachev is the trustee.. . . Our bear is now benign," he said.
Two other important Bush appointments were William K. Reilly as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and William J. Bennett as director of the National Drug Control Policy. Reilly, a professional environmentalist, worked for effective environmental regulation but often clashed with conservatives in the administration. Bennett, an articulate writer and speaker, garnered considerable press attention for the war on drugs and for himself.
In the modern presidency the senior staff in the White House have more power and influence than most cabinet officers. They do not require approval by the Senate, and they have direct, daily access to the president. In the Bush administration four men were in this category. John H. Sununu, former conservative governor of New Hampshire, became chief of staff and principal domestic adviser. Sununu was sharp-tongued, combative, and often rude—the opposite in manner of Bush. Sununu's job was to manage domestic political affairs, control access to the president, and say no to people asking unacceptable favors of President Bush. Sununu was the president's pit bull. He resigned in December 1991 after being criticized for using government airplanes for personal travel. He was replaced by the less colorful Samuel K. Skinner for eight months and then by James Baker for the final months of the administration.
Brent Scowcroft, a retired Air Force lieutenant general with a Ph.D. in international relations and fluency in Russian, became the national security adviser, the same post he had held under President Ford. Scowcroft, a skeptic about the Soviet Union, was fond of saying that a potential adversary should be treated on the basis of his capabilities rather than on his intentions, since intentions could change. Unlike National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger with Nixon or Zbigniew Brzezinski with Carter, Scowcroft shunned publicity and did not set himself up as a rival to the secretary of state.
Two key domestic policy aides were Richard G. Darman, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and C. Boyden Gray, White House counsel. Darman, who had previously held high positions in the Commerce and Treasury Departments, was the administration's financial watchdog. At first he vigorously defended Bush's promise of no new taxes. But in 1990 he advocated a compromise with Congress—some new taxes in return for budget cuts. He then became the favorite target of criticism from low-tax conservatives. Gray had worked for Vice President Bush in the commission on deregulation. As the president's chief lawyer he crafted strategy for limiting congressional power.
One of a president's most important constitutional and political responsibilities is to appoint judges for the federal courts and justices for the Supreme Court, subject to confirmation by the Senate. During his four years President Bush filled one quarter of the judgeships in the lower courts and two positions on the Supreme Court. He continued Reagan's policy of naming men and women who believe that the powers granted to government under the Constitution are limited and that previous court decisions had granted excessive rights to individuals, especially in criminal proceedings. Bush appointed a record number of women to the federal courts, but gave few appointments to blacks and Hispanics.
During the Bush presidency two liberal justices of the Supreme Court retired: William J. Brennan, Jr., and Thurgood Marshall. To replace Brennan, the president in 1990 nominated a reclusive judicial intellectual, David H. Souter of New Hampshire. Souter refused to indicate in advance how he would decide on specific issues such as a woman's right to an abortion. He was easily confirmed, and once on the bench proved to be less conservative than the president may have expected.
The nomination in 1991 to replace Marshall, hero of the civil rights movement and the first African American to serve on the Court, became a political firestorm. Clarence Thomas, a young federal judge of little experience, was also black. He held the ultraconservative view that the Constitution provided scant authority for federal legislation designed to bring about social change. Political liberals and moderates had legitimate reason to vote against Thomas' confirmation on the basis of his judicial philosophy. But the televised hearings on the nomination before the Senate Judiciary Committee were quickly converted into a seminar on sexual harassment. Anita Hill, a black law professor who had worked for Thomas in two federal agencies, accused him of making improper sexual advances toward her. Thomas denied the charges and described himself as the target of a political lynch mob. The final vote of 52–48 in favor of confirmation reflected divisions in the Senate and the country over which person was telling the truth—Hill or Thomas.
The End of the Cold War
Bush lacked a consuming interest in the domestic policy side of the presidency, but in January 1989 all seemed to be well on the home front. His easy victory as successor to the enormously popular Reagan indicated that most of the American people were happy with the government. The economy, growing spectacularly after a severe recession in the early Reagan years, was still strong. Employment was high, the stock market was up, people with money were making more. It appeared that if Bush simply maintained the domestic status quo he could concentrate on foreign policy, the area of his greatest interest.
Bush occupied the White House during two major events of the twentieth century: the end of the Cold War and the unanticipated collapse of the Soviet Union. Both had deep historical roots. In the 1960s and early 1970s there had been brief thaws in the Cold War and one could argue that the self-destruction of the Soviet Union was inherent in the nature of the Communist system beginning with the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. Accelerated change, however, began only after Gorbachev became the Soviet leader in 1985.
Between 1985 and 1988, Reagan and Gorbachev, along with U.S. secretary of state George P. Shultz and Soviet foreign minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, began the transformation of Soviet-American relations. They agreed on the first major cuts in long-range nuclear weapons since the beginning of the arms race in the 1940s, eliminated intermediate-range nuclear weapons from Europe, and consented to close inspections of each other's arsenals in order to ensure compliance with agreements. The two superpowers also began tentatively to cooperate in reducing conflicts in the Third World.
Gorbachev was convinced that the survival of the Soviet Union depended on drastic internal economic reform and relief from the crippling burden of military expenditures. Reagan's cooperative posture convinced Gorbachev that he could safely reduce Soviet military strength without tempting the United States to press an advantage. In December 1988 at the United Nations, Gorbachev renounced the Leninist theory of inevitable international conflict between capitalism and socialism, called on all nations to work together to solve universal human problems, and unilaterally announced the withdrawal of half a million troops and thousands of heavy conventional weapons from Eastern Europe.
Did that mean the Cold War was over? When Bush took office as president in January 1989 the answer was not clear. American skeptics in the press and among his advisers warned that it all might be a trick designed to lull the free world. Bush, a staunch Cold Warrior throughout his career, decided to slow the pace of Soviet-American negotiations. He did not believe, as had Reagan, that nuclear weapons could be abolished. He wanted to maintain a strong American nuclear arsenal and was wary of agreements that might give the Soviets an advantage. He was not convinced that the Soviets had abandoned their disruptive behavior in the Third World.
On the other hand, Bush did not rule out the possibility that Gorbachev might really be sincere and trustworthy. As vice president in December 1987 Bush told Gorbachev to ignore his public hard-line remarks, necessary if he was to win the nomination and election. His goal as president, Bush said, would be to improve Soviet-American relations. Gorbachev afterward said this was the most important talk he ever had with Bush.
The president's prudence (a favorite word) led him to underestimate the rapid deterioration of Soviet military and economic power and Gorbachev's desperate determination to jettison military burdens in order to prevent the complete collapse of Soviet society. Bush did not realize at first that nuclear arms control agreements were no longer the major issue or that Gorbachev would agree to almost anything. The real issue was whether Gorbachev would survive as a leader and whether after Gorbachev there would be chaos.
It was not until July 1989 that Bush told Gorbachev that he would consider a meeting—"without thousands of assistants hovering over our shoulders." Meanwhile, Secretary of State Baker and Foreign Minister Shevardnadze met several times and formed a close relationship. Baker was astounded at how frank Shevardnadze was about the Soviet Union's problems. In the autumn of 1989, while Bush watched and waited, Communist regimes throughout Eastern Europe began to topple and Gorbachev publicly renounced the "Brezhnev doctrine," which the Soviet Union had previously invoked to justify armed intervention against freedom movements in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. The message to Communist leaders in 1989 was that they could no longer count on Soviet tanks to keep them in power. With the Soviet Union deliberately standing back, the Berlin Wall came down in November, and soon non-Communist governments were replacing the old regime throughout the former Soviet satellite empire. There were also mounting demands for national independence within the USSR, most notably from the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
This was the situation when Bush and Gorbachev met for their first summit—on ships in a storm-tossed harbor of the island nation of Malta in the Mediterranean. The most important outcome of Malta was a secret exchange of assurances. Gorbachev would do what he could to avoid violence in dealing with the problem of Baltic secessionism and the discontent of other nationalities. Bush in turn would avoid public criticism of Gorbachev on this issue.
Bush came away from Malta with a better appreciation of how precarious was Gorbachev's political situation in the Soviet Union. If Gorbachev pressed too hard for economic reforms, made too many concessions to separatist movements, and agreed too easily with the United States, hard-line opponents would charge him with weakness. But if he did not introduce reforms and reduce the economic burden of a Cold War military establishment, the system would collapse.
By 1990 Bush decided that the essential goal of American policy toward the Soviet Union must be to keep Gorbachev in power and to favor the preservation rather than disintegration of the Soviet Union. The alternative was chaos. Sound, mutually advantageous agreements with Gorbachev on arms reduction could be negotiated. Without Gorbachev they might be impossible.
Meanwhile, the Communist government of East Germany collapsed and Germans on both sides of the former Iron Curtain called for reunification. Secretary of State Baker, assuming that Gorbachev would not accept a unified Germany within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), in February 1990 initiated some complicated diplomatic negotiations involving the two Germanies plus the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union—the "two plus four" formula. Baker's assumption had been wrong. In July 1990 Gorbachev made his greatest concession. He astonished German chancellor Helmut Kohl by announcing that the Soviet Union would withdraw all its troops from eastern Germany and accept NATO membership for a reunified Germany. Kohl, in return, promised to pay the cost of relocating Soviet troops and provide other economic aid. The line was now dissolving between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, the Moscow-dominated military alliance of Communist governments. The Warsaw Pact was officially disbanded in 1991.
Meanwhile, arms control experts on the Soviet and American sides were making great strides. The most important achievement was the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty of November 1990, signed by Bush and Gorbachev in Paris. Among other things, it committed the Soviet Union to reduce by 70 percent its tanks and heavy weapons stationed west of the Ural Mountains. A treaty reducing long-range strategic arms took a little longer. Signed by Bush and Gorbachev in Moscow on 31 July 1991, the START treaty reduced nuclear warheads on both sides to 6,000—a 30-percent reduction. The dangerous category of missiles with multiple independently targeted warheads (MIRVs) was reduced by half. Because of the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) was not approved by the U.S. Senate until November 1992.
The more the two sides reduced nuclear weapons, the less important arms control became in the relationship. The more pressing issues were cooperation in meeting the challenge of Iraq's August 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the very survival of the Soviet Union. Bush refrained from criticizing the occasional use of force by the Soviets against independence movements and even warned, in a speech in Ukraine in August 1991, that "Americans will not support those who seek independence in order to replace a far-off tyranny with a local despotism. They will not aid those who promote a suicidal nationalism based on ethnic hatred."
By this time, however, there was nothing Gorbachev or the United States could do to stem the Soviet Union's fall. On 18 August 1991 a group of Communist hard-liners put Gorbachev under house arrest and attempted to take over the country. They were miserably inept. Faced with strong opposition by Boris N. Yeltsin, head of the Russian Federation, and lacking the full support of the Red Army, the coup failed in three days. Marshal Sergei F. Akhromeyev, the most senior of the old military establishment, committed suicide after the coup. He left a note saying that everything he had worked for—the Soviet Union, the Red Army, and the Communist party—was being destroyed. Akhromeyev was right.
Gorbachev returned to the Kremlin as president of the Soviet Union, but he was presiding over an empty husk. On 25 December 1991 Gorbachev resigned. The hammer and sickle flag came down from the Kremlin for the last time. The Soviet Union was no more. All the former dependent republics within the old USSR proclaimed their independence, secured international recognition, and were admitted to the United Nations. The real leader in Moscow now was Yeltsin, president of Russia, a man previously belittled by the Bush administration as a crude self-promoter.
Bush's preference for sustaining a single central government had been overtaken by events. The United States opened embassies in the newly independent states but still concentrated its efforts on Moscow and Yeltsin as the democratically elected leader of the new Russia. The two sides continued to negotiate on nuclear arms and in January 1993, just before Bush left office, agreed to the START II treaty eliminating MIRVs altogether and reducing strategic warheads to 3,500 on the U.S. side and 3,000 on the Russian. This was a 50-percent reduction in the levels set by the START I treaty approved only weeks before by the Senate. Meanwhile, the former Soviet republics in which nuclear weapons were still located—Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan—agreed in principle that they would be nonnuclear states with the weapons to be dismantled or shipped to Russia.
Yeltsin's political position at home, like Gorbachev's before him, was precarious in large part because of the chaotic state of the Russian economy. Yeltsin begged for massive U.S. economic aid. Bush was generous with words. "If this democratic revolution is defeated," he said, "it could plunge us into a world more dangerous in some respects than the dark years of the Cold War." But the president's inherent caution and the reluctance of Congress meant that aid would be limited to relatively small amounts for humanitarian assistance and help with the dismantling of nuclear weapons. The uncertain future of the Russian economic system made Americans wary of "throwing money down a rathole," and with the United States facing huge deficits itself, public opinion did not support a bailout of Russia.
The only former Communist country undergoing a more chaotic dissolution than the Soviet Union was Yugoslavia. In 1991 the political leaders of the different republics within Yugoslavia could not agree on how to keep the country together. As ethnic violence broke out, the federal Yugoslav army based in Serbia attacked Croatia. The Bush administration applied economic sanctions against Serbia, but was dismayed by the disintegration of a small country into even smaller parts. The United States went along reluctantly in 1992 when Slovenia, Croatia, and BosniaHerzegovina were admitted to the United Nations as independent nations. In 1992 the fighting in Croatia subsided, but shifted to Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the Bosnian Serbs launched a war of "ethnic cleansing" against the Bosnian Muslim population. The European Community and the United States tried to broker a political settlement while UN peacekeepers watched helplessly. Bush and the United States were criticized by some commentators for not using military force to punish the Serbs and protect the Bosnian Muslims. But his advisers, including General Powell, believed that the ethnic hatreds in the region were so fierce that outside military intervention would be doomed to failure. Furthermore, no vital security interest of the United States was at stake. Thus, the United States stood back while the Bosnian Serbs continued their attacks, especially on the besieged city of Sarajevo. Not until September 1995, more than halfway through the presidency of Bill Clinton, did the United States and its NATO partners finally use heavy airpower to deter Bosnian Serb attacks on Muslims in an effort to force a peace settlement.
The Persian Gulf War
Bush's close involvement with Gorbachev and the Soviet Union overlapped the biggest headline event of his presidency—the Persian Gulf War waged by an international coalition under American leadership to compel Iraq's dictator Saddam Hussein to end his country's aggression against Kuwait. The February 1991 victory in that war brought Bush the highest public opinion approval ratings of his presidency, overshadowing for a moment the controversial question of whether policy mistakes by the United States were partially responsible for the war in the first place.
Throughout the 1980s it was American policy to overlook the brutal aspects of the Saddam Hussein regime and to support Iraq in its long (1980–1988) and bloody war against Iran. The United States was following the old principle that the enemy of my enemy is my friend—and Iran was an enemy, notwithstanding the Reagan administration's misconceived 1986 effort to curry favor through the secret sale of arms, an aspect of the Iran-Contra scandal. The Bush administration continued to favor Iraq in spite of Saddam Hussein's threats against Israel, overwhelming evidence that he was developing chemical, biological, and perhaps nuclear weapons, and his lethal suppression of the Kurdish minority in Iran (including use of poison gas). The administration believed that Iraq was an essential element in a Persian Gulf balance of power against a resurgent Iran and that the United States could persuade Saddam Hussein to moderate the unattractive features of his regime.
The administration's policy was spelled out in secret National Security Directive 26 in October 1989. It declared: "Normal relations between the United States and Iraq would serve our longer-term interests and promote stability both in the Gulf and the Middle East. The United States should propose economic and political incentives for Iraq to moderate its behavior and to increase our influence." These incentives included massive food exports to Iraq on favorable terms, a boon to American farmers, and the encouragement of trade in high-tech but nonlethal items. The administration resisted demands from human rights activists in Congress to impose sanctions against Iraq and dismissed Saddam Hussein's public threat to destroy half of Israel with chemical warfare as mere bravado. Washington also failed to note that illegal loans to Iraq from an Italian-owned bank in the United States were being used to develop weapons of mass destruction.
In spite of the helpful intentions of the Bush administration, Iraq was in a difficult economic condition. There was widespread unemployment. Oil prices, and hence national revenue, were down. The costs of repairing the damage of the long war with Iran were heavy and the country was deeply in debt to other Arab states. In mid-1990 Saddam Hussein claimed that neighboring Kuwait was draining Iraqi oil from an oil field astride the border. He said the entire field rightfully belonged to Iraq and indicated he might use force to take it. In July 1990 Iraqi armed forces began to move toward Kuwait.
The Bush administration's response was to try conciliation and hope for the best. April Glaspie, the American ambassador in Baghdad, was instructed to tell Saddam that the United States had no position on bilateral differences between Arab states, such as Iraq's dispute with Kuwait, although the use of force would, of course, be contrary to the UN Charter. This statement and the absence of any significant American military preparations probably contributed to Saddam Hussein's decision to invade Kuwait on 2 August.
Kuwait, smaller than the state of New Jersey and with a native population of less than a million (plus a million non-Kuwaiti guest workers from around the Middle East and southern Asia), could not stop the invasion. Within hours Iraqi troops occupied the country. The news reached President Bush while he was on vacation in Maine. He denounced Iraq for "naked aggression," froze Iraqi and Kuwaiti financial assets in the United States, and cut off trade, but said the use of American military force was not under consideration. After talking with British prime minister Margaret Thatcher at a previously scheduled meeting in Aspen, Colorado, however, Bush took a stronger line. Thatcher, whose reputation for courage flowed from her leadership in Britain's 1982 war against Argentina's aggression in the Falkland Islands, compared Saddam Hussein to Hitler. Bush returned to Washington determined that, as he soon declaimed, the aggression against Kuwait would not stand.
The immediate problem, however, was to ensure that Iraqi forces did not press on a few miles and seize the major oil fields of Saudi Arabia—thereby acquiring control of approximately 40 percent of the world's oil reserves. The question of how and when Iraq could be persuaded or forced to retreat from Kuwait came next. The administration moved quickly to secure international support in the United Nations Security Council where, thanks to post-Cold War relations with the Soviet Union and China, American proposals did not face a certain veto. A resolution condemning the Iraqi invasion (2 August) was followed by another imposing mandatory economic sanctions on Iraq (6 August). The protection of Saudi Arabia began with a successful trip by Secretary of Defense Cheney to Riyadh to persuade King Fahd to invite the stationing of American troops on his soil. On 6 August President Bush ordered the first forces of Operation Desert Shield to Saudi Arabia. The commander was General H. Norman Schwarzkopf.
Bush now operated at his best, "working the telephone" with leaders in a dozen different countries, lining up support for the opposition to Saddam Hussein, winning commitments to vote for crucial resolutions in the UN Security Council. His most difficult and sensitive task was to persuade the Soviet Union to be a partner in the enterprise. Bush had to be careful not to undermine Gorbachev's leadership at home; some of the Soviet leader's enemies within the USSR were accusing him of betraying an ally, Iraq, in order to become the lapdog of the United States. In the end Gorbachev provided full support for the coalition in the United Nations, but refused to send any Soviet military forces to participate in the campaign.
U.S. relations with Britain and France on the Iraqi question were good. Both supplied significant military forces and leadership. Relations with two other allies, Germany and Japan, were tricky. Both governments claimed that their constitutions prevented the use of armed forces outside their territory. The United States in these cases sought nonmilitary support. Japan ultimately contributed $14 billion and Germany $11 billion. Along with $16 billion each from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, a large part of American costs were defrayed. More than forty countries eventually contributed in some way to the effort to expel Iraq from Kuwait.
