Bush, George W

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George W. Bush

Born July 6, 1946

New Haven, Connecticut

President of the United States during the 2003 Iraq War

"The history, the logic, and the facts lead to one conclusion: Saddam Hussein's regime is a grave and gathering danger."

George W. Bush in a speech before the UN General Assembly.

George W. Bush served as president of the United States during the 2003 Iraq War. He is the son of former President George H. W. Bush (see entry), who led the United States during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The younger Bush launched a second war against Iraq in March 2003 with the goal of removing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein (see entry) from power. The younger Bush described Hussein as a brutal dictator who possessed weapons of mass destruction and could provide such weapons to international terrorist groups.

The war succeeded in liberating Iraq from Hussein's rule, but a massive search failed to uncover any weapons of mass destruction. In addition, U.S. troops struggled to maintain security in the face of violent Iraqi resistance during the reconstruction process. Considering the postwar problems, some analysts questioned the Bush administration's ability to create a stable, democratic Iraq.

Enjoys a privileged upbringing

George Walker Bush was born on July 6, 1946, in New Haven, Connecticut, but his family moved to Texas when he was two years old. He grew up in Midland and Houston while his father, George Herbert Walker Bush, made a fortune in the oil industry. A strong-willed boy, George sometimes proved difficult for his mother, Barbara Pierce Bush, to handle. In elementary school and junior high, George was a popular student who earned only mediocre grades. He also was a huge baseball fan who enjoyed playing Little League and memorizing the statistics of his favorite major-league players.

In 1961 Bush was sent back east to attend Phillips Academy, a prestigious prep school located in Andover, Massachusetts. He became known for his outgoing nature and good humor in the face of the school's competitive atmosphere. He played a variety of sports while in school. Although his grades remained average, he used his family connections to get into Yale University in 1964. Two years later his father was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. During his years at Yale, Bush served as the president of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. He enjoyed going to parties, drinking, playing football, and dating, but did not show much concern about his academic performance.

After earning his bachelor's degree in 1968, Bush received a coveted spot in the Texas Air National Guard. At that time, thousands of young American men were being drafted into the U.S. military to serve in the Vietnam War. Since the National Guard provided an opportunity to complete military service without much danger of being sent to Vietnam, many young men tried to secure positions in this branch of the service. Some critics claimed that Bush used his family connections to move ahead of others on the waiting list.

In any case, Bush trained as a pilot in F-102 fighter jets and was eventually stationed at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston. Bush has long claimed that he fulfilled all of his National Guard service obligations. But during his years as president, opponents charged that he missed months of duty so that he could help out a family friend's political campaign.

Finds religion and changes course

In 1970 Bush's father campaigned for a seat in the U.S. Senate but lost the election. The elder Bush was later appointed U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and chairman of the Republican National Committee. In 1972 George W. Bush went to Harvard Business School, earning a master's degree in 1975. He then returned to Texas, where he met and married librarian Laura Welch. The couple eventually had twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna. In 1977 Bush surprised many people by announcing his intention to run for a seat in the U.S. Congress. He won the Republican primary but lost the election.

Bush then began working in the oil industry. But his company, Arbusto Energy, failed to strike oil and experienced severe financial problems over the next few years. In 1980 his father was elected vice president of the United States under President Ronald Reagan. The following year Texas-based Harken Energy Corporation, which was run by powerful friends of his father, purchased Arbusto Energy and offered Bush a job on its board of directors. Critics claimed that Harken bailed out the younger Bush's struggling company so that the vice president would steer lucrative government contracts its way. The deal led to an investigation by government regulators, but no charges of wrongdoing were ever filed.

In 1985 George W. Bush met with evangelist Billy Graham at the Bush family home in Kennebunkport, Maine. He later claimed that the meeting led to a "personal conversion" and he became a born-again Christian. A year later, following a raucous fortieth birthday party, Bush quit drinking alcohol. After he became president, he explained that discovering his religious faith marked a major turning point in his life. "I had a drinking problem," he admitted, as quoted in The Right Man. "Right now I should be in a bar in Texas, not the Oval Office. There is only one reason that I am in the Oval Office and not in a bar. I found faith. I found God."

Elected governor of Texas

In 1988 Bush worked on his father's successful presidential election campaign. He then organized a group of investors to buy the struggling Texas Rangers baseball franchise. Over the next several years, Bush became the most visible of the team's owners. He helped turn the franchise around by arranging a lucrative deal in which taxpayers financed a new stadium for the team.

In 1991 Bush's father led the United States during the Persian Gulf War. The war succeeded in forcing the Middle Eastern nation of Iraq to withdraw its army from neighboring Kuwait after only six weeks of