By October, Desert Shield was providing reliable protection to Saudi Arabia, but economic sanctions had not induced Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait. Bush decided that Iraq would respond only to military force. He ordered a sharp increase in the number of U.S. troops in the Gulf, thereby creating an offensive capability, but he waited until after the 6 November congressional elections to announce his decision.
At the end of November the United States went to the UN Security Council for authorization for the next stage: the forcible expulsion of Iraq from Kuwait. On 29 November the Security Council passed Resolution 678, giving Saddam Hussein until 15 January 1991 to withdraw from Kuwait, after which UN members were to employ "all necessary means" to liberate the country. "All necessary means," of course, meant war. The vote was twelve in favor, with Cuba and Yemen opposed and China abstaining.
As the confrontation moved toward probable war, President Bush at first refused to give Congress a role in deciding policy. Critics noted that the U.S. Constitution assigned the responsibility for declaring war to Congress. They conceded that a president, as commander in chief, did have the power to use military force without prior congressional approval when the United States was attacked or in other clear emergencies. But this confrontation was proceeding in slow motion. Bush said that he had the authority to act without Congress—especially in carrying out UN Security Council resolutions.
Critics also called for more time to let the economic sanctions work and warned that a war would be long and very bloody, an impression Saddam Hussein did his best to encourage with his bluster about the approaching "mother of all battles." Bush faced a dilemma. If a war waged without congressional authorization proved long and bloody (some said it could be another Vietnam), the resulting crisis could destroy his presidency. But if he asked for authorization and Congress said no, Saddam Hussein would be the winner. In January 1991 Bush concluded that he had enough votes to secure authorization. He asked for congressional support. Congress debated intensely for two days. A resolution to continue the use of sanctions rather than go to war failed narrowly. On 12 January the Senate by a vote of 52 to 47 and the House by 250 to 183 gave the president authority to use force—although Bush still claimed congressional action was really not necessary. The war—named Operation Desert Storm—began 16 January with a heavy bombing and missile campaign against Baghdad and Iraqi positions in Kuwait.
Iraq responded by firing intermediate-range Scud missiles, with conventional explosive war-heads, against Israel. At the time of the invasion of Kuwait, Iraq had suggested that a settlement of the Kuwait question should be linked to Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza and the establishment of a Palestinian state. The United States denounced the idea as a device for rewarding aggression and said there could be no "linkage." Now Iraq sought to create linkage by provoking a counterattack from Israel and thereby weakening the resolve of Arab nations to fight over Kuwait. The ploy failed. The government of Israel accepted the U.S. offer to provide Patriot antimissile defenses, manned by Americans, and refrained from retaliatory attacks on Iraq.
Intense air attacks on Iraq continued for more than a month. On the diplomatic front the Soviet government sent a high-level negotiator to Baghdad in an effort to distance itself from the United States. Fortunately, from Washington's point of view, nothing came of the Soviet effort. On 22 February, Bush gave Iraq a twenty-four-hour deadline: withdraw from Kuwait or face an invasion. Iraq responded by setting massive fires in Kuwait's oil fields and hurling verbal defiance. The land war began on 23 February and lasted for one hundred hours. The vaunted battle-hardened Iraqi forces were no match for American and coalition air power. With their communications cut off, without airpower, unable to follow the movement of coalition forces, they were helpless. Thousands were killed, tens of thousands surrendered or fled north toward Baghdad.
Bush, with the full support of General Powell, declared on 27 February that Kuwait had been liberated and Iraq defeated. Offensive operations would end at 8:00 a.m. the following morning, Gulf time. Iraq accepted the cease-fire and agreed to abide by all UN resolutions concerned with its invasion. Did Bush end the war too soon? General Schwarzkopf soon made that charge. Saddam Hussein was still in power and much of his army was intact. But the president had good reasons for the decision. The war had been fought to liberate Kuwait—a clear, single objective. To continue to fight for other reasons would have cost American lives and killed many thousands of Iraqis. The coalition in support of liberating Kuwait would break apart on the question of a larger war. Furthermore, the conquest of Iraq might saddle the United States with long responsibility as an occupying power. And finally, the elimination of Iraq would upset the balance of power in the Gulf to the advantage of Iran.
Victory in the Gulf War was the high point of the Bush presidency. Bush spoke expansively of a "new world order" in which all nations, large and small, would be protected from aggression, and the United Nations, freed from the obstructive use of the veto by antagonistic great powers, would function as originally intended. He also said that the United States had "licked the Vietnam syndrome"—meaning that the country was no longer paralyzed by even the thought of using military power, for fear of becoming embroiled in a quagmire.
There were other consequences. Although the United States had rejected Iraq's effort to link Kuwait and Israel, linkage in the Middle East was a reality. Secretary of State Baker worked after the war to bring the Israelis, the Palestinians, and the other Arab countries to a peace table for discussions. The first round of talks was held in Madrid, Spain, in October. Bush also brought pressure on Israel to restrict the establishment of new Jewish settlements in the territories occupied after the 1967 war. Specifically, in September 1992 he persuaded Congress not to consider Israel's request for $10 billion in loan guarantees for new housing for emigrants from the Soviet Union. Congress complied, but Bush was strongly criticized by many American supporters of Israel. The pressure worked. In 1992 a new government in Israel agreed to restrict the settlements and the loan guarantee was extended.
The consequences of the Gulf War were less positive in Iraq. Two groups of the Iraqi population—Kurds in the north and Shiite Muslims in the south—used Saddam Hussein's defeat as an opportunity to assert their rights against an oppressive central government. Saddam responded with military force. The United States was in a delicate position. The Kurds and Shiites had legitimate grievances and were victims of Baghdad's brutality. But to support them might lead to the breakup of Iraq, instability in the region, and entangling commitments. The compromise was to provide protection for the Kurds in a safe-haven area and to prohibit Iraq from using air-power against either the Kurds or the Shiites. The United States enforced two no-fly zones for this purpose.
Trade and Foreign Policy in Asia
After the end of the Cold War and victory over Iraq the focus of administration foreign policy changed from maintaining a military-strategic position to expanding trade on favorable terms. Bush worked hard for that objective, concentrating on China and Japan.
Bush's first foreign visit, in February 1989, a month after his inauguration, was to China. He met with Chinese leaders Deng Xiaoping and Premier Li Peng. But the visit was marred when the Chinese blocked dissident Fang Lizhi, a distinguished scientist, from accepting President Bush's invitation to a banquet. The incident was a portent of trouble to come. Throughout the spring of 1989 ever-larger crowds of students in Beijing demonstrated against the government. In May, Premier Li Peng declared martial law. A half a million protesters marched in Shanghai while students in Beijing erected a "Goddess of Democracy" modeled on the American Statue of Liberty in Tiananmen Square. The bloody climax came on 3 and 4 June when the Chinese government responded with the clank of tanks and the rattle of gunfire—while television carried the scene around the world. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of protesters were killed and wounded.
In public, President Bush joined the American people in condemning the Chinese government's actions. He suspended military sales to China and agreed to provide asylum for Fang Lizhi and his wife in the American embassy. The State Department advised Americans to leave Beijing, evacuated the dependents of diplomatic personnel, and recommended that international financial organizations postpone consideration of loan applications from China. The Bush administration suspended all high-level contacts between American and Chinese officials. Secretly, however, Bush dispatched National Security Adviser Scowcroft and Deputy Secretary of State Eagleburger to Beijing to say that the United States remained interested in good relations. The implicit message was that the Chinese leadership should realize that the administration's measures in response to the Tiananmen events were temporary and connected with American politics.
A crucial question in Chinese-American relations was the continuation or suspension of China's unfettered right to export to the United States. The term for this right, "most favored nation" status (MFN), is somewhat misleading in that it does not confer any special privileges, but only distinguishes states with which the United States has good commercial relations. The withdrawal of MFN was favored by human rights activists and a majority in Congress as a means of punishing China for the human rights violations so vividly symbolized by the Tiananmen massacre. Bush disagreed and fought off congressional pressure to restrict trade, twice vetoing punitive measures. He argued that the best way to encourage reform in China was to have a thriving trade, and that cutting off trade would hurt both the American economy and Chinese men and women who were not responsible for human rights violations.
United States relations with Japan were plagued during the Bush presidency by the perennial problem of unbalanced trade. Japan sold far more to the United States than it purchased and, from the American point of view, used unfair tactics to exclude American products from the Japanese market. The Bush administration continued a twenty-year-old ritual of complaint and negotiation after which the Japanese would appear to make small concessions. The trade imbalance grew worse. Bush made the trade issue the first topic of discussion on a trip to Japan in January 1992, during which he was accompanied by a bevy of American automobile executives. Alas, he caught a stomach virus and vomited on the Japanese prime minister at an official dinner. That embarrassing incident got more headlines than the substance of the discussions.
Not all policy in Asia involved trade. The issue in the Philippines, an American colony from 1899 to 1946 and ally after that, was the future of the huge U.S. naval and air bases at Subic Bay and Clark Field. Washington had long considered the bases essential for the projection of American power in Asia and had used them heavily during the Vietnam War. Successive Philippine governments valued the rent and economic stimulus the bases provided, although many Filipinos considered the American presence de-meaning and culturally damaging. While negotiations were in progress in June 1991 the eruption of the Mount Pinatubo volcano severely damaged the bases. In July the negotiators agreed on the terms of a ten-year renewal, but the Philippine senate rejected the agreement. With the Cold War over and the damage from the volcano to confront, the United States no longer considered the bases essential. No effort was made to persuade the Philippine senate to reconsider. On 24 November 1992 the bases were turned over to the Philippine government, ending a near century of American presence.
Bush moved cautiously toward improved relations with Communist Vietnam. Even though American combat in Vietnam ended in 1973, the war left a bitter legacy, especially among those who believed that the Hanoi government was not providing all possible information on American soldiers missing in action (MIA) during the war. The political intensity of the MIA lobby deterred Bush from lifting the prohibition on trade with Hanoi and establishing diplomatic relations. He did authorize the beginning of discussions. Trade and full diplomatic relations were opened by the Clinton administration in 1994–1995.
Backyard Foreign Policy
The Latin American policy of the Bush administration departed sharply from the Cold War concerns of the Reagan years. The Soviet Union gradually withdrew its aid for Cuba, the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, and the leftist insurgents in El Salvador—both because Gorbachev did not want to irritate the United States on an issue of no strategic importance to Moscow and because the USSR had run out of money. The Bush administration, in turn, abandoned the Reaganite military approach to the political problems of Central America and encouraged regional diplomatic solutions and a role for the United Nations. The result was the free election victory in Nicaragua of an anti-Sandinista coalition led by Violeta Barrios de Chamorro in February 1990 and a UNbrokered end to the civil war in El Salvador in late 1991.
Some American liberals urged the administration to open a dialogue with Fidel Castro of Cuba, looking toward a possible lifting of the embargo on trade and the normalization of relations now that the Cold War was over. But on that question Bush held fast to the old policy of tough economic sanctions and verbal denunciation of Castro's totalitarian regime. Castro was no longer a threat to anyone outside of Cuba, but a tough anti-Castro policy was good domestic politics, especially with the well-organized Cuban-American community in Florida.
Elsewhere in the Caribbean and Central America, President Bush dealt with new objectives and problems. The most dramatic episode was the December 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama to oust dictator Manuel Noriega and bring him to trial for his involvement in the illegal drug trade. Noriega's power was based largely on murder and intimidation. He had been on the payroll of the CIA and the Drug Enforcement Agency in the 1980s for assistance in the covert war against the Sandinistas and to help interdict the flow of narcotics into the United States. In fact, he was up to his armpits in the drug trade and money laundering. Finally in 1988 Noriega was indicted on drug charges by a federal grand jury in Florida. The Reagan administration floated the idea, opposed by Vice President Bush, of dropping the indictment if Noriega would give up his power and leave Panama. Noriega was not interested in the deal.
But in May 1989 Noriega, under U.S. pressure, permitted a presidential election in Panama. The democratic opposition, headed by Guillermo Endara, won 68 percent of the vote. Noriega annulled the election. His loyal political roughnecks attacked and severely wounded Endara and other opposition leaders. Noriega was now a bone in Bush's throat. Bush ordered more troops sent to the American base alongside the Panama Canal and tightened economic sanctions. In October 1989 a young Panamanian military officer asked for U.S. help in overthrowing Noriega. The United States hesitated in providing support. Noriega executed the leaders of the attempted coup.
In December, Noriega's puppet National Assembly declared a state of war with the United States. Noriega's army provoked a U.S. response by killing an off-duty marine officer and harassing other Americans. Just after midnight on 20 December, American forces attacked Noriega's headquarters and military installations. Endara, the legally elected president, took office under American protection and declared the Panamanian army disbanded. Armed resistance to the intervention faded quickly, and the great majority of the people of Panama rejoiced in their liberation from a brutal dictator. Noriega took refuge in the residence of the papal envoy to Panama. He soon surrendered and was transported to Florida for trial, conviction, and a long jail sentence. Twenty-five thousand Americans served in the operation, of whom 39 were killed, along with 139 Panamanian troops and about 400 civilians. The Organization of American States condemned the U.S. invasion by a vote of 20 to 1, but Bush, the U.S. Congress, and most Americans, according to public opinion polls, believed the right thing had been done.
Haiti was another nearby problem with no connection to old Cold War issues. The densely populated, impoverished island country had long suffered under corrupt and despotic rule. In December 1990, however, the first reasonably free elections in Haitian history were won by a charismatic hero of the poor, the Reverend Jean-Bertrand Aristide. President Aristide's radical philosophy threatened the army and the wealthy oligarchy. He was overthrown in a military coup on 30 September 1991.
One of the coup leaders, General Raoul Cedras, took over as Haiti's leader. Aristide fled to Venezuela and then to Washington, where he continued to be recognized as the rightful head of government. The United States applied increasing economic pressure against Cedras and supported the futile efforts of the United Nations and the Organization of American States to negotiate Aristide's return. Meanwhile, thousands of poor Haitians tried to escape to the United States in pitifully unseaworthy wooden boats. Many were lost at sea while thousands of others were picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard. The Bush administration denied the refugees admission to the United States and instead established a temporary camp for them at Guantánamo Bay, the American naval base in Cuba. In 1993 the Clinton administration inherited a standoff with Cedras and in 1994 negotiated Cedras' departure and sent in American troops to prevent violence and permit Aristide's return.
Bush's major economic initiative in Latin America, negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), had large domestic economic and political implications. The agreement brought Mexico into the existing free-trade arrangement between the United States and Canada. It called for the elimination of tariffs (taxes charged on imports) for most trade among the three countries. The Mexican government embraced NAFTA as a boon to manufacturing, and American corporations favored it as a means of lowering the cost of production by using low-wage Mexican workers. Organized American labor, on the other hand, denounced it as a threat to employment in the United States, and environmentalists said it would be a way for American companies to escape U.S. environmental regulations. Ross Perot, an independent candidate in the 1992 election, made opposition a centerpiece of his campaign and warned of the "giant sucking sound" of American jobs flowing down below the border. Bill Clinton was a lukewarm supporter. The agreement was signed by Bush, Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari, and Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney on 17 December 1992. It was approved by Congress in late 1993 and went into effect 1 January 1994.
Battling with Congress
The political failure of the Bush presidency, defined by Bush's loss in the 1992 election, was entirely in the realm of domestic affairs and may well have been beyond Bush's power to prevent. There had been a sharp recession at the beginning of the Reagan years, with almost 10 percent of the workforce unemployed. But since 1983 the nation's economy had enjoyed extraordinary growth. A cyclical correction was overdue. Growth slowed in 1989 and 1990 and then stopped in 1991. Unemployment rose from 5.3 percent in 1989 to 7.4 percent in 1992. The start of a recovery in late 1992 was not vigorous enough to reduce unemployment and came too late to help Bush at the polls.
Against this economic background, Bush had the political problem of facing a Congress controlled, in both Senate and House, by the opposition party throughout his four years. Other recent presidents—Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan—faced a similar problem but encountered less difficulty than Bush. One tactic, used successfully by Truman and Reagan, was to build such popular support for a clear program that members of Congress either cooperated or faced a loss at the next election. Another tactic, mastered by Nixon, was to win support across party lines with a subtle combination of punishments and rewards.
Bush tried neither. He had no compelling program on which to build popular support, and he lacked the taste or talent for bargaining and mutual accommodation. Again, Bush was above all a foreign policy president. His friends and critics agreed on his lack of passion and leadership in domestic affairs. Although he had run for the Senate and served four years in the House, he had few close friends in the legislature. His key advisers on domestic affairs saw Congress as an obstacle, not a difficult partner with whom it was necessary to reach an understanding. Instead, as one analyst of his presidency has written, Bush tried to govern without Congress.
Bush's principal tool was the veto. Under the Constitution the president must sign bills passed by Congress to make them into law. If he disapproves of the legislation, he may refuse to sign it and send Congress a veto. Both houses of Congress need a two-thirds majority to override a presidential veto. Bush wielded the veto successfully forty-three out of forty-four times. The only veto to be overridden, on 5 October 1992, was legislation to regulate the cable television industry. Bush said the law would increase rather than reduce the cost of cable TV to the consumer.
Most of the important successful vetoes reflected Bush's opposition to expanded government regulations and were favorable to business. For example, his first veto, on 13 June 1989, blocked a congressional effort to raise the minimum wage from $3.35 (where it had stood since 1981) to $4.55. Congress offered a compromise at $4.25, which Bush then signed. Bush also vetoed, on 21 June 1990, a bill to require most employers to permit employees to have up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave to care for newborn, recently adopted, or ill children, without risking their job security. Bush said such matters were best left to negotiation between workers and management and that the bill would create "rigid, federally imposed requirements." In October 1991, with unemployment rising, Bush vetoed a bill to extend federal unemployment benefits, saying it would add to the budget deficit.
His most conspicuous veto was exercised against the civil rights legislation of 1990. Recent Supreme Court decisions had narrowed the ability of employees to win redress from employers for discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, religion, and national origin. The Democratic Congress proceeded to strengthen the legislation. Bush's veto message argued that the proposed law would force employers to set quotas in hiring in order to protect themselves from lawsuits. The president said he was all for affirmative action, but vehemently against quotas. He also twice vetoed, as noted above, congressional efforts to deny MFN status to China and a message to restrict textile imports.
Another technique used by Bush to work around Congress was to restrict or eliminate federal regulations on environmental and occupational safety matters deemed burdensome to business, and generally to interpret the will of Congress in the narrowest possible way. A key adviser in this effort was White House counsel Boyden Gray, a lawyer adept at finding ways to reshape the meaning of laws. Another technique was the vigorous use of the Council on Competitiveness headed by Vice President Quayle. The mandate of the Quayle council was to review all federal regulations affecting business and strike down regulations whose cost to business was deemed to exceed the benefits derived. Business interests were invited to appeal directly to Quayle for help.
Bush did work with Congress in passing two major pieces of legislation, both in 1990: the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Clean Air Act. The first required businesses, schools, and public institutions to install facilities providing full access to people in wheelchairs and with other disabilities.
In supporting the Clean Air Act, Bush was acting, to use his own words, as an "environmental president." President Reagan, showing little anxiety over alleged threats to the environment, had for eight years blocked any strengthening of 1977 clean air legislation. The quality of the nation's air had improved little, if at all. Acid rain, caused by smokestack emissions and urban smog from automobiles, was harmful to plants and human beings. Bush agreed something had to be done. He did not accept the sweeping proposals of some members of Congress, but settled for new pollution controls on automobile exhausts and required industry to meet deadlines for the reduction of damaging emissions. The implementation of environmental regulations, however, involved a constant struggle between William Reilly, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and more conservative, business-oriented members of the administration like Chief of Staff Sununu and Vice President Quayle.
It was not easy for Bush to be simultaneously an environmental president and the protector of business from federal regulations. For example, at first he came out against attending the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, popularly called the Earth Summit, scheduled for June 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. "I am not going to the Rio Conference and . . . sign an agreement that does not protect the environment and economy of this country," he said. In the face of an environmentalist outcry Bush did attend the conference, though the United States refused at Rio to support the Biodiversity Treaty to protect endangered species, because Bush believed it would place undue burdens on American business.
Bush's biggest problem with Congress was the deficit in the federal budget, the gap between revenue and expenditures. The deficit in 1980, Jimmy Carter's last year as president, had been $73.8 billion. By Reagan's last year, 1988, it had doubled to $155 billion. Deficits must be met by borrowing, and borrowing produces a national debt. The debt under Carter was $914 billion. By 1988 it had tripled—requiring more than $200 billion per year just to pay the interest. Bush agreed with his budget director Richard Darman that the deficit and the debt were a serious drag on the American economy, depressing productive investment, costing jobs, weakening the nation's ability to compete for world markets.
But what to do? A deficit can be closed only by reducing expenditures or increasing revenue (taxes), or some combination of the two. Bush had a quadruple problem. First, he had pledged "no new taxes" during the 1988 campaign, and most Republicans were determined to hold him to the pledge. Second, expenditures were rising rapidly because of interest payments, a commitment made in the Reagan administration to bail out failed savings and loan institutions, and the escalating cost of payments under Social Security, Medicare, and other government "entitlement" programs. Third, the Democratic Congress was loath to cut entitlements but welcomed the opportunity to embarrass Bush with new taxes. And fourth, the economy as a whole went into mild recession in 1990 and 1991. Unemployment rose and wages stagnated. A popular anti-Bush bumper sticker in the spring of 1991 read "Saddam Hussein has a job. Have you?" Bush's dilemma was that he believed the long-term health of the economy required a reduction in federal spending—a measure that in the short term could mean higher unemployment.
Bush kept his pledge on no new taxes in 1989. The budget agreement reached that year kept things as they were: rising expenditures, rising debt, no new taxes. But in 1990 Bush decided to abandon his pledge as part of a comprehensive deal with Congress. He and his staff engaged Congress in prolonged negotiation aimed toward a mix of higher taxes and a substantial cut in expenditures. Representative Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois, the Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, was the principal negotiator for Congress. Conservative commentators and some disillusioned members of his own staff believed that Bush was taken to the cleaners by Congress. Under the 1990 budget act taxes went up slightly, but cuts in spending were largely promises for the future. As a result, expenditures continued to grow faster than revenue, the deficit remained high (reaching $290 billion in 1992), and the national debt at the end of Bush's term exceeded $4 trillion.
Bush failed to persuade Congress to enact his favorite economic measure: a reduction in the capital gains tax, the tax incurred when stocks or other assets are sold for more than what they were purchased for. The president argued that a high capital gains tax prevented investors from taking the kind of risk necessary for economic growth and from redirecting funds from old investments to new, more productive ones. He also claimed that a lower capital gains tax would actually mean more government revenue because investors would be more likely to sell stocks when their tax on profits was low, rather than hold onto them and not pay any tax at all. The Democratic-controlled Congress blocked a capital gains tax cut and called it a measure to benefit only the rich—since poor people had no investments and thus no hope of capital gains.
Bush alienated some conservatives by agreeing to new taxes, but he leaned their way on a cluster of noneconomic issues, such as abortion. After the Supreme Court in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989) extended the power of a state government to restrict abortions, those who believed in a woman's right to choose ("pro-choice") mobilized. The Democratic Congress, with pro-choice majorities, then attempted to strike down existing bans on the use of federal funds for abortions or abortion-related activities. Four times Bush vetoed bills with pro-choice provisions.
Another controversial issue was gun control. Here Bush took a middle-of-the-road position. He declared his strong conviction that Americans had a constitutionally guaranteed right to bear arms and his belief that legislation could do little to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. Better, he said, to deal with crime through longer, tougher prison sentences. On the other hand, he supported restrictions on the importation of certain kinds of automatic weapons unsuitable for sporting purposes.
Defeat in 1992
President Bush always intended to run for a second term and in 1992 faced only one challenger for the nomination—the ultraconservative political commentator and onetime Nixon and Reagan aide, Patrick ("Pat") Buchanan. Although Buchanan gave Bush a scare in the early New Hampshire primary by winning 37.4 percent of the vote, he soon faded. By April 1992 Bush's renomination was locked up. The press did speculate about whether Quayle would be "dumped" from the ticket but Bush stood by his vice president both out of loyalty and as a gesture toward conservative Republicans. Buchanan, however, regained national attention with a ferocious speech at the Republican convention in August, a virtual declaration of war against political and cultural liberals and moderates. Bush's apparent acceptance of Buchanan's extremism may have cost him votes in the November election.
Meanwhile, the Democrats picked Bill Clinton, the youthful governor of Arkansas, and the equally young Albert ("Al") Gore, Jr., senator from Tennessee, as his vice presidential running mate. Businessman Ross Perot, the wealthy and idiosyncratic independent candidate, inspired an enthusiastic band of followers with his call for a simpler, smaller government. Perot never had a chance of winning the election but he received 19 percent of the vote, more at the expense of Bush than Clinton. Had Perot not been running, the contest would have been close, but Clinton would probably still have won.
Clinton's advantage and Bush's liability was the sluggish state of the economy and the perception among disaffected voters, especially traditional Democrats who had voted for Reagan, that Bush did not have a clue about how to stem the deficit and create new jobs. Clinton strategist James Carville defined the key issue of the campaign as "the economy, stupid." Public opinion polling confirmed Carville's analysis. When asked what was the most important issue, most people said the economy and unemployment or the cost of health care; only 6 percent said foreign policy. Bush's championing of NAFTA lost support among workers fearing for their jobs (many of whom probably voted for Perot) and his enthusiasm for a cut in the capital gains tax made him vulnerable among middle- and lower-income voters to the charge that he was the candidate of the rich.
Bush suffered other liabilities. Ironically, the success in foreign policy deprived him of an asset. No longer could he, as in 1988, win votes by pointing to his long experience in foreign and national security affairs. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and Yeltsin's Russia in disarray and the United States avoiding involvement in the civil war in Bosnia, Clinton's foreign policy inexperience did not help Bush the way the inexperience of Dukakis had in 1988. Also, Bush's embrace of a conservative social agenda alienated voters who believed that a woman's right to a legal abortion must be protected.
The election results were devastating. Bush received only 37.4 percent of the vote against 43 percent for Clinton. In the electoral college it was 370 (thirty-two states) for Clinton and 168 (eighteen states) for Bush. Perot received no electoral votes. Democrats retained control of both houses of Congress. Bush was deeply hurt politically, but he pressed on in office, showing a remarkable burst of energy in the "lame-duck" eleven weeks before Clinton's inauguration in January 1993.
On 4 December 1992 Bush ordered the second largest military operation of his presidency, the humanitarian intervention in Somalia to end mass starvation. Drought-plagued Somalia, located on the northeast coast of Africa, was in a state of anarchy as disorganized armed groups terrorized the population, looted relief supplies, and endangered the lives of civilian relief workers. Worldwide television carried excruciating pictures of the suffering. Bush acted. He sent 28,000 American troops to protect the relief efforts and bring food to the starving. President-elect Clinton, Congress, and the American people agreed it was the right thing to do.
Also during his final weeks Bush joined Russian president Yeltsin in proposing additional major reductions in strategic nuclear arms. And on Christmas Eve 1992 he pardoned six Reagan administration officials charged with misleading Congress during the Iran-Contra affair. They were former secretary of defense Caspar W. Weinberger, former assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs Elliott Abrams, former national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane, and three officials of the Central Intelligence Agency.
George and Barbara Bush returned to Houston, Texas, the day of Clinton's inauguration. Bush chose to be a low-profile ex-president, refusing numerous speaking engagements and making few public pronouncements. The conservative wing of the Republican party blamed him for Clinton's victory and did not invite him to play a prominent role in party affairs. When the Republicans won control of both houses of Congress in the 1994 midterm elections, something they had been unable to do while Bush was president, Bush's name was never mentioned as having contributed to the victory. No one urged him to seek the 1996 Republican nomination and none of the contenders sought his endorsement. Like Gorbachev in Russia, George Bush was no longer a player in high politics.
There is not yet a detailed biography of George Bush or a comprehensive study of his administration. His autobiography, Looking Forward (Garden City, N.Y., 1987), written with Victor Gold, is light and easy reading, written in anticipation of his 1988 campaign for the presidency. See also Fitzhugh Green, George Bush: An Intimate Portrait (New York, 1989), which ends with the 1988 election. Barbara Bush: A Memoir (New York, 1994) presents the social side of life as seen by the president's wife. Vice President Dan Quayle's Standing Firm: A Vice Presidential Memoir (New York, 1994) stresses Quayle's conservative credentials.
Michael R. Beschloss and Strobe Talbott, At the Highest Levels: The Inside Story of the End of the Cold War (Boston, 1993), is the best account of the interaction of Bush and Secretary of State Baker with Gorbachev and Foreign Minister Shevardnadze. Three excellent books on the background and conduct of the Persian Gulf War are Bruce W. Jentleson, With Friends Like These: Reagan, Bush, and Saddam, 1982–1990 (New York, 1994); Lawrence Freedman and Efraim Karsh, The Gulf Conflict, 1990–1991: Diplomacy and War in the New World Order (Princeton, N.J., 1993); and Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor, The General's War: The Inside Story of the Conflict in the Gulf (Boston, 1995). Kevin Buckley, Panama: The Whole Story (New York, 1991), is good on the 1989 intervention to topple Manuel Noriega.
Most books on the domestic policies of the Bush administration are highly critical. On the conservative side see Charles Kolb, White House Daze: The Unmaking of Domestic Policy in the Bush Years (New York, 1994). The title of Michael Duffy and Dan Goodgame's book, Marching in Place: The Status-Quo Presidency of George Bush (New York, 1992), is self-explanatory. The same is true of the highly critical and detailed study by Charles Tiefer, The Semi-Sovereign Presidency: The Bush Administration's Strategy for Governing Without Congress (Boulder, Colo., 1994). The best reference work, a rich mine of information, is the 1,300-page compendium by the Congressional Quarterly, Congress and the Nation, vol. 8, 1989–1992 (Washington, 1993). See also the 1989, 1990, 1991, and 1992 special "America and the World" issues of the journal Foreign Affairs.
Recent works include George Bush, Brent Scow-croft, A World Transformed (New York, 1998), by the former president and his national security adviser, which discusses foreign affairs during the first two years of the administration; George Bush, All The Best, George Bush (New York, 1999) is a compilation of letters and correspondence from the former president to his family, associates, and others over the course of his life.
COPYRIGHT 2002 The Gale Group,
Bush, George W.
George W. Bush
Nicholas D. Kristof
GEORGE W. BUSH was charming the second graders in a classroom in Sarasota, Florida, when the White House chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., walked over to the president and whispered into his right ear. It was 9:05 a.m. on 11 September 2001, and Bush abruptly tensed and his smile vanished. While arriving at the school thirty minutes earlier, he had been given a muddled account of an airplane striking the World Trade Center, but that initial report made it sound like an accident involving a small private plane. Now Card told the president that a second plane had struck both World Trade Center towers, that both were large commercial jets, and that the United States was under attack.
Demonstrating remarkable acting skills, Bush stayed in the classroom, calm and focused on the children. He listened to them read and arched his eyebrows in mock surprise. "Really good readers," he told them warmly. "This must be sixth grade!" After seven more minutes, he finally excused himself and retreated, grim faced, to take over a changed presidency.
The terrorist attacks had a transformative effect on the United States as a whole—indeed, on most of the world—and certainly on the Bush administration. A presidency that had been generally popular but that had seemed, in the words of some aides, "small," suddenly had an enormous embrace. Within weeks, Bush was leading a war in Afghanistan, forming an international coalition against terrorism, pushing for a military tribunal to judge terrorist cases, redirecting national resources to combat germ warfare and build up the armed forces, and enjoying extraordinary popularity across America. He had found a new mission for the presidency: to protect the West from terrorist threats. Ever since the British invasion during the War of 1812, the continental United States had remained impenetrable to hostile incursions from outside its borders, and it seemed that the nation was truly vulnerable only to one such threat—Soviet missiles—but now there were new fears: anthrax, smallpox, nuclear weapons, poisoned reservoirs, hijacked planes, and other threats stemming from foreign terrorists on American soil. In leading the West to fight such dangers, Bush reassured America and revitalized his own administration.
In early 2002, it was still far too soon to cast judgment on his presidency. But what is clear—and what historians will have to tangle with—is that in assessing George W. Bush, one encounters countless paradoxes.
He assumed the presidency in an extraordinary way, with a minority of the popular vote and the outcome in the electoral college determined in effect by a close and controversial decision of the Supreme Court. Many pundits thought that he was acquiring a poisoned chalice, that the doubts about his legitimacy would tie Washington in knots and undermine his hopes of creating a meaningful legacy. Yet a year after that disputed election, Bush enjoyed 85 percent approval ratings, the highest of any modern president.
President Bush came into office remarkably un-informed about international affairs, provoking amusement, for example, with his references to Greeks as "Grecians." There were jokes about his vice president, Dick Cheney, being the real decision-maker behind the scenes. But after a year, those jokes had largely vanished: no one doubted that Bush was in control, and his most impressive achievements were in international affairs.
He is a man who sometimes tortures the English language, puzzling audiences with references to the "vile" (instead of "vital") hemisphere and tailpipe "admissions" (instead of "emissions"), and mystifying a group of New Hampshire schoolchildren celebrating "Perseverance Month" in January 2000 when he earnestly counseled them, "You've got to preserve," as if they should all rush out to can tomatoes. Yet he has a dazzling charm, tremendous social skills, a bold self-confidence, and growing political savvy. Most who have worked with Bush, Democrats as well as Republicans, say that contrary to the jokes that prevailed during the campaign about his intellectual shortcomings, he is smart, shrewd, and a quick study.
Early in his presidency, he scored significant accomplishments, including passage of a far-reaching tax bill that cut rates more than at any time since the Reagan tax cut twenty years earlier. He also set the national agenda on education, bolstered military spending, and successfully resolved his first international crisis, the seizure of a military surveillance plane and its crew by China. Yet Bush was also bedeviled by missteps, including—mystifyingly, for a leader who had emphasized how he was going to work well with Congress—perceived disrespectful treatment of a Vermont senator, James Jeffords, a veteran Republican who responded by quitting the party in May 2001, and in the process turning control of the Senate to the Democrats. Bush also worried many American allies, who feared that he planned to establish a unilateralist course and abandon international cooperation on everything from the Balkans, a region plagued by civil war since the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, to global warming. And at home, Bush's close association with the energy industry left many middle-of-the-road voters worried that he would pillage the environment in pursuit of oil. His greatest domestic success, the tax cuts, also led to a plunge in the federal budget surplus within months—and to accusations from Democrats that he was endangering the Social Security system with tax breaks for the wealthy.
The paradoxes go on. He is the law-and-order man, the preacher of traditional moral values, and yet he avoided military service in Vietnam, abused alcohol until middle age, and dances around questions about whether he ever used illegal drugs. His administration, at least initially, steered a decidedly conservative path, and yet his speeches often show concern for traditionally liberal audiences: the poor, immigrants, single mothers, and so on. At times he comes across as profoundly ideological, a deeply-rooted conservative whose political values were shaped by the self-reliance and can-do spirit of the Texas oil business. At other times, Bush seems to lack not only an ideology but even a deep interest in public affairs; he can be surprisingly uninformed about the details of public policy and quite flexible about fundamental issues.
When George W. Bush ran for governor of Texas in 1994, his own parents expected him to lose. It was his younger brother Jeb who held the family's confidence and aspirations, who had diligently prepared for his bid to become governor of Florida that same year. George W., in contrast, had come to his ambitions haphazardly, and his mother, Barbara, flatly tried to discourage his seemingly quixotic resolve. Friends and family members remember that the elder Bushes worried that young George would be forced to bow again, as he had repeatedly in his life, to failure.
But that story had a surprise ending: while Jeb lost, George won. And in the process, George Walker Bush launched himself, without any grand plan or intricate forethought, on a most unusual path to the White House. Looking at the trajectory of his life, he comes across—far more than his predecessors—as an almost accidental president, a cocky and cheerful fellow who drifted through much of his life and who was largely unknown in the United States until he assumed his first political office just six years before becoming president.
He is casual and unpretentious, sometimes goofy. Once, before mealtime on a flight during the 2000 presidential campaign, the flight attendant handed him a piping-hot towel, and he did what passengers typically do, rubbing his fingers and mouth. But then he draped the towel over his face and leaned toward the person next to him as if playing peekaboo. Hiding under a square of terry cloth, he pursued an office that embodies gravitas and dignity. Bush has always been quick to lampoon bigwigs, and he used to entertain friends with splendidly cruel impressions of some of his father's more haughty cabinet members. And then this man who delights in deflating important people found himself the most important person in the world.
The fourth-grade classroom in Midland, Texas, erupted in titters as George W. Bush, one of the class clowns, turned around and faced his friends. He had quietly used a blue ink pen to draw long Elvis Presley–style sideburns down his cheeks.
Frances Childress, the fourth-grade teacher, was a strong disciplinarian who believed that children should be seen but not bearded. She grabbed George by the arm, yanked him out of class, and marched him down the long outside corridor to the principal's office near the main entrance to Sam Houston Elementary School. "Just look at him," Childress told the principal, John Bizilo. "He's been making a disturbance in class." The next step was pretty obvious for anyone in the 1950s version of the West Texas oil town of Midland: Bizilo told George to bend over and then reached for his paddle, a long wooden device the thickness of a Ping-Pong paddle but narrower and twice as long. George got a standard three whacks, and his shrieks filled the office. "When I hit him, he cried," Bizilo later recalled. "Oh, did he cry! He yelled as if he'd been shot. But he learned his lesson."
So he did.
Many of the roots of Bush's policy and political philosophy as president—including his belief in "tough love" for juvenile offenders—seem to go back to his childhood. George W. Bush was born on 6 July 1946, in New Haven, Connecticut, while his father was an overachieving student at Yale, but the family moved to Texas just two years later, in 1948, settling in Midland in 1950. And while George W. packed an impressive family tree (he is a distant cousin of Queen Elizabeth and a relation of President Franklin Pierce on his mother's side, as well as, of course, the son of the forty-first president of the United States, George H. W. Bush), none of this seems to have mattered much in Midland. His grandfather, Prescott Bush, was a senator from Connecticut, but neighbors were only hazily aware of that.
Midland, a conservative, up-from-the-bootstraps town that has grown from 25,000 when he was a boy to almost 100,000 today, mirrors Bush's optimism and his skepticism about government. While playing Little League baseball, or even sobbing in the principal's office, Bush absorbed values that many old friends say are central to understanding who he is today. "I think his political philosophy comes completely from the philosophy of the independent oilman," said Joe O'Neill, a fellow rapscallion in childhood. "His homage to his parents, his respect for his elders, his respect for tradition, his belief in religion, his opposition to abortion—that's the philosophy he grew up with here."
Even in the 1960s, people raised in Midland generally stood with the establishment rather than rejecting it. Very few seem to have been active in the civil rights or anti-war movements, and the generation gap was much smaller in Midland than in American cities. Midland also seems to have bred an optimism about and a faith in capitalism, in part because it rewarded so many people—like the Bushes—with wealth for hard work. For many young people, the moral of childhood was that anybody who struggled in the baking desert of West Texas had a good chance of striking oil, and that capitalism worked. Government was disdained, and churches and civic groups like the Community Chest looked after local needs. Business was what helped people, while government was usually reviled as something in the way.
"What's important for George W. and where he is today is that he was in an isolated environment where there was almost an anti-government streak running through the region," said Bill Minutaglio, a Texan who authored a 1999 biography of Bush. "He felt that people succeeded because they worked hard, they punched holes in the ground and won the lottery. The lesson lasted with George W. for years, and I think he truly believes that people can win the lottery if they work hard, that if they put their nose to the grindstone it'll all work out without government help or intrusion." The values of Midland sometimes seem to emerge in Bush's talk of "compassionate conservatism" and "faith-based initiatives"—that is what his childhood was all about.
Bush has often said that "the biggest difference between me and my father is that he went to Greenwich Country Day and I went to San Jacinto Junior High (in Midland)." That is an exaggeration of the younger Bush's populist credentials, because he is also a product of Andover, Yale, and Harvard. But there is still something to it. The father, chauffeured to and from the private school in Connecticut, suffered politically because of the perception that he was a blue blood who could not relate to ordinary people and their ordinary lives; a famous 1992 news story related Bush's perceived surprise at encountering a supermarket scanner. The younger Bush had a much more ordinary childhood, biking around in jeans and a white T-shirt, and it left him with a common touch that is one of his greatest assets as a politician.
Midland is not the kind of place, though, that generates a lot of postcards. Even its residents, searching for a kind analogy, think of "moonscape." Oil made it a boomtown, attracting ambitious businessmen like the elder Bush and many other out-ofstaters as well. Midland had a large proportion of geologists, engineers, lawyers, and accountants, and Ivy League college graduates were everywhere at the country club. George W. recalls it in Norman Rockwell pastels, and so do many other citizens. Kids bicycled everywhere on their own, crime was almost nonexistent, and if anyone suspicious—say, someone with a beard—showed up in town, then Sheriff Ed Darnell (known as Big Ed) would stop him, escort him to the edge of town, and tell him to get out.
Midland was also rigidly segregated in those days. The town was mostly white, but black children went to their own school rather than to Sam Houston Elementary. The bus station and train station had separate waiting rooms for blacks and whites, and there were different drinking fountains marked "colored" at the stations and at the courthouse. Racial slurs were routine, and Bush picked up the habit of using them as a boy. Once when he was about seven years old he let one slip in his living room in front of his mother, Barbara. She grabbed George by the ear, pulled him into the bathroom, and washed his mouth out with soap as he spluttered indignantly. "His family was probably the only one around that didn't use racial slurs," said Michael Proctor, who lived across the street. "I probably didn't realize it was wrong until I saw that."
By all accounts, life was idyllic, although there was one terrible interruption: in 1953, when George was seven, his younger sister Robin died of leukemia. The loss staggered the elder Bushes, and some writers have described the episode as a crucial turning point that profoundly shaped young George's personality, forcing him to be funny and goofy to help his family get over the grief. It is an interesting and plausible theory, but childhood friends do not remember it that way. They say that Bush recovered relatively quickly, seemed little changed, and in the long run was emotionally unscathed. He has spoken only rarely to friends about his sister's death.
In the summer after Bush finished the seventh grade, the Bush family moved from Midland to Houston, a wrenching transfer for young George. From the nurturing cocoon of rustic Midland, George found himself in the much more competitive world of urban Houston. Things started off poorly when George was rejected by St. John's, the best private school in the city. (During the 2000 presidential campaign, an older acquaintance recalled the rejection, but in an interview, then-Governor Bush said he knew nothing of this. Later, after checking with his parents, he went out of his way to confirm—without any apparent embarrassment—that he had indeed been rejected.) Instead, George W. attended the Kinkaid School, another top-flight private school, for the eighth and ninth grades.
Andover and Yale
Houston seemed to touch his soul much less than Midland had, and in any case, it was understood in the family that George would be attending Phillips Academy in Andover, the Massachusetts prep school where his father had compiled a splendid record a generation earlier. Andover was far more competitive than St. John's, however, and a magazine article from that time says that 80 percent of Andover applicants were then being turned down. It seems unlikely that George would have been admitted to Andover entirely on his own merits.
But he did not need to be. It was at this juncture that he first got a helping hand from the kind of affirmative action that, particularly in those days, helped many wealthy blue-blood offspring. The Andover admissions process calculated a numeric score for each applicant, ranging from 4 to 20, and then gave a three-point bonus to any son of an Andover graduate. This may diminish young George's achievement in getting into Andover, but it does not take it away entirely. Even among sons of Andover graduates, fewer than half were admitted at that time. Bush says he has no recollection of his grades at Kinkaid, but a friend from that time says he was an A student, and it was those grades and his activities as a class officer and athlete that, along with the fact that he was George Bush's son, put him over the top at Andover.
The adjustment to Andover in the tenth grade was a rough one for young George. At Andover, George's first grade on an essay (about his sister's death from leukemia) was a zero, boldly written in red ink along with the teacher's scrawled comment: "disgraceful." Clay Johnson, a fellow Texan in the class of '64, recalled of Andover: "It was a shocking experience. It was far away from home and rigorous, and scary and demanding. The buildings looked different, and the days were shorter. We went from being at the top of our classes academically to struggling to catch up. We were so much less prepared than kids coming from Massachusetts or New York."
Yet despite the pressure, young George seems to have remained remarkably sunny. Classmates remember him as cheerful and exuberant. When snow began falling in October of his first year, he bounded outside in excitement to catch the snowflakes and try to gather enough for a snowball. "My memory of living with George was that it was probably the funniest year of my life," recalled Donald E. Vermeil, a roommate. Andover was rife with cliques, and George fell into the jock crowd, which was disproportionately made up of boys from beyond the Northeast. Those who played basketball, baseball, or football remember George as moderately talented but scrappy—sometimes excessively so. Once the coach had to pull him out of a basketball game when he became angered at a referee's call and hurled the ball at an opposing player. Yet there was one important area where young George did excel: people skills. It was in high school that he first seemed to cultivate them and exhibit them, using wisecracking showmanship to carve out an identity for himself, an identity that is more subdued today but otherwise intact.
Bush in his stump speeches today comes across not as a policy maven or intellectual but as motivated rather by somewhat hazy ideals, optimism and a yearning to "lift the spirit of America," as he puts it. In all this, there is perhaps an echo of the boy at Andover who long ago finally found his niche by building coalitions across cliques and lifting the spirits of his school. In an institution that respected brains and brawn—excellence in the classroom and on the athletic field—George overflowed with neither. He was a mediocre student and no more than a decent athlete, and he paled in comparison to his father and namesake, who had been excellent at everything he did. Yet in the end, George found alternative ways to claim the stage and become popular. Against the odds, he emerged by force of personality as a signifi-cant figure on campus. No one thought of George W. Bush as a future politician, and he seemed oblivious to the civil rights struggle and other issues of the day. But he worked hard to remember everybody's name and managed to worm his way into the limelight. Very early on, he demonstrated one of the most fundamental political skills: the ability to make people feel good. "You can definitely see the germination of leadership there, even though the activity was not anything you would call political," Randall Roden, a childhood friend of George who also attended Andover, told The New York Times. "He was learning those skills, or perfecting them, at Andover."
George was chosen head cheerleader, which gave him a chance to ham it up in front of crowds. More than cheerleading, though, George's claim to fame at Andover was organizing an intramural stick-ball program. At the weekly assembly in April of his senior year, George stood up and announced the formation of a new stickball league. He was wearing a top hat like a circus showman, and instead of a brief announcement, he offered a twenty-minute speech that had much of the audience in stitches. As his time at Andover wound to a close, George fretted among friends about the pressure to get into Yale, which his father and grandfather had attended, and he hit the books largely with that goal in mind. The dean looked over George's transcript and college boards and then suggested in a kindly way that he apply to some less competitive colleges in addition to Yale. So George applied to the University of Texas as his "safe school," but in the end Yale accepted him.
Yale, like Andover, gave a helping hand to alumni sons in the admission process—far more than now—and it seems unlikely that Bush would have been admitted into Yale otherwise. There were no class rankings at Andover, but George never made honor roll even one term, unlike 110 boys in his class. His SAT scores were 566 for the verbal part and 640 for math. Those were far below the median scores for students admitted to his class at Yale: 668 verbal and 718 math. As he graduated from Andover, George was not a finalist in voting for "most likely to succeed," "most respected," "politico," or any of the other main categories. But, in a reflection of his people skills, he did come in second for "big man on campus."
At Yale, George W. Bush distinguished himself primarily as a hard partier, and he managed to be detained by police twice during his university years: once for stealing a Christmas wreath as a fraternity prank and once for trying to tear down the goalposts during a football game at Princeton. Those episodes underscored Bush's approach to rebellion in the 1960s: At a time when university students denounced police as "pigs," Bush stood with the establishment (yet still got himself arrested for pranks). Pressed at Yale to take sides in the great battles then unfolding over politics, civil rights, drugs, and music, Bush mostly was a noncombatant in those great upheavals, but when forced to choose he ultimately retreated to the values and ideals established by his parents' generation. In short, while some students took to the barricades, Bush took to the bar.
Unlike others of his generation including Bill Clinton, Bush never wore his hair long, agonized over Vietnam, wrestled with existentialism, or cranked up Rolling Stones songs to annoy his parents (instead of hard rock music, he listened to soul). Many young people of privilege who came of age during the 1960s began to question the system and their own values; Bush seems to have grasped his more tightly than ever. He may have broken the law, but he never questioned it. And today, much of his underlying political philosophy rests on the belief that the nation still needs to reverse the psychology of permissiveness and liberalism that began to take root in the country in the late 1960s.
Bush's transcript at Yale shows that he was a solid C student. Although a history major, he sampled widely in the social sciences and did poorly in political science and economics while achieving some of his best grades (the equivalent of a B+) in philosophy and anthropology. The transcript indicates that in Bush's freshman year, the only year for which rankings were available, he was in the twenty-first percentile of his class—meaning that four-fifths of the students were above him. Yet at the same time that he was earning Cs at Yale, Bush displayed a formidable intelligence in another way. At his induction into the Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity, he and others were asked to name all fifty-four pledges in the room. Most were were able to name only five or six. When it was Bush's turn, he named every single one. Later he rose to become president of DKE, and he was also tapped into Skull and Bones, an elite secret society to which his father had also belonged.
Back to Texas
After graduating from Yale in 1968, Bush moved back to Texas and joined the Air National Guard. Bush has said that he wanted to learn how to fly, and the position had another merit: it kept him away from the war in Vietnam. There are many murky aspects to Bush's service in the Air National Guard, and critics believe that his family pulled strings to get him the position and that once in he did not complete his requirements. He denies the charges and insists that he applied for a program that could have sent him to Vietnam as a pilot; in fact, his plane was being phased out, and there was almost no chance that his application would be accepted.
What followed were what Bush has called his "nomadic years," when he partied hard, held a series of jobs, showed little ambition, drank too much, and worried his parents. In one incident, he drank before driving and—when reproached by his father—challenged the elder Bush to a fight. He applied to law school at the University of Texas and was rejected, but Harvard Business School accepted him. And so in the fall of 1973 he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and buckled down to study. This seems to have been a turning point, for afterward he seemed to settle down to some degree and worked reasonably hard in his studies.
After graduating from Harvard Business School in 1975—he is the first president with an MBA—Bush moved back to his childhood stomping ground in Midland, Texas, and entered the oil business. He worked hard, impressed people, and lived so frugally that, according to his friends,his bed was held together with an old necktie. Friends set him up with a young woman whom he had been dimly acquainted with in the seventh grade, Laura Welch, and after a whirlwind courtship, they were married on 5 November 1977. Instead of a honeymoon, they set off together on Bush's next project, to run for an open congressional seat.
Bush campaigned hard and did well in winning the Republican nomination against a prominent local man who had run two years earlier. But in the general election, Bush found himself matched against a popular state senator, Kent Hance, who was from the more northern populous part of the district and who portrayed Bush as an alien from Yankee country. At candidates' forums, Hance would tell the following yarn: As he was working in a field along a rural road, Hance saw Bush driving along in a Mercedes. Bush rolled down the window and asked for directions to a certain ranch. Hance gave Bush directions, telling him to turn right after the cattle guard (a metal grate, ubiquitous on rural Texas roads, that keeps livestock from straying). The yarn ends with Bush asking: "What color uniform is that cattle guard wearing?"
In retrospect, Bush ran an energetic but deeply flawed campaign. He chose a race that may have been unwinnable from the start, and then he muffed up and allowed himself to be portrayed to many voters as an overeducated phony out of touch with ordinary voters—ironically, a bit the way Bush supporters perceived Al Gore during the 2000 presidential campaign. For example, there was the television commercial Bush dreamed up to show how energetic he was: it showed him jogging on a track. In those days, joggers were about as common in West Texas as Martians, and the commercial reinforced the perception of Bush as an affable alien. "The only time folks around here go running," Hance told audiences, "is when somebody's chasing 'em."
The audio text of one of Hance's most effective radio spots is as follows: "In 1961, when Kent Hance graduated from Dimmitt High School in the Nineteenth Congressional District, his opponent George W. Bush was attending Andover Academy in Massachusetts. In 1965, when Kent Hance graduated from Texas Tech, his opponent was at Yale University. And while Kent Hance graduated from University of Texas Law School, his opponent"—the announcer's voice plunged—"get this, folks, was attending Harvard. We don't need someone from the Northeast telling us what our problems are."
When the election came, Hance defeated Bush by a solid 53 percent to 47 percent. The defeat seemed to cause Bush to lose interest in public service, but many years later when he returned to politics he remembered a lesson from that election. As Hance put it in an interview with The New York Times: "He wasn't going to be out-Christianed or out-good-old-boyed again. He's going to be the good old boy next door."
After the electoral defeat, Bush threw himself into the oil business. At first he called his company Arbusto (arbusto is Spanish for "bush"), but when times grew difficult there were too many jokes about the company going ar-BUST-o. So he renamed the enterprise Bush Exploration. Any assessment of his time in the oil business would be mixed: he proved effective at recruiting investors, but had difficulty running a company profitably. Then as now, he was a brilliant fund-raiser, and through his family and father's friends he raised millions of dollars to drill for oil. But he never found much petroleum, and oil prices virtually collapsed, so that his investors—like many others—did poorly. Bush raised $4.67 million from his limited partners, but his company returned only $1.55 million in distributions (plus hefty tax write-offs). Meanwhile, Bush structured the deals in part to give himself certain financial advantages: His longtime friend and accountant, Robert A. McCleskey, says that his net worth rose from $50,000 in 1975 to more than $1 million by 1988.
But those were tough years for the oil business, and the strains showed in Bush's private behavior. He drank too much, and he often came across as more offensive than amusing. The "bombastic Bush-kin," as friends called him, sometimes seemed out of control. While visiting the family retreat in Kennebunkport, Maine, he was cited for drunken driving, and he also managed to insult an old friend of his parents, a prim, well-dressed matron who had recently turned fifty. He wobbled up to her at a cocktail party and, according to a relative, asked her by way of conversation: "So, what's sex like after fifty, anyway?"
It was a vintage Bush moment, the kind that made Bush's friends laugh and cringe at the same time. He could be hilarious company, but also often outrageous and childish. Some acquaintances were offended by what they saw as Bush's arrogance and immaturity, by his penchant for drinking too much and thinking too little. Even Laura wanted him to grow up, old friends say, and by some accounts she signaled that she was so sick of his boorish behavior that she might leave him and take his twin daughters with her. Bush himself has said that he does not know whether he was an alcoholic, and old acquaintances generally concur that he was a borderline case. But he did get drunk regularly, and while he was not a mean drunk, he could be loud and obnoxious.
These pressures, instead of breaking Bush, changed him. There is no neat one-sentence explanation for how he came to terms with himself. It was a gradual process, stretching from his arrival at Harvard Business School in 1973 until after his fortieth birthday in 1986. One turning point, by Bush's own recollection, came in the summer of 1985 when he met with the evangelical religious leader Billy Graham in Kennebunkport. Bush was inspired to begin reading the Bible daily, and back in Midland he began attending a Bible study class. Ever since then, Bush's Methodist faith has been a pillar of his life. Then in July 1986, the Bushes went with a half-dozen friends to celebrate their collective fortieth birthdays at the luxurious Broadmoor Hotel resort in Colorado Springs, Colorado. On one evening, they all stayed up late, drinking a bit too merrily. The next morning, Bush woke up feeling befuddled—and quietly resolved that he would never touch alcohol again. As far as anybody knows, he never did. After that, Bush worked harder and mellowed a bit, so that while he remained mischievous he was less likely to offend people. He did better at controlling his temper. He became a better father. He grew up.
Learning About National Politics
When George H. W. Bush announced his candidacy for president in the 1988 campaign, George W. set aside his oil business and moved to Washington, D.C., to work for his father. It was his first real taste of national politics, and he both enjoyed and demonstrated a talent for it. He also learned from a master strategist, Bush campaign manager Lee Atwater, how to woo baby boomers and how to undercut opponents. Yet one paradox stands out: Bush managed to be immersed back then in national politics while remaining largely oblivious to its substance, the policy issues. Some people get into politics because they feel passionately about certain issues; Bush joined the 1988 campaign because he felt passionately about his father. He did not push any particular agenda, and no one seems to recall instances when he of his own volition pressed for one policy or another. Likewise, as revealed by the correspondence between father and son during the elder Bush's presidency, George W. often asked his father to send autographs to Texas friends, and occasionally to consider particular people for federal jobs—but in virtually none of the letters does he suggest that his father take a particular position on an issue.
"He'd come in to a meeting with a cup"—his spittoon—"and stick out his hand with a big smile and say, 'Hi, I'm George Bush, and thanks for what you're doing for my dad,"' Richard Bond told The New York Times. Bond was then the national political director for the campaign. Bush won over doubters on the campaign in part by poking fun at his own role, sometimes calling himself "Maureen," because Maureen Reagan was then notorious in her father's White House for forever telling staff members what to do. He also sometimes mocked those he regarded as the more pretentious associates of his father, like Nicholas Brady, the future Treasury secretary. Bush was also deployed in the field to make speeches and press the flesh, and he impressed campaign officials with his willingness to slog through Iowa and Michigan snow to meet with groups of voters.
Bush gave the impression that he did not much like Washington, D.C. The 1988 election ended in victory for the Bushes, of course, but George almost immediately moved back to Texas. Still, he visited the White House periodically and became a troubleshooter. "He had a good sense of what wasn't going right," Alan Simpson, a longtime family friend who was then a senator from Wyoming, told The New York Times, "and when things weren't going right, George would suddenly be on the front porch." In particular, Bush became disenchanted with the White House chief of staff, John Sununu, and played a role in firing him.
With his father ensconced in the White House, a new opportunity came to George: running a baseball club. An old family friend, Eddie Chiles, was preparing to sell the Texas Rangers and wanted to sell to Bush—if the latter could raise the money. Bush helped put together an investor group, including an old friend from Yale, Roland Betts, and became the general partner responsible for managing the investment. As a baseball owner, Bush proved himself an outstanding manager, still remembered fondly by the players who batted for him, the fans he courted, and even by the executives he fired. Bush helped turn the Rangers into a greatly improved team, and he presided over the complex arrangements for a new ballpark, one of the finest in major-league baseball. He became a multimillionaire in the process, setting himself up financially for his run for the presidency. In one blow, he acquired not only wealth but also the resume he would need to triumph in politics.
Yet the investment was immensely profitable in part because he and his co-owners were shrewd bargainers who charmed and bullied the city of Arlington into giving them a great deal, with the local taxpayers picking up most of the cost—including more than $135 million to help build the Rangers a stadium. Bush and his fellow owners even got the local government to seize the property of landowners for a new stadium and, in effect, hand it over to the Texas Rangers so that they could make a profit on it. In such business dealings Bush displayed both savvy and vision, but critics complain that his actions at the time are hard to reconcile with his later speeches about limited government and private property rights.
Bush's path to becoming a baseball owner was remarkable, because initially he did not put up a cent of his own money. Instead, he borrowed $500,000 from United Bank of Midland, a Texas bank of which he had previously been a director, and used those funds to buy a stake in the Rangers. Bush eventually raised his investment in two stages to an eventual total of $606,000, or 1.8 percent of the team. In 1988 he and his fellow owners sold the Rangers for $250 million. It was a good deal for all the principals, but Bush did particularly well: his cut was $14.9 million.
A Popular Governor
Bush's role with the Rangers was as its public spokesman and cheerleader, and he used the position to give speeches around Texas and win friends. It was in some sense a political role, shorn of policy, and he was very good at it. Increasingly, he also began to think of using it as a springboard to statewide office. His mother had discouraged him from running while his father was still in the White House, but as the 1994 governor's race approached, that was no longer an issue. Rather, the main concern was whether Bush had any chance to win. Ann Richards, the incumbent Democratic governor, was a national figure and media star with high popularity ratings. Yet Bush, against the advice of friends and family, took her on and ran an artful race.
Richards, who knew that Bush had had problems with his temper, tried to aggravate her opponent into self-destruction by needling him and belittling him as a dull-witted Daddy's boy who never accomplished anything on his own. But Bush simply grinned when Richards goaded him as a "shrub" and a "jerk." One of Bush's insights was that while Texans liked Richards as a person, they often did not agree with her. And so he ran an exceptionally focused, tightly disciplined campaign that hammered home his themes day after day: a tougher juvenile justice system to reduce crime, better schools, tighter restrictions on welfare, and new limits on tort suits.
In the heat of the campaign, Bush went dove hunting, with some thirty reporters in tow. A bird flew up, he blasted away with his shotgun, and proudly held up the prize for the news photographers. The reporters pointed out that he had shot not a dove, but a protected songbird known as the killdee. Bush promptly confessed, paid a $130 fine, and began his news conference that afternoon by saying: "Thank goodness it wasn't deer season. I might have shot a cow." The humor and discipline of the campaign worked: Bush defeated Richards with a healthy 54 percent of the vote. Almost immediately, as the Republican governor of a major state, as a man with a formidable war chest and superb political connections, he was regarded as a national figure.
Bush went out of his way in Texas to work with Democrats and to build bridges with groups that he had offended in his gubernatorial run. During the campaign, Bush had told a reporter of his own belief that the path to Heaven comes from acceptance of Jesus as one's personal savior. Some non-Christians, particularly Jews, were upset that Bush was effectively consigning them to hell. One of the first things he did after becoming governor was to meet a group of Jewish leaders in Houston and soothe the ruffled feelings. Likewise, from the beginning Bush worked exceptionally closely with the Democratic kingmaker of Texas, Bob Bullock, who was nearing the end of his career and came to look on Bush as a protégé and close friend. This spirit of bipartisan cooperation was one of the most striking features of Bush's years as governor, and it maximized his effectiveness.
Bush did not appear to put in long hours as governor—he typically went home at 5:00 p.m. and allocated only fifteen minutes to review death penalty cases and decide whether or not to grant a stay of execution, according to detailed schedules of the governor's time obtained by The New York Times under the Texas freedom of information law. But he dominated the legislative agenda, won an education reform package, and attempted unsuccessfully to pass an even more far-reaching tax-restructuring proposal. He also became steadily more popular, and by 1996 he was being mentioned as a potential presidential contender for 2000. In the summer of 1997, one of his aides, Karen Hughes, informed him that there had been an opinion poll of potential Republican candidates for the 2000 race. "You're leading," she told him.
The prospect of a presidential race depended on Bush winning reelection as governor in 1998, and this he did by a landslide. He won 68 percent of the vote and became the first Texas governor reelected to a second consecutive four-year term. Once he was reelected, Bush turned to the question of the presidency and began grappling with what friends say were his two main concerns: his family and his past. Associates say that his wife Laura and his twin girls, who were in high school when he was governor, were not exactly opposed to him running, but that they worried about what the race would mean for their privacy. The girls, the more studious Barbara and the more outgoing Jenna, already were sensitive to the impact on their lives of having a prominent politician as a father.
Bush was also reluctant to face the scrutiny of his past that is the fate of any presidential candidate. Already, he was facing persistent questioning about drug use—he declined to say whether he had used illegal drugs, but his circumlocutions seemed to suggest that he had—and he had never disclosed his arrest for drunken driving in Maine.
Yet in the end Bush did run, and from the beginning he was the overwhelming favorite, both in polls and in fund-raising. His strength extinguished some candidacies in their infancy—like those of Elizabeth Dole, Dan Quayle, and Lamar Alexander—and so his main rivals in the Republican primaries were Gary Bauer, Steve Forbes, Orrin Hatch, Alan Keyes, and John McCain. Of these, McCain was the only one who had a chance, appealing to a mix of liberals and conservatives alike with his background as a war hero and his calls for campaign finance reform. In contrast to McCain's dynamism, Bush initially ran a hesitant campaign in which he was perceived by voters as aloof and somewhat arrogant. The result was a crushing defeat in the New Hampshire primary on 1 February 2000, with Bush getting just 31 percent to McCain's 49 percent.
After New Hampshire, Bush refurbished his campaign, seizing the reformer label from McCain and becoming far more energetic. He went out of his way to cultivate reporters, whom he had previously seemed to disdain, and he charged into the fray and recovered his footing. Steadily Bush gained states in his column for the Republican nomination, including a decisive win in South Carolina on 19 February and again in nine more states on Super Tuesday, 7 March. By then Bush was effectively the Republican nominee, but the animosity between his staff and McCain's took months to ease.
Bush had asked Dick Cheney, his father's secretary of defense, to lead the effort to find a running mate, but in the end Bush chose Cheney himself to be the vice presidential candidate. It was politically an odd choice, for Cheney was, like Bush, a Texas oilman and did not bring new geographic support to the ticket, but Cheney did bring solidity and experience to the ticket.
The Republican convention in Philadelphia, 31 July to 3 August, was a milestone for the Bush campaign. It sought to reassure the nation that Bush was a centrist, rather than the hard-line conservative depicted by the Democrats, and inclusiveness was a constant theme. Some speeches were given in Spanish, and the large number of African Americans who appeared on the podium led some comedians to joke that the event looked like a Black Entertainment Network broadcast. At the end, Bush gave perhaps the finest speech of his career until that point, a warm and visionary talk that praised President Clinton's talents but suggested that they had been used for no great purpose. Bush managed to raise issues of moral leadership without sounding shrill, and he called for cooperation with Democrats to address traditional Democratic issues like poverty and education. Republicans, he said, are "not the party of repose, but the party of reform." He declared: "We will extend the promise of prosperity to every forgotten corner of this country: to every man and woman, a chance to succeed; to every child, a chance to learn; and to every family, a chance to live with dignity and hope."
The campaign against then-Vice President Al Gore unfolded largely as expected and was tight all the way. Gore's political strength was that he was an incumbent of sorts at a time when the United States was enjoying the longest economic boom in its history, but he also came across as wooden and, to some, as shifty and untrustworthy. Bush was far less knowledgeable about policy issues (he famously mixed up Slovakia and Slovenia, among other lapses), but he impressed many voters as honest and amiable. In a series of campaign debates that perhaps made the difference, he came across to many voters as more knowledgeable than they had expected, while Gore did poorly.
The Bush Presidency
The result was an election that in effect was a tie. Gore won the popular vote but was one vote short in the electoral college of the majority he needed. And with all the other states decided, it was clear that the outcome of the presidential election would depend on Florida, where Bush had the slenderest of leads. After furious rounds of recounting, haggling in the courts and in the media, Florida's secretary of state certified that Bush had won the state. There were indications, though, that more people had tried to vote for Gore in Florida than had tried to vote for Bush, but that enough of their votes were set aside for mistakes (such as punching the wrong hole, or double punching) that Bush had a slight edge. As the battle over whether to recount entered the courts, the dispute was ultimately resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court, which on 12 December 2000 decided—by a 5 to 4 vote on the key issue—that further counting would be impractical and unfair. In effect, the White House was Bush's.
Gore conceded the next day, and Bush accepted the presidency in a speech on 13 December in the Texas House of Representatives—chosen, he said, as a symbol of bipartisan cooperation. "After a difficult election, we must put politics behind us and work together to make the promise of America available for every one of our citizens," he declared. "I am optimistic that we can change the tone in Washington, D.C. I believe things happen for a reason, and I hope the long wait of the last five weeks will heighten a desire to move beyond the bitterness and partisanship of the recent past."
That did not happen, at least not immediately. Many Democrats were outraged, feeling that the election had been stolen from them. But Bush continued to reach out, and in his inaugural address he sounded again the theme of inclusiveness: "While many of our citizens prosper, others doubt the promise, even the justice, of our own country. The ambitions of some Americans are limited by failing schools and hidden prejudice and the circumstances of their birth. And sometimes our differences run so deep, it seems we share a continent, but not a country. We do not accept this, and we will not allow it." And Bush, always much more welcoming to immigrants than other elements in the Republican Party, added that every immigrant "makes our country more, not less, American."
Upon taking office, Bush selected aides who were generally respected for their experience and competence and who in some cases came from the corporate world: Paul O'Neill, who had been chairman and CEO of the world's largest aluminum manufacturer, Alcoa, was chosen treasury secretary. Politically, the cabinet ranged from John Ashcroft, the conservative attorney general who survived a bitter fight over his nomination, to Norman Mineta, a Democrat, as transportation secretary. Many key figures in the government were recycled from the earlier Bush administration, although there was no evidence that the first President Bush himself played a crucial role in policy formation. Colin Powell, as secretary of state, and Donald Rumsfeld, as secretary of defense, both came across as surprisingly weak until the terror attacks of 11 September—after which they assumed enormous importance. George Tenet, the CIA director, became a close adviser, briefing the president in person for twenty to thirty minutes each morning (he had given Clinton, by contrast, a written daily briefing). But the crucial adviser, in many cases, was Karl Rove, Bush's longtime political strategist. When opposition grew to U.S. military bombing exercises on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, for example, the Pentagon opposed conciliation, for fear of losing an important site for target practice. But with Hispanics an increasingly important constituency, Bush sided with Rove and announced that the bombing would eventually be halted.
Bush's early focus of attention was the tax cut, and he was successful in getting a landmark cut through Congress. This lowered the top personal rate from 39.6 percent to 33 percent, and started the country on a path toward eventual elimination of the estate tax, a tax on assets held by an individual at the time of death (though this of course could be changed by future Congresses). He also pushed for "faith-based" programs to administer social services, and helped put the issue on the national agenda. Bush was unable to get Congress to institute a system of educational vouchers, in which as an alternative to keeping their children in failing public schools, parents could redeem vouchers to help pay for private or parochial school tuition. As part of his plan for educational reform, however, Bush was able to push through legislation requiring mandatory yearly testing of students in grades three through eight, as a way of making schools accountable for their children's proficiency in reading, math, and science.
One of the toughest issues he faced in his first summer was whether to approve federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells. Proponents urged that stem cells offered immense promise in treating a broad range of diseases, while critics—many of them on the Right—noted that extraction of stem cells destroyed the embryo and a potential human life. Bush discussed the issue widely with aides and outsiders and ultimately came down in the middle. He declared that federal funding of stem cell research would continue, but only for existing stem cells—extracted for the purpose of in vitro fertilization and stored in labs—that otherwise would be destroyed. It was a nuanced position that, while attacked by some on both sides of the issue, seemed to win respect among many in the middle of the road.
Rather less successfully, Bush pushed for a sweeping new energy policy that would put emphasis on increasing production. His assumption of office coincided with a series of power shortages in California, and he argued that the only way to address the power crunch was to increase drilling. In particular, he called for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. But these proposals made little headway, and polls found voters deeply suspicious that Bush was too close to big oil and too prepared to destroy the environment. After Enron, a multi-billion dollar energy company headquartered in Houston, collapsed into bankruptcy at the end of 2001, the Bush administration was also embarrassed by the close ties between the company and senior Bush aides, and between the president and Kenneth Lay, the former chairman of Enron.
Foreign relations were initially a mixed bag, reflecting Bush's lack of confidence in foreign affairs. After initial missteps, he generally was credited with sound handling of his first crisis, the collision in April 2001 of an American spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet off the southern coast of China. The American plane made an emergency landing on the Chinese island of Hainan, but eventually the Bush administration won the return of both the crew and the plane. Bush was given high marks by political analysts for his first overseas trip, to Europe in June, but he benefited from the fact that expectations had been low. He charmed some audiences, but also left many allies infuriated by his insistence on two points: abandoning the Kyoto Protocol to curb global warming, and continuation with America's national missile defense system even if it meant U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which had been signed with the Soviet Union in 1972. The Bush administration gave further evidence of its doubts about multilateralism by opposing a treaty establishing an International Criminal Court, by threatening to withdraw from a July 2001 United Nations conference that sought to devise a treaty on small arms trafficking, by rejecting enforcement measures for the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, and by declining to send a senior delegation to the United Nations World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. The Economist of London, which generally took a pro-Bush stance, asked in its pages on 28 July 2001: "Has George Bush ever met a treaty that he liked?"
In his approach to the presidency, Bush closely followed the Clinton model of constantly campaigning. While he left details of his first budget to others, Bush traveled frequently around the country, making campaign-style appearances to promote his policies. He devoted less attention to states like California and New York that would probably be unwinnable in 2004 and focused on crucial states that might go either way in a reelection fight. Yet for all the energy he showed as a campaigner for his policies, he was not nearly as intricately involved in policy development as Clinton had been, and Bush often took off on Friday afternoons to head for Camp David or his beloved ranch near Waco, Texas. Bush made some inroads with Congress, but his policy there failed catastrophically in one sense, when control of the Senate passed to the Democratic Party due to Senator Jeffords' abandonment of the Republicans.
One of Bush's first challenges was an economic slowdown, and ultimately his reelection prospects may depend on his handling of it. He presented the sagging economy as a problem that he inherited, and in large part he was right: the extraordinary high-tech bubble, which left markets and the real economy buoyant, peaked in the spring of 2000 and steadily deflated after that. Bush sold his tax cut partly as an antidote to the economic weakness, and many economists approved of the tax rebates (up to $600 for a couple) that were sent out in the summer and fall of 2001 and that offered a fiscal stimulus. At the same time, the markets were unnerved by the prospect that America's tremendous progress on reducing the federal debt might be coming apart.
Bush insisted that the tax cut would not threaten the Social Security part of the budget surplus. But he had to tweak accounting rules and come up with very optimistic projections to avoid delving into those retirement funds. In contrast, the Congressional Budget Office, which is nonpartisan, projected that substantial amounts would have to come out of the Social Security surplus between 2001 and 2004. Bush presented the tumbling budget surpluses as desirable—a straitjacket that would prevent Congress from squandering taxpayer money—but they also meant less money available for his priorities, such as education and military spending. And if the United States slips off its sound fiscal track of the mid- to late-1990s, that would be a far-reaching legacy that would force fundamental rethinking within the Bush administration about its priorities.
Six months after taking office, Bush had an approval rating in a Gallup Poll of 57 percent. That was better than the comparable Clinton figure of 41 percent and impressive considering the tumultuous, controversial way in which he had assumed office. But it was well behind the figures for predecessors including his father, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, and John F. Kennedy (who had the highest six-month approval rating, 75 percent).
Responding to Terrorism
Bush's initial response to the attacks on the World Trade Center was inauspicious. He seemed shaken and halting in his first statement, at 9:30 a.m., shortly after stepping out of the classroom in Sarasota. He described the incidents as "an apparent terrorist attack" and vowed "to hunt down and to find those folks who committed this act." The Secret Service then rushed Bush onto Air Force One, and the presidential jet roared off into the sky without delay, headed for Washington.
Once on the plane, according to the Washington Post, Bush told aides: "That's what we're paid for, boys. When we find out who did this, they are not going to like me as president. Somebody is going to pay."
Meanwhile, Washington was in chaos. When the Secret Service learned that an airplane was barreling toward the White House, agents burst into the vice president's office, grabbing him by the arms and belt and rushing him downstairs into an underground bunker built to withstand a nuclear blast. Staff were evacuated from key government buildings, with women in the White House and Eisenhower Executive Office Building told to take off their high heels and run for their lives to Lafayette Park. Aides were told to remove the security badges from around their necks, in case snipers were posted to shoot them. Top aides were in the bunker, but it was poorly prepared and at first the audio did not work on the televisions.
The plane that had been thought headed for the White House ultimately crashed into the Pentagon, but now another airplane was detected heading for Washington. Bush, traveling on Air Force One, and Cheney briefly discussed what to do, and Bush gave the order for the Air Force to shoot down passenger planes if necessary. Soon afterward, the second plane heading for Washington, United Flight 93, went down in Pennsylvania. Bush asked, "Did we shoot it down or did it crash?" According to a lengthy reconstruction of 11 September and its aftermath by Bob Woodward and Dan Balz in the Washington Post, no one could answer him. (Eventually, it turned out that passengers had fought with the hijackers, causing the plane to crash).
False and exaggerated reports added to the alarm. There were accounts of explosions at the Capitol and State Department, of many more planes hijacked and headed for Washington. Transportation Secretary Mineta ordered all airplanes across the United States down at once, but that took hours to implement. Meanwhile, a phone threat came in to the White House against Air Force One, and because of a mistake in relaying the message it was believed erroneously that the caller had used the plane's code word, "Angel." The term gave the threat credibility, suggesting some knowledge of security procedures, and the Pentagon scrambled fighters to escort Air Force One.
Cheney and Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, both urged the president not to return to Washington, citing continuing security concerns. Air Force One eventually landed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, where it was immediately surrounded by U.S. troops carrying machine guns. Reporters on the plane were prohibited from describing the location. Bush made a brief television appearance shortly before 1:00 p.m., reading a two-minute statement and taking no questions. His eyes were red-rimmed, he mispronounced words, and the tape of the appearance was jumpy and grainy. "The resolve of our great nation is being tested," he declared.
Soon afterward, Bush was in flight on Air Force One again, this time headed for Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, which had an underground bunker and first-rate communications capabilities. While en route, he called his father; on finding out that the former president was in Milwaukee, George W. asked: "What are you doing in Milwaukee?"
"You grounded my plane," his father replied.
Once at Offutt, President Bush convened a tele-conference meeting of the National Security Council and then insisted on returning to Washington. There had been a growing chorus of grumbling by politicians, even some Republicans, at the fact that the president was fleeing west when the East Coast was under attack, at his failure to offer a constant reassuring presence to the American public. The Secret Service resisted Bush's desire to return to Washington, but his political aides strongly agreed that he needed to address the nation from the Oval Office. On the evening of 11 September Bush flew back to Washington, arriving at the White House at 7:00 p.m. and addressing the nation live at 8:30.
"None of us will ever forget this day," he declared, "yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in the world." He then outlined what came to be regarded as the Bush doctrine: "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them." Even Bush's advisers acknowledged that the speech fell flat, out of tune with the historic nature of the day. But Bush at least conveyed that he was back at the White House, back in command. And from then on, he seemed to regain his footing and sound the right notes in reassuring the nation and responding to the terrorist challenge.
Evidence immediately accumulated that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaida ("The Base"), a radical Isla-mist terrorist organization, were responsible for the attacks. For years the United States had pursued bin Laden for suspected involvement in terrorist activities; the wealthy Saudi exile had found refuge in Taliban-run Afghanistan. That evening, President Bush and his National Security Council decided to apply all possible pressure on Afghanistan—and its backer, Pakistan—to hand over bin Laden. Otherwise, the United States would use its armed forces to go into Afghanistan itself.
On the morning of 12 September, when Bush and his aides met in the White House Situation Room, Tenet presented the outlines of what would become the strategy in Afghanistan: bomb Taliban positions heavily, send in CIA officers and special forces to bolster the Northern Alliance that had feebly been battling the Taliban, and arm and organize the Alliance so that it could function as a proxy ground force. Also that morning, Bush read a statement that escalated the stakes. "The deliberate and deadly attacks which were carried out yesterday against our country were more than acts of terror," he declared. "They were acts of war.... This will be a monumental struggle between good and evil. But good will prevail."
The speech was much more effective than his previous public appearances, and Bush followed it up with meetings with the congressional leadership and with phone calls with foreign leaders. He asked for and received support from heads of state the world over. Even Russia and China, which normally were anxious about American military deployments near their borders, gave Bush surprisingly strong backings. Indeed, Russian President Vladimir Putin used 9/11 to cement a warmer, more cooperative relationship with the United States, one that was remarkably little disturbed even when Bush announced that he would withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Likewise, the Bush administration—which had its share of hard-liners who saw China as the major long-term threat to the United States—ended up working closely with Chinese leaders and ushering in a period of civility between Washington and Beijing.
The days and weeks following 11 September were wrenching for American citizens, and Bush—who has a deep emotional streak—was no exception. A reporter asked him in front of television cameras on 13 September about his prayers and thoughts, and he struggled to collect himself as he answered: "Well, I don't think about myself right now. I think about the families, the children." His eyes flooded with tears, and he paused. "I am a loving guy, and I am also someone, however, who has got a job to do, and I intend to do it." Bush later said: "Presidents don't particularly like to cry in front of the American public, particularly in the Oval Office, but nevertheless I did." He added, quite rightly, that his "mood reflected the country in many ways."
On the following day, Bush presided over a prayer service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., with three former presidents, much of the Congress, and many other leaders in attendance. At Bush's insistence, a Muslim cleric had also been invited to speak, to underscore that this was not to be a war against Islam. Bush delivered a speech prepared by his most poetic speechwriter, Michael Gerson, and for the first time he hit all the notes perfectly. "We are here in the middle hour of our grief," he began, and he tried to comfort and console the nation. But, although the setting was a house of worship, he also delivered what was close to a declaration of war: "This conflict was begun on the
timing and terms of others. It will end in a way, and at a time, of our choosing."
On 20 September, Bush spoke to a joint session of Congress to outline his plans. Fighter aircraft circled overhead to defend the Capitol, and some 80 million Americans watched on television. An exhibition professional hockey game in Philadelphia was suspended so that fans could watch the speech on the stadium's screens. Bush delivered a powerful speech that won overwhelming support. He urged Americans to "hug your children" and touched all the emotional bases, but he also outlined a new kind of struggle against global terrorism as a whole, not just against Al Qaida. "Americans should not expect one battle but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success." He also gave a pledge: "I will not yield. I will not rest. I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people."
When the Taliban did not respond to Bush's ultimatum—give up bin Laden and end support for Al Qaida—the United States moved quickly to bolster the Northern Alliance and begin bombing targets. At first the fighting was anemic, and for a time there were ominous articles in the American press about an emerging "quagmire." But then supplies worked their way to the forces on the ground and, most helpfully, American Special Forces arrived in Afghanistan to guide the bombing. The result was that the Taliban began to crumble and retreat from northern cities. And once they began to retreat they kept going. There was never a battle in the contested capital city of Kabul; the Taliban fled in the middle of the night.
European and Arab grumbling about the bombing subsided to some degree with the victory in Afghanistan, partly because of scenes of elated Afghans celebrating their newfound freedoms. And the victory itself was a remarkable achievement for the Pentagon. While small numbers of American troops died in friendly fire and in accidents during the liberation of Afghanistan from Taliban control, only a few soldiers were killed by enemy fire (along with one CIA officer). The United States quickly oversaw the installation of a new interim government, led by Hamid Karzai, handpicked by Washington.
The first few months in the war on terrorism had gone remarkably well. But then the picture grew more complex. Osama bin Laden remained at large, along with the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, and Bush administration officials grew increasingly frustrated at the inability to track them down. There was also no immediate success in finding and prosecuting the perpetrator of a series of mailed anthrax attacks in Washington, New York, and Florida, although the FBI came to conclude that the person was probably an American rather than a foreigner. Another attempted attack on a U.S. airliner, in December 2001 by a man with a bomb of plastic explosives built into his shoe, was foiled but reminded Americans of their vulnerability.
There was also a vigorous debate about how to deal with Taliban and Al Qaida prisoners from Afghanistan. President Bush proposed the creation of military tribunals, and he also oversaw the transfer of prisoners from Afghanistan to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba, where they could be interrogated without the protections that would apply if they were on American soil. The administration initially asserted that the Third Geneva Convention, on prisoners of war, would not apply to them, but after an uproar in Europe—and a lesser one in the Pentagon, which did not want precedents that could harm Americans taken prisoner—the White House said that the conventions would apply, but that in any case none of the captured were prisoners of war.
Coverage of the war on terror also became more skeptical. Reporters in Afghanistan began writing about cases in which Americans apparently bombed the wrong targets, killing civilians. After Pentagon officials boasted that they had killed a man whose height made it possible that he was the six-foot-four-inch bin Laden, reporters confirmed that the man was not bin Laden but an impoverished Afghan trying to make ends meet collecting scrap metal. Another raid, initially described by the Pentagon as successful, turned out to have killed anti-Taliban fighters and to have seized guns that had already been confiscated and stockpiled. Afghanistan began to show the strains of rivalries, and there was growing pressure on Washington to provide troops for an international security force in the major cities.
The United States expanded the war on terror by sending troops to the southern Philippines, ostensibly to train Filipino soldiers in counterterrorism techniques. In practice, there were some signs that the Americans intended mainly to pursue the Islamist group Abu Sayyaf, a criminal gang that had kidnapped two Americans but that had few ties to Al Qaida. Doubts began to be raised about the Philippine venture.
By far the most controversial step was the discussion of taking on Iraq. Within a few days of 11 September, there was a push within the administration—led by Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, to begin planning the overthrow of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, a longtime adversary of the United States—especially during the 1991 Gulf War—who was known to be trying to accumulate weapons of mass destruction. The Pentagon and National Security staffs generally approved, while the State Department was alarmed at the idea. And those in the world opposed to American unilateralism watched with dismay as the Bush administration began to talk more openly about invading Iraq.
When President Bush addressed these themes in his State of the Union address in January 2002, two paradoxes were striking. First, for a man who took office often denigrated as bumbling and inarticulate, he has often been remarkably eloquent in his prepared speeches. That was evident in the first words of the address: "As we gather tonight, our nation is at war, our economy is in recession, and the civilized world faces unprecedented dangers. Yet the state of our Union has never been stronger."
Second, for a president who initially seemed relatively uninformed and uninterested in international affairs, his presidency has come to focus on matters abroad. Indeed, the most striking aspect of Bush's speech was its hawkish tone—it owed much more to the Pentagon than to the State Department—as it described an "axis of evil" consisting of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. And, although officials said they had no plans to go after Iran or North Korea militarily, it caused jitters in Europe for what foreigners saw as its jingoism. Bush in effect expanded the list of adversaries from states that support terrorism to those that pursue covert nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons programs: "Our second goal is to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction. Some of these regimes have been pretty quiet since 11 September. But we know their true nature. North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens. Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom. Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade.... States like these, and their terrorist allies... [are] arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic."
Bush's budget proposal included the largest increase in defense spending in two decades, allowing a push toward new kinds of weaponry and platforms in the coming decades. Other elements of government spending were tightly restrained, creating a measure of dissatisfaction. Early proposals to revise Social Security spending, by allowing workers to put their money into investment accounts, also lost momentum, because of the difficulty in winning consensus on any specific proposal. The administration's economic stimulus package also encountered difficulties, partly because of signs that the economy was recovering in the spring of 2002 on its own and partly because the dramatic decline in the fiscal picture made further tax cuts seem questionable. From an outlook of huge surpluses as far as the eye could see, allowing the complete retirement of America's debt within a dozen years, the picture changed to one of continued deficits. That was partly because of the Bush tax cuts, and partly because of the recession, but it amounted to one of the challenges for the administration in the remainder of its time in office.
This essay takes the reader only up to the State of the Union address in early 2002, and at this writing it is far too early to offer a firm assessment of President Bush. Only the most tentative summation is appropriate: He grew in the job, particularly in his handling of the events of 11 September and overseas terrorism; his public speaking improved dramatically, as a onetime bumbler gave ringing speeches that touched the nation and elevated his own standing; he was immensely popular in the aftermath of 11 September but by early 2002 there was a growing willingness at least among Democrats to criticize administration policies at home and abroad; one of his greatest achievements was an enormous tax cut, but critics charged that it would erode American economic strength and undermine his legacy. Ultimately, the Bush presidency continues to revolve around a series of paradoxes that it is too soon to resolve.
Bill Minutaglio's biography, First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty (New York, 1999), is excellent and objective, and covers Bush through his years as governor. Elizabeth Mitchell's biography, W: Revenge of the Bush Dynasty (New York, Hyperion, 2000), is also very good, particularly on the early years. Frank Bruni has written a fine, engaging and evenhanded account of Bush, focusing on the campaign: Ambling Into History: The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush (New York, 2002). Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose authored an entertaining book focusing on Bush's years as governor. It is fiercely critical and makes no attempt to be balanced, but it is generally intelligent and factual: Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush (New York, 2000).
Bush's campaign biography purports to be an autobiography but was actually written by Karen Hughes, his key aide. It is very bland but still an important source. George W. Bush, A Charge to Keep (New York, 1999). Occasional family letters involving George W. appear in his father's collection of letters: George Bush, All the Best, George Bush: My Life in Letters and Other Writings (New York, 1999). Sections on early family life also appear in a campaign book about the father that the son helped to write. It is George Bush with Doug Wead, Man of Integrity (Eugene, Ore., 1988).
Information about the Bush administration's reaction to the events of 11 September 2001 comes in a monumental series by Bob Woodward and Dan Balz, "Ten Days in September," Washington Post, running each day on the front page from 27 January to 3 February 2002. The immediate aftermath is also well covered in an article by David E. Sanger and Don Van Natta Jr., "In Four Days, a National Crisis Changes Bush's Presidency," New York Times, 16 September 2001. Quotations and information in this essay about Bush's handling of the terror attacks came from these articles.
In 2000, the author wrote a series of eleven biographical articles about Bush, covering the period from his childhood through his decision to run for the White House, and they appeared at intervals in The New York Times from 21 May through 29 October 2000. Many of the quotations and information in this essay first appeared in those articles.
COPYRIGHT 2002 The Gale Group,
George W. Bush
George W. Bush
When George W. Bush (born 1946) won a disputed election to become president of the United States, it capped a meteoric rise to power in a relatively short political career that combined good timing, a powerful family, and uncanny campaigning skills. A late bloomer in terms of achievement, Bush's victory represented the second time in American history that the son of a former president took on the world's most powerful political job.
George Walker Bush was born in New Haven, Connecticut on July 6, 1946. His parents moved the family from New Haven, where they had lived next door to the president of Yale University, to Texas when George W. was two years old. His father, George Herbert Walker Bush, had just graduated from Yale and wanted to try his hand at the oil business. At first they lived in a ramshackle duplex in the roughneck town of Odessa, with two prostitutes renting the other half of the house. Two years later, after a brief time following the elder Bush as a drill-bit salesman in California, they moved to Midland, a more refined city that was better suited to raising a family.
One of their neighbors, Charlie Younger, described Midland as "a real Ozzie-and-Harriet sort of town." It was also bursting with optimism during the boom times of the 1950s, when the elder Bush made his fortune in drilling. Young George W. was a strong-willed and wisecracking child who posed a challenge for his mother, Barbara. His father, who had played baseball at Yale, coached his Little League baseball team, and the young boy became a baseball fanatic, memorizing statistics and trivia from his collection of baseball cards. The Bushes had five more children: a son Jeb; a daughter Robin, (who died of leukemia in childhood); then sons Neil and Marvin and daughter Dorothy. As the eldest, George W. was expected to shine. He was an all-around athlete, fair student, and occasional troublemaker in school—he was once paddled for painting a mustache on his face during a music class. In seventh grade, he ran for class president and won. The next year, his father, who had become a millionaire, moved the family to Houston.
Two years later, George W. was sent back East to enroll at Phillips Academy, an elite private prep school in Andover, Massachusetts. At Andover, he was a whirlwind of physical activity, playing varsity baseball and basketball and junior varsity football. In basketball he often made self-deprecating jokes about riding the bench. Instead of trying out for varsity football, he became the squad's head cheerleader. He also organized a stickball league and was nicknamed Tweeds Bush, after the political organizer Boss Tweed. Against the school's intense competition Bush arrayed his sense of humor. "I was able to instill a sense of frivolity," Bush later said. "Andover was kind of a strange experience."
His high school academic record was far from top-notch. However, drawing on his family connections, Bush landed a spot at Yale, where both his father and grandfather had attended. Bush, extremely gregarious and a notoriously poor dresser, made many friends, somehow bridging the growing divide between the public school graduates who were entering Yale and the "preppies." Bush's interest in politics faded temporarily after his father lost a close election for a seat in the U.S. Senate, in which his grandfather had served. He remained uninterested in politics even after his father won the Senate seat on a second try in 1966. Instead, he became president of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity and enjoyed parties, drinking, watching and playing football, and dating. Grades weren't a high priority. "He was a serious student of people," recalled classmate Robert McCallum. He was booked on a misdemeanor charge for being part of a prank that involved stealing a Christmas wreath for the frat house, but the charges were dropped. He was also questioned by police for helping to tear down the goalposts at Princeton University after a football game. For a brief time, he was engaged to a Rice University student, Cathryn Wolfman. In his senior year, he joined the notorious secret society, Skull and Bones. Despite his background of privilege, Bush became more at ease with all kinds of people in college. "I was never one to feel guilty," he said about his wealth and family connections. "I feel lucky." Moving back to Houston after graduating from Yale, Bush took up residence in a trendy apartment complex, the Chateaux Dijon—a hub for young single people. Cocky and loud, Bush played volleyball in the swimming pool, flirted with women, and drove a sports car. He worked, for a time, for an agribusiness company and for a mentoring program. "I was rootless," he later said. "I had no responsibilities whatsoever." Later, he would fend off reporters' questions about rumors of drug use in those days. "How I behaved as an irresponsible youth is irrelevant to this campaign," he said during his 1994 race for governor. "What matters is how I behave as an adult." Other questions later arose about how he had managed to avoid serving in Vietnam. He was a member of an elite Texas Air National Guard unit stationed at Ellington Air Force Base that included the sons of other prominent politicians and civic leaders. The National Guard had a long waiting list of young men eager to avoid military service during the war, but Bush managed to sail through easily. He has denied any impropriety, but political writer Molly Ivins claims that a family friend used Ben Barnes, then speaker of the House of Representatives in Texas, to recommend Bush for a spot in the Guard unit.
Texas Oil Business
Bush was rejected by the University of Texas Law School, but gained admittance to Harvard's Business School. After graduation, he retraced his father's footsteps and returned to Midland, Texas in 1975 to try his luck in the oil business. Bush started by searching deeds for other oilmen who wanted mineral rights. His first attempt at exploration, Arbusto Energy, failed to strike oil.
In 1977 Bush suddenly announced that would run for a seat in the U.S. Congress. Asked later about his renewed interest in politics, Bush said it was because President Jimmy Carter was trying to control natural gas prices and "I felt the United States was headed toward European-style socialism." A friend set up Bush for a date with Laura Welch, a librarian. She had grown up near him in Houston and even lived at the Chateaux Dijon, but they had never crossed paths. Three months later, he married her and they immediately hit the campaign trail. In 1982, they would have twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara. In a primary, Bush prevailed over the Republican Party's handpicked choice, Odessa mayor Jim Reese, who portrayed him as an elitist and a liberal. Bush then faced off against Democrat Kent Hance, who painted him as elite East Coast carpetbagger whose $400,000 in campaign contributions came from well-connected outsiders such as baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Bush played into Hance's hands by airing a campaign ad showing him jogging—an activity considered alien to many west Texans. Hance's campaign used a last-minute attack ad that accused Bush of having given free beer to college students in order to win their vote. Bush refrained from retaliating, and lost the election.
Bush raised money from prominent family friends to support an oil drilling fund. However, Arbusto was still unable to find oil. He merged it with another company, Spectrum 7, which soon was three million dollars in debt. Many independent oil companies were going broke. Midland, the financial center of the Texas oil country, was in decline. Bush needed a miracle to survive in the oil business and was finally bailed out by Harken Oil and Gas (later Harken Energy Corporation). Harken wanted the name of the vice-president's son on its board of directors so badly that it assumed Spectrum 7's debt, paid Bush $320,000 worth of stock options, and offered him a consulting position at $80,000 a year. Government regulators later investigated the deal after Harken, which had no previous experience in the Persian Gulf, landed a lucrative contract to drill for oil off the coast of Bahrain. Bush's decision to sell 212,140 shares of Harken for $848,560—just before the company announced poor quarterly earnings—was also scrutinized, but he was not charged with any wrongdoing.
In 1985, Bush was in the family's Kennebunkport, Maine, complex, when evangelist Billy Graham paid a visit. George W. Bush said he had a "personal conversion" and began taking Biblical teachings more seriously. A year later, on the morning after a raucous party celebrating his 40th birthday, Bush suddenly swore off drinking. He had not considered himself an alcoholic, and neither had friends or family, but all admitted he drank to excess on occasion. The announcement was a turning point.
In 1988, Bush worked on his father's presidential campaign as a "loyalty thermometer," taking the pulse of campaign workers and making sure that they were ready to deflect any criticism that was directed against his father. He also traveled far and wide soliciting donations and help from powerful people. Bush was instrumental in hiring decisions, but found Washington to be a pompous, petty place. He left shortly after the work for the transition team was finished. In the process, however, he had, he said, "earned his spurs" in his father's eyes. He would return to work on the 1992 campaign, playing an instrumental role in getting rid of Chief of Staff George Sununu, who had failed the loyalty test.
Bought Baseball Team
Late in 1988, Bush heard that the Texas Rangers, a struggling professional baseball club, was up for sale. He put together a group of 70 investors who contributed $14 million to buy the team at a bargain price. Bush's own investment of $606,000—part of his booty from the Harken stock sale—was the smallest of any investor. But Bush became the driving force and public face of the new ownership group. During the next five years, he was managing general partner of the franchise. He organized a successful campaign to get voters to approve a sales tax for a new publicly funded stadium paid with $135 million in bonds. The lucrative stadium deal turned the franchise around financially, since the owners got to keep the stadium when the bonds were paid off. In 1994, when Bush ran for governor, he put his share of the Rangers, along with his other assets, in a blind trust and resigned as managing general partner just before a players strike wiped out the World Series. His opponent, Ann Richards, accused Bush of benefiting from corporate welfare, but the charges didn't stick and Bush won the election. In 1998, his group sold the team, and got a personal windfall of $14.9 million. That was money he used to bankroll his run for the presidency.
His old friend, Joseph O'Neill, said of Bush's 1988 moves: "He really hated Washington, but it charged him up. Then, with the Rangers, he really hit stride. It took some hard times and big jobs to bring out the bigness in him." When his father lost to Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential race, Bush the younger felt free to resume acting on his long-shelved political ambitions. His celebrity as the most well known owner of the Rangers and as the son of a former president gave him an advantage as he ran for governor in 1994. But his opponent was the popular governor, Ann Richards. With the help of political strategist Karl Rove, nicknamed "Bush's brain," Bush stayed doggedly "on message" and remained affable and unresponsive to Richards's attacks.
Governor of Texas
Famous for delegating details and making connections, Bush used his newly honed management skills in the governor's office. Texas is also a weak-governor state, and Bush was adept at making compromises and taking credit. Bush's governing style in Texas depended on bi-partisanship, a political tradition in that state. Longtime Texas Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock, a Democrat, endorsed Bush in his 1998 bid for re-election. Bullock, a tough negotiator, had been a mentor for Bush in Texas politics. He did not earn a reputation as a hard-driving executive, often taking time out in the middle of the day to go jogging or play video games. He complained that he did not like to read long books and that he hated meetings and briefings. But Bush did work hard on education reform, championing public schools.
A key to Bush's popularity in Texas was his ability to appeal both to the old-guard "country club" Republicans, who tended to be more moderate, and the Christian Right, which had come to control the GOP in that state. Bush described himself as a born-again Christian, that helped him with the fundamentalist voters, but downplayed issues like his opposition to abortion, keeping his appeal to moderates. He would use that same formula to secure the GOP presidential nomination and keep the party together during the 2000 campaign.
Many months before the first presidential primaries were held for the 2000 election, Bush had virtually sewed up the GOP nomination by demonstrating his ability to attract millions in contributions. Business interests and Republican stalwarts closed ranks behind the Bush candidacy, making his nomination appear to be inevitable. To some critics such as Ivins, Bush was characterized as "a wholly owned subsidiary of corporate America." Washington Post writer Lois Romano and George Lardner Jr. said that "all along George W. harbored qualities that his father could only envy: a visceral and energetic charm, sound political instincts, an easy and convincing sense of humor, a common touch." But then a formidable challenger emerged out of a large pack of contenders.
Arizona Senator John McCain rode a wave of media and popular enthusiasm in early 2000 to provide a point of coalescence for those opposed to Bush's nomination. Sounding his key theme of campaign finance reform, McCain attacked Bush as being the creation of special interest and business contributors. Bush's campaigned was ambushed by McCain in New Hampshire, where the challenger pulled off an upset. The defeat prompted Bush to change the tone and tactics of his campaign. To win the South Carolina primary, Bush visited controversial Bob Jones University, a hotbed of far-right activism. He also launched a series of attacks on McCain's credibility. McCain, complaining about campaign dirty tricks, was soundly defeated, and Bush eventually won in enough other states to fend off McCain's challenge.
In the general election campaign, Bush selected Dick Cheney, who had been Secretary of Defense under his father, as his running mate. It signaled that Bush would surround himself with people he considered authoritative. Bush took an early lead in the polls but his opponent, Vice-President Al Gore, bounced back after the Democratic convention, when he started sounding a populist theme. The media had a field day with Bush's tendencies to malapropisms and Gore hammered at his foreign policy weaknesses and lack of experience. There was also some criticism of an alleged subliminal messages in a Bush campaign ad in which the word "Democrats" morphed into "rats" for a split-second. Bush immediately pulled the ads, and continued to display his people skills. "What Bush does with people is establish a direct, personal connection," wrote reporter Nicholas Lemann in the New Yorker. Lemann claims that Bush has "a talent for establishing a jovial connection with an unusually large number of people." The polls drew close and a series of three debates in October was expected to be decisive. Gore, portrayed as a man with more command of policies and details, was expected to win. However, Bush more than held his own, and his folksiness made Gore look stiff by comparison. In a second debate Gore was more agreeable, and the two candidates declared much common ground. However, Gore's dramatic mood shift made him appear insincere to some voters. Bush remained adamantly "on message," repeatedly sounding his issues of education reform, social security privatization, and tax cuts, while downplaying controversial issues such as abortion.
Although the 2000 presidential election was extremely close, and was finally resolved by a five to four decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, Bush emerged as the winner. Ivins had often said of Bush: "He is so lucky that if they tried to hang him, the rope would break."
Ivins, Molly and Lou Dubose, Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush, Vintage, 2000.
New Yorker, January 31, 2000.
Newsweek, November 22, 1999.
Texas Monthly, June 1999.
Time, June 21, 1999.
US News and World Report, January 22, 2001.
Washington Post, July 25, 1999; July 26, 1999; July 27, 1999; July 28, 1999; July 29, 1999; July 30, 1999; July 31, 1999. □
COPYRIGHT 2004 The Gale Group Inc.
Bush, George Walker
George Walker Bush, 1946–, 43d President of the United States (2001–9), b. New Haven, Conn. The eldest son of President George H. W. Bush, he was was raised in Texas and, like his father, attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., and Yale, graduating in 1968. He subsequently earned a Harvard M.B.A. (1975) and worked in the oil and gas industry (1975–86). Bush helped manage his father's 1988 presidential campaign, then became managing partner (1989–94) of the Texas Rangers baseball team.
Governor of Texas and Presidential Candidate
In 1994, Bush was elected governor of Texas, defeating the incumbent, Ann Richards. In office he won a reputation for being able to forge bipartisan coalitions with the conservative legislature's Democrats, and won passage of changes to tort laws and the welfare, public-school, and juvenile-justice systems. His most significant setback occurred when legislative Republicans deserted his tax-system overhaul. Bush was reelected in 1998 by a landslide.
In 1999, Bush officially began his campaign for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination, and quickly raised record campaign funding. Widely regarded as the favorite Republican hopeful, Bush won a majority of convention delegates in the primaries and became the GOP's candidate. Although he appeared generally to lead in the polls, he ultimately lost the popular vote to Democrat Al Gore. However, Bush secured the presidency with a victory in the electoral college when he won Florida by a narrow margin, having outlasted Gore's attempt to challenge the Florida vote-counting process in court. He thus became the first person in more than a century to win the presidency without achieving a plurality in the popular vote.
In his first months in office Bush moved quickly to win congressional approval of his tax-cut program, as well as to halt or modify the institution of various regulations proposed in the last weeks of the Clinton administration. Many of his proposed measures were generally conservative and probusiness, as in legislation to modify bankruptcy laws, proposals to fund church-run social welfare programs, and the abandonment of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and of the antiballistic missile (ABM) treaty (see disarmament, nuclear; Strategic Defense Initiative). In other areas, however, his administration pursued a less traditionally conservative course, for example, securing the establishment of federally mandated nationwide standardized testing for public school students. President Bush was also unusual in assigning greater policy-making and governing responsibilities to the vice president and members of the cabinet than earlier administrations had.
Devastating terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Sept., 2001, confronted Bush with a crisis without recent parallels. Some 3,000 lives were lost in a coordinated assault against the United States, but the perpetrators were a decentralized and elusive terrorist network, not a nation. Bush demanded that Afghanistan's Taliban government turn over Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born Islamic militant heading Al Qaeda, the group behind the attacks; the president adamantly refused to negotiate and said that no distinction would be made between terrorists and those who harbored them. The administration, which had previously pursued an essentially unilateralist foreign policy, now sought international support for military action against bin Laden and Afghanistan and for measures to cut off the financial resources of various terrorist groups. In addition, the Office of Homeland Security was created in the White House to coordinate government efforts to counter terrorist threats.
In October, Bush ordered air and then ground raids against Afghanistan, beginning a war whose immediate goals were the destruction of Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies. Afghani opposition forces, with U.S. support, ousted the Taliban and largely routed it and Al Qaeda by the end of 2001, but bin Laden remained uncaptured. The long-term course of the "war on terrorism" that Bush proclaimed, however, was less clear. A second unsettling challenge confronted his government in late 2001 when cases of anthrax resulted from spores that had been mailed by an unknown source to U.S. media and government offices in bioterror attacks. Despite their coincidence, the anthrax and Al Qaeda attacks appeared to be unrelated. In Dec., 2001, Bush officially announced the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty, but he also had agreed to further missile cuts with Russia, which were formalized in 2002 by the Moscow Treaty.
As sporadic fighting in Afghanistan continued, with U.S. forces devoted mainly to mopping-up operations, the administration provided military assistance to a number of nations as part of the war on terrorism. In February the administration announced plans for the largest American military buildup since the 1980s. That increase in defense spending and the loss of revenue due to the 2001 tax cut led to new budget deficits, beginning in 2002. Very strong public support for the president declined somewhat in 2002, largely over domestic issues, where the administration, as in its decision to make the Homeland Security Office a cabinet department (enacted in Nov., 2002; see Homeland Security, U.S. Dept. of) and in its support for increased regulations on business accounting practices, was largely following the lead of Congress in responding to public concerns.
As 2002 progressed, the administration took a forceful stand against Iraq over its alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction and its resistance to UN arms inspections. Congress authorized the use of the military against Iraq, and the United States continued to build up its forces in the Middle East. Although in November the Security Council passed a resolution offering Iraq a "final opportunity" to cooperate on arms inspections, which subsequently resumed, it became clear that Bush was determined on a course of "pre-emptive war" to prevent Iraq from developing or possessing weapons of mass destruction that might someday be used against the United States. This use of pre-emptive war to protect the United States, often called the "Bush doctrine," was adopted by the administration in its National Security Strategy (2002). A significant shift in official U.S. policy, it was the result in part of the September 11th attacks.
Bush faced a second crisis involving weapons of mass destruction beginning in Oct., 2002, when North Korea admitted it had a nuclear weapons program. The administration initially responded by ending fuel shipments required under a 1994 agreement and refusing to negotiate until the North Koreans complied completely with their responsibilities under that agreement (neither they nor the United States had fully done so). Subsequently, however, North Korea engaged in a series of well-publicized moves, including withdrawing from the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, that were designed to enable it to resume the development of nuclear weapons. Faced with pressure from North Korea's neighbors for a negotiated solution, the administration adopted a somewhat less confrontational tone beginnin in 2003, but the situation remained unresolved.
The Nov., 2002, elections resulted in unexpected, if small, gains for the Republicans, who secured control of both houses of Congress, and enhanced the political strength of the president, who had campaigned vigorously in the off-year election. In December, Bush ordered the deployment of a ballistic missile defense system designed to prevent so-called rogue missile attacks, and the next month he proposed a new round of tax cuts, ostensibly as an economic stimulus. Many criticized the cuts as inappropriate because of the increasing budget deficits and because the most significant cuts would not occur immediately.
In early 2003, Bush, insisting that Iraq must prove it had no weapons of mass destruction or face being disarmed, pushed for an end to inspections and for the use of military force against Iraq. Despite strong opposition from many European allies as well as Russia, China, and most other nations, Bush demanded in March that Iraqi president Hussein step down or face invasion, and on March 19, U.S. and British forces commenced their attack. By mid-April the allies were largely in control of the major Iraqi cities and largely had turned their attention to the establishment of a new Iraqi government and the rebuilding of Iraq. No weapons of mass destruction, however, were found by allied forces after the war, a fact that forced the president to appoint (Feb., 2004) a bipartisan commission to investigate U.S. intelligence failures.
Bush won congressional approval of his new tax cuts (albeit at a reduced level) in May, and those cuts combined with the effects of the slowly recovering economy and the costs of the Iraq invasion and occupation produced a record budget deficit of $374 billion. In mid-2003 the administration signed free-trade agreements with Singapore and Chile, and a Central American agreement was negotiated at year's end. Negotiations continued on a Free Trade Area of the Americas (though they suffered a setback in 2005), and additional bilateral trade agreements were signed later in the administration's tenure. A Medicare overhaul bill also was finalized in late 2003; it included a prescription drug benefit for the first time.
In 2004 several U.S. and British investigative bodies criticized several of the rationales for invading Iraq; a Senate committee reported that much of the CIA's assessment of Iraq was not based on sound intelligence. The administration was also embarrassed by revelations in May that U.S. forces had abused Iraqi prisoners, actions that may have been engendered by U.S. policy changes after Sept., 2001, on how such prisoners could be treated. In July the commission investigating the terror attacks of Sept., 2001, called for a major reorganization of U.S. intelligence agencies. The president publicly supported the recommendation, but the legislation languished when House Republicans passed an alternative, and a reorganization plan was not passed until after the November elections.
Early in 2004 Bush came out in favor of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, and he pushed unsuccessfully for a senatorial vote on such an amendment in July, a move that prefigured his appeal to socially conservative voters in the fall presidential campaign. Campaigning also as a war president, Bush defeated Democratic senator John Kerry in the Nov., 2004, presidential contest. He also secured increases in the Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, which subsequently (2005) enabled him to win passage of laws that increased the restrictions on filing for bankruptcy and on filing class-action lawsuits. In other areas, however, such as changes to social security (2005) and immigration law (2006), Bush's electoral victory did not translate readily into an ability to win passage of legislation.
Less than a year after his reelection, the slow, often inadequate government response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina (Aug., 2005) seemed to catalyze public dissatisfaction with the president. Bush was dealt an additional setback by conservative allies in October when his nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court was attacked, and she was forced to withdraw. Conservatives were subsequently strongly supportive, however, of his nomination of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Court.
The administration suffered further embarrassment when I. Lewis Libby, Jr., Cheney's chief of staff, was charged with (and, in 2007, convicted of) lying to and obstructing an investigation into the leaking of a CIA officer's name, and it was subsequently revealed (2006) that the president ordered the release of other previously classified information by Libby. (In 2006, however, it was disclosed that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage had first revealed the CIA officer's name, ostensibly inadvertently.)
The revelation (Dec., 2005) that the National Security Agency had, at Bush's order, wiretapped international communications originating in the United States without obtaining the legally required warrants also stirred controversy, particularly when officials justified it by asserting that the president's constitutional powers to defend the United States were not subject to congressional legislation. That argument subsequently appeared to be undercut by the Supreme Court, which ruled (June, 2006) that the president could not establish military commissions to try terror suspects held at Guantánamo because he had not been authorized by Congress to do so. In Sept., 2006, however, Congress passed a bill designed to answer the Court's objections, though many critics objected to the legislation because it stripped terror suspects of habeas corpus and other rights. (That portion of the bill was later ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.)
As the Nov., 2006, mid-term elections approached, the conduct of and progress in the war in Iraq loomed as a significant national issue, though somewhat less so than a series of congressional scandals, a matter not under the president's control. Nonetheless, the loss of Republican control of the House and Senate were seen as a referendum on the war, and the day after the election Bush accepted Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation, despite having pledged the week before that Rumsfeld would serve until Bush's second term ended.
In December the congressionally commissioned Iraq Study Group recommended increasing Iraqi security forces involved in the war there, diminishing U.S. combat forces, making diplomatic overtures to Iran and Syria, and other changes; many of the recommendations were regarded questionably by military experts. Bush opted (Jan., 2007) for a temporary increase in U.S. forces aimed mainly at establishing security in Baghdad and destroying insurgent power centers elsewhere in Iraq. By its end in mid-2008, the "surge" appeared to have been successful.
Despite confrontations with Democrats in Congress over the war, Bush won passage (May, 2005) of a war funding bill that did not include troop withdrawal deadlines. He failed, however, to win passage the next month of an overhaul of U.S. immigration law. His commutation (July) of the prison sentence of Lewis Libby (the vice president's former chief of staff, who had been convicted of obstruction of justice; see Cheney, Dick) was applauded by conservatives but otherwise met with disapproval from Americans. In late 2007 and early 2008 his administration engaged in efforts intended to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Beginning in 2007 a long-running housing boom collapsed as housing construction and mortgage lending contracted; combined with a more general subsequent credit crunch and a rise in energy costs, this resulted in a recession that began in Dec., 2007. As the problems continued into 2008, the Bush administration sought to counter the economic crisis with income tax rebates, support for innovative Federal Reserve actions to ease credit, and a housing bill designed to shore up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (corporations that guarantee U.S. mortgages) and to provide mortgage relief for some homeowners.
Despite these measures, financial conditions continued to worsen, and in Oct., 2008, as the financial system seemed on the verge of disruption, the administration won passage of a $700 billion financial rescue package that was used primarily to recapitalize the banking system. Bush also later agreed (Dec., 2008) to provide loans to U.S. automobile manufacturers struggling as a result of the recession that began a year before. His second term ended on a much bleaker note that it began, with the nation suffering from its worst recession since the early 1980s and Bush's approval ratings at a record low for a president (in sharp contrast to the record high ratings he received in the weeks after the Sept., 2001, attacks. He was succeeded as president by Democrat Barack Obama, whose election was due in part to Americans' unhappiness with the situation their country found itself in during the last year of Bush's presidency. In 2010, the former president joined with his predecessor to raise funds for the victims of the Jan., 2010, Haitian earthquake.
See his A Charge to Keep (2000) and Decision Points (2010), and his biography of President G. H. W. Bush, 41: Portrait of My Father (2014); studies of the 2000 election by H. Gillman (2001) and the Washington Post political staff (2001); studies of his presidency by R. Draper (2007), J. Goldsmith (2007), C. Savage (2007), S. McClellan (2008), B. Woodward (2002, 2004, 2006, and 2008), J. E. Zelizer, ed. (2010), T. H. Anderson (2011), and P. Baker (2013); P. and R. Schweizer, The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty (2004).
Copyright The Columbia University Press
Bush, George Walker
BUSH, GEORGE WALKER
The administration of George Walker Bush, the forty-third president of the United States, has been a study in contrasts. On the one hand, he has shown a fierce determination to protect the interests of the United States and its citizens following the september 11th attacks, in which terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center in New York City and seriously damaged the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. On the other hand, his administration has been shrouded in controversy, beginning from the day of his election on November 7, 2000, and he has been heavily criticized for a slow economy in the early 2000s.
For years, Bush's public identity was inextricably tied to his famous father, george h.w. bush. They are the first father and son to be elected presidents since john adams and john quincy adams. In 1994, the son of the former Republican president established an identity of his own when he defeated incumbent Ann Richards in a hotly contested political race to become the forty-sixth governor of Texas. Convincing Texas voters that he was a strong politician in his own right, Bush claimed a victory that he could call his own. Six years later, he was part of an extremely controversial presidential election when he defeated then-Vice-President albert gore to win the presidency.
Born in Connecticut on July 6, 1946, and raised in Texas, George Walker Bush has a well-documented lineage. His grandfather, Prescott Bush, a Connecticut resident who worked on Wall Street, was elected to the Senate. His father, George H.W. Bush, earned his fortune as an oilman in Texas, entered politics, became director of the central intelligence agency, and eventually achieved the country's highest office as president. George W. Bush, the oldest of five Bush children, retraced his father's early career. Like his father, he attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and Yale University.
After graduating from Yale, the young Bush continued to be his father's shadow. He learned how to fly a combat aircraft and then became an oilman. He completed a 53-week program with the Texas Air national guard, learning to fly F-102s and earning the rank of lieutenant, and then he returned home looking for a new challenge when he was not called to fight in Vietnam. He spent time in Houston holding various short-term jobs, including a stint at a program called Pull for Youth for underprivileged kids. Possessing his father's drive and fierce determination to make something of himself, Bush attended Harvard Business School, returned to Texas with an M.B.A., became an oilman, and ventured into politics. At age 32, he ran for Congress in west Texas but was defeated by six points. He was successful in the oil business, however, and within ten years of working in the industry earned his first million dollars.
"Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them."
—George W. Bush
Bush's biggest oil venture, however, proved controversial. During the late 1970s, he built a small, thriving company called Bush Exploration. When the energy market turned soft in the early 1980s, Bush Exploration, like many oil enterprises, floundered. In 1983, Bush merged his outfit with Spectrum 7; three years later Spectrum 7 was bought by Harken Energy. Bush's supporters said the sale was the work of a shrewd dealmaker, while others—including journalists from conservative and liberal publications—suspected that the deal came about because of Bush's father's political contacts. "Many oil companies went belly-up during that time," reported Stephen Pizzo of Mother Jones. "But Spectrum 7 had one asset the others lacked—the son of the vice-president. Rescue came in 1986 in the form of Harken Energy. Harken absorbed Spectrum, and, in the process, Bush got $600,000 worth of Harken stock in return for his Spectrum shares. He also won a lucrative consulting contract and stock options. In all, the deal would put well more than $1 million in his pocket over the next few years—even though Harken itself lost millions." Bush came under fire again in 1990. Time reported, "about a month before Iraq invaded Kuwait, young Bush sold 66 percent of his Harken stake (or 212,140 shares) at the top of the market for nearly $850,000, which represented a 200 percent profit on his original stake." President Bush balked at the allegations of impropriety. "The media ought to be ashamed of itself for what they're doing," he said. Meanwhile, the younger Bush dismissed the criticism "claiming something close to penury," according to Newsweek.
While speculation swirled in the media about his oil dealings, Bush left business for politics. He helped manage his father's 1988 presidential campaign, moving with his wife and twin daughters to Washington, where he worked closely with Lee Atwater. By all accounts, Bush did not enjoy the experience. "He remembers finding Washington a 'hostile environment,'" reported Time. "The campaign operation was often a mud wrestle among contending egos." Confessed the young Bush, "I was the loyalty thermometer." But he gained respect for handling volatile diplomatic matters, such as the firing of chief of staff John Sununu, and for swiftly taking care of business.
After the election, Bush wasted no time getting back to Texas, where he promptly found a new venture—baseball. The sport offered Bush the first honest chance at independence. In a matter of months, he successfully organized a coalition of wealthy investors to purchase American League's Texas Rangers, and he assumed a role as managing partner. Not only did Bush rally support to bring major league baseball to Dallas, but he helped to promote the team and boost attendance. Riding the wave of popularity that arose from his success with the Rangers, Bush decided it was an ideal time to try his hand at local politics.
George H.W. and Barbara had both discouraged their oldest son from entering politics as a full-time career until he had first secured his financial future. Even after Bush earned a small fortune in the oil industry, and with the promise
of more to come from his baseball investments, his mother remained wary of his chances in the 1994 gubernatorial race. Like other political observers, Barbara Bush believed that Texans were not ready to retire their quick-witted Democratic governor Ann Richards. Nevertheless, Bush jumped into the race, while his younger brother, Jeb, did the same in Florida. The brothers were, of course, highly skilled campaigners, having served as aides to their father since the age of 18.
Bush's strategy was to run an intensely focused and positive, issue-oriented campaign. When Richards attacked his credibility with barbs like "If he didn't have his daddy's name, he wouldn't amount to anything," Bush countered with pleasantries. "I don't have to erode her likability," he told the New York Times. "I have to erode her electability. "And when Richards called him "some jerk," Bush replied, "The last time I was called a jerk was at Sam Houston Elementary School in Midland, Texas. I'm not going to call the Governor names. I'm going to elevate this debate to a level where Texans want it." That debate focused on welfare reform, a crack-down on crime (especially concerning juveniles), increased autonomy and state financing for local school districts, and personal responsibility. As he campaigned, it was clear to observers that he was not the spitting political image of his father. As he told local audiences, "Let Texans run Texas." It was a message that appealed to the proud Texans. And despite the popularity Ann Richards had enjoyed during her reign as governor, Bush, to the surprise of many, won with 53.5 percent of the vote. Twenty thousand people attended Bush's inauguration in Austin, including the famous preacher Billy Graham, legendary baseball pitcher Nolan Ryan, movie star Chuck Norris, and, of course, George H.W. and Barbara Bush.
After only a year in office, Bush was hailed as the most popular big-state governor in the country. In 1998 he won reelection in a landslide. His vote-getting among minorities impressed national Republicans. Bush entered the 2000 presidential election race in 1999, eventually raising the largest amount of money—more than $100 million—for any presidential race in U.S. history. His support largely demoralized the field of potential Republican candidates. He later defeated Senator john mccain in a series of primary elections and became the GOP's candidate in 2000.
The race pitted Bush against Al Gore, who had served as vice president for two terms under william jefferson clinton. Bush, who did not have extensive experience in foreign policy, chose former Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney as his running mate. Despite early leads for the Bush camp, the race was largely deadlocked as the November 7 election date approached. On the day of the election, early results supported Gore, and late in the afternoon several media outlets pronounced Gore the probable victor. Late returns, however, supported Bush, and by the end of the day he had apparently won the election through the electoral college, despite the fact that Gore had won a majority of the popular vote.
Gore immediately contested the results, requesting a recount of votes in the state of Florida, where voting procedures caused a great deal of controversy. For a month after the elections, the nation observed high profile wrangling from both sides as politicians and the courts sought to sort out the election fiasco. The U.S. Supreme Court in bush v. gore, 531 U.S. 98, 121 S. Ct. 525, 148 L. Ed. 2d 388 (2000) overturned an order by the Florida Supreme Court requiring a recounting of ballots in several counties. The ruling, one of the most controversial ever, allowed Bush to be certified as the winner.
Bush's first nine months in office were largely unremarkable as he sought to pass education reform bills and new tax legislation. The events of September 11, 2001, however, irrevocably changed the Bush administration and the public's perceptions of him. On September 20, 2001, he delivered a speech to Congress regarding the U.S. response to the terrorist attacks, and several commentators likened the speech to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's speech following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Months after the attack, U.S. forces, in conjunction with U.S. allies, toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which had been suspected of harboring terrorists. Bush initiated the largest reorganization of the federal government since world war ii in an effort to allow the United States to defend itself against terrorist attacks. In 2002, Congress approved the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Pub. L. No. 107-296, 116 Stat. 2135 (codified as amended in scattered sections of 6 U.S.C.A.), which created the homeland
security department and reorganized several existing agencies. Throughout 2002 and 2003, the Bush administration focused much of its attention on Iraq, which was also at the center of attention under the administration of the elder Bush. More than 250,000 troops had been amassed in the Persian Gulf by March 2003 in preparation with a possible showdown with Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. The United States attacked Iraq on March 19, 2003.
Bush has had less success addressing domestic issues. The United States had experienced economic growth under former President Clinton, but this trend came to an end during the Bush administration. Whether or not the cause of the economic problems were his administration's problems—his father's administration also suffered from a sluggish economy—the economic outlook of the nation throughout the early twenty-first century was bleak. Bush announced in 2003 a federal budget deficit of $304 billion, an all-time high. Moreover, he anticipated a deficit for 2004 of $307 billion.
Frum, David. 2003. The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush. New York: Random House.
Kettl, Donald F. 2003. Team Bush: Leadership Lessons from the Bush White House. New York: McGraw Hill.
Lind, Michael. 2003. Made in Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics. New York: Basic Books.
COPYRIGHT 2005 The Gale Group, Inc.
Bush, George W.
George W. Bush
Born: July 6, 1946
New Haven, Connecticut
American president, politician, and businessman
In 2000 George W. Bush (1946–) became the forty-third president of the United States, marking a rise to the top American political office in a relatively short political career. Bush's victory was the second time in American history that the son of a former president took on the world's most powerful political job.
A privileged childhood
George Walker Bush was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on July 6, 1946, to Barbara and George Herbert Walker Bush. His parents moved the family to Texas when George W. was two years old. There his father made a fortune in the oil business. As the eldest of six children, George W. was expected to shine. He was an all-around athlete, a fair student, and an occasional troublemaker in school—he was once punished for painting a mustache on his face during music class. In seventh grade, he ran for class president and won.
While his family lived in Houston, Texas, George W. was sent back east to enroll at Phillips Academy, a private school in Andover, Massachusetts. Although George W. became actively involved in sports, playing baseball, basketball, and football, his high school academic record was far from exceptional. However, through his family's powerful connections, Bush landed a spot at Yale University in Connecticut, where both his father and grandfather had attended.
At Yale, Bush was a popular student. He became president of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity and enjoyed socializing, watching and playing football, and dating. Grades were not a high priority, and because of his mischievous behavior, Bush had a few minor run-ins with the law. Despite his background of privilege, Bush became more at ease with all kinds of people in college. "I was never one to feel guilty," he said about his wealth and family connections. "I feel lucky."
After graduating from Yale in 1968, Bush moved back to Houston where he worked for an agribusiness company (a company that produces farm products and equipment) and for a mentoring program (a program in which people counsel or guide others). But the recent graduate was unfocused. Later, after beginning his political career, questions arose about how he had managed to avoid serving in the Vietnam War (1965–75; a war fought in Vietnam in which the United States supported South Vietnam in its fight against a takeover by North Vietnam). He was a member of a Texas Air National Guard unit stationed at Ellington Air Force Base. The unit included other sons of powerful people. At the time, the National Guard had a long waiting list of young men eager to avoid combat service in Vietnam during the war, but Bush managed to sail through easily.
Texas oilman and the beginning of a political career
Eventually Bush decided to continue his education. He was not accepted by the University of Texas Law School. Instead, he entered Harvard's Business School. After graduation, he retraced his father's footsteps and returned to Midland, Texas, in 1975 to try his luck in the oil business. Bush's first attempt to strike oil was not successful.
In 1977, after the unsuccessful business venture, Bush became interested in politics and suddenly announced that he would run for a seat in the U.S. Congress. At the same time, Bush met Laura Welch; three months later, they were married. Later, they would have twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara. As a candidate for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Bush campaigned as a conservative Republican but lost the close election. Afterwards, Bush turned his focus back to his oil company. By this time, gas prices were falling sharply, and the oil business was not doing well. By the mid-1980s, Bush had left the oil business, but not before selling his stock in the company for nearly $850,000.
In 1988, Bush worked on his father's presidential campaign, traveling far and wide to raise money and gain support from powerful people. Bush found Washington to be an unwelcoming place, and he returned to Texas after his father won the presidency. In the process, however, he had, he said, "earned his spurs" in his father's eyes. Later, he returned to Washington to work on his father's failed 1992 presidential campaign.
From baseball to the governor's mansion
Late in 1988, after returning to Texas, Bush put together a group of seventy investors and bought the Texas Rangers, a struggling professional baseball team. Bush quickly emerged as the leader of the investment group. The team soon became successful, and in 1998 the investment group sold the Rangers, earning Bush more than $14 million. The money would later be used to fund his campaign for president.
When his father lost to Bill Clinton (1946–) in the 1992 presidential race, George W. decided to try for political office once again. His status as the most well-known owner of the Rangers and as the son of a former president gave him an advantage as he campaigned for governor of Texas. He won the 1994 election, defeating incumbent governor Aan Richards.
Governor of Texas
Famous for making connections, Bush used his management skills in the governor's office, but his political personality still needed some work. He complained that he did not like to read long books and that he hated meetings and briefings. Regardless, Governor Bush did work hard supporting education reform and public schools.
A key to Bush's popularity in Texas was his ability to appeal to both moderate Republicans and the state's Christian conservatives (people who resist change and prefer to keep traditions), who had come to control the more conservative side of the Republican Party. Bush described himself as a born-again Christian, something that helped him with the conservative voters. He also downplayed issues like his stand against abortion (a woman's right to end a pregnancy) in an attempt to appeal to a wider range of voters. He used that same formula to win the Republican presidential nomination in 2000.
The 2000 presidential campaign
After winning the Republican nomination, Bush selected Dick Cheney (1941–) as his vice presidential running mate. Cheney had been secretary of defense under Bush's father. Choosing a respected and experienced running mate showed that Bush would surround himself with people who were capable of helping him run the country.
Bush had an early lead, but his opponent, Democratic vice president Al Gore (1948–), bounced back. The media focused on Bush's tendencies to misuse words in speeches. Meanwhile, Gore, an experienced foreign diplomat and two-time vice president, criticized Bush for his weaknesses with foreign policy.
Voting day came and went with no clear winner. Problems with ballots in several counties in Florida prompted ballot recounts. Weeks later, after a five-to-four decision of the U.S. Supreme Court ended the recounts, Bush finally emerged as the winner.
A president challenged
Fewer than nine months into office, Bush's leadership skills were tested like no other president before him. On September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked four U.S. jetliners, crashing one into rural Pennsylvania, another into the Pentagon building outside Washington, D.C., and two into the World Trade Center buildings in New York City. The tragedy, which killed thousands and destroyed the World Trade Center, prompted Bush to announce a "War on Terrorism." The new war became the focus of Bush's presidency.
For More Information
Ivins, Molly, and Lou Dubose. Shrub. New York: Random House, 2000.
Minutaglio, Bill. First Son. New York: Times Books, 1999.
Mitchell, Elizabeth. W: Revenge of the Bush Dynasty. New York: Hyperion, 2000.
COPYRIGHT 2003 The Gale Group, Inc.
Bush, George W.
Bush, George W. 1946-
George Walker Bush, the forty-third president of the United States, presided over the country during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and led the nation in the resulting overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
The son of George H. W. Bush, the forty-first president of the United States, George W. was born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1946 and grew up in Texas before attending the Philips Academy prep school in Andover, Massachusetts. In 1968 Bush earned a bachelor’s degree from Yale University, his father’s alma mater. After serving in the Texas Air National Guard, Bush received a Masters of Business Administration degree from Harvard Business School in 1975 and moved to Texas, where he was an executive in a series of oil-exploration ventures. He also ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978.
In 1989 Bush bought a stake in the Texas Rangers baseball team and became the managing general partner of the team. The public visibility of this position helped him secure the Republican nomination in the 1994 Texas race for governor. He subsequently defeated the incumbent Democrat, Ann Richards, in the general election.
After being reelected as governor in 1998 by a wide margin, Bush became the leading Republican contender for the U.S. presidency. Fighting off a strong primary challenge from Senator John McCain of Arizona, Bush won the GOP nomination. During the 2000 campaign against Bill Clinton’s vice president, Al Gore, Bush carefully positioned himself as a “compassionate conservative,” who supported education reform, tax cuts, and private accounts in Social Security.
On election night Gore won the popular vote, but it appeared that Bush had won the Electoral College and thus the presidency. However, Gore’s aides discovered that Florida was essentially tied, and the vice president retracted the concession he had offered Bush. Gore’s campaign quickly requested hand recounts in several counties and the election shifted into a legal battle. The Florida Supreme Court issued a decision allowing the results of such recounts to be incorporated into statewide vote totals, but the U.S. Supreme Court halted the recounts in a controversial 5 to 4 decision. With Bush still ahead in the official state count, the election was over. Bush and his father became the second father and son to both serve as president, following John Adams and John Quincy Adams.
Some observers expected Bush to govern as a centrist and seek bipartisan cooperation in response to the circumstances of his election. Instead, Bush, a self-proclaimed conservative, pushed ahead with his campaign plan for a sizeable tax cut, which was passed into law by June 2001 with significant Democratic support.
Then on September 11 of that year, members of the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization struck the United States, flying jetliners into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and crashing a fourth jet in a field in Pennsylvania. More than three thousand Americans were killed. After this national trauma, the public united behind Bush, pushing his approval ratings to unprecedented levels. Within months, U.S. air strikes helped the Northern Alliance overthrow the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which had provided safe haven to Al-Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden and his followers. However, the United States failed to capture bin Laden.
In the fall of 2002 the Bush administration began to push for an invasion of Iraq, arguing that Iraq’s leader Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator who posed a grave threat to the United States due to his possession of weapons of mass destruction and links to Al-Qaeda. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair secured a United Nations Security Council resolution calling on Saddam to disarm and submit to weapons inspections. Yet Saddam continued to resist the inspections, and in response the United States and the United Kingdom called for military action against Iraq. Independent observers and many foreign countries questioned the Bush administration’s claims about Saddam’s possession of weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al-Qaeda. The United States and the United Kingdom failed to secure a second United Nations resolution approving military action against Iraq, but decided to invade without it, beginning the attack on March 20, 2003. Saddam’s regime quickly fell with minimal casualties, and Saddam himself was captured on December 13.
The occupation of Iraq proved more difficult than anticipated. A governing regime was set up, and elections were held, but an insurgency composed of disaffected Iraqis and foreign jihadists became an increasingly deadly threat to coalition forces. By spring 2006, more than two thousand U.S. troops had died in Iraq, and a majority of Americans told pollsters that the war had been a mistake. In addition, convincing evidence that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction at the time of the invasion was never found, nor was hard evidence of operational links between Iraq and Al-Qaeda. Over time, Bush increasingly emphasized the cause of creating a democracy in Iraq, which had received relatively little attention before the war.
In the domestic arena, Bush passed several major initiatives after September 11, including the No Child Left Behind Act (which enacted a new accountability regime of school testing), a second tax cut, and a bill adding prescription-drug coverage to Medicare.
In 2004 he defeated his Democratic opponent, Senator John Kerry, in a reelection campaign that emphasized security concerns and such social issues as gay marriage. Bush won 51 percent of the vote and 286 electoral votes in the narrowest presidential reelection victory since Woodrow Wilson in 1916.
The first major initiative of Bush’s second term was an effort to create private investment accounts in Social Security, but his proposal failed to gain significant momentum in Congress. By spring 2006 Bush’s approval ratings had plunged to less than 40 percent; conservative discontent with his presidency had grown; and calls for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq had begun to mount. However, Al-Qaeda had not successfully attacked the United States again and economic growth remained relatively strong.
SEE ALSO Al-Qaeda; bin Laden, Osama; Bush, George H. W.; Electoral College; Hussein, Saddam; Iraq-U.S. War; Republican Party; September 11, 2001; Taliban; United Nations
Boston Globe Web site. Campaign 2004: George W. Bush. http://www.boston.com/news/politics/president/bush/.
Washington Post Web site. 2004 election: George W. Bush. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/politics/elections/2004/georgewbush/.
COPYRIGHT 2008 Thomson Gale
Bush, George W.
© World Encyclopedia 2005, originally published by Oxford University Press 2005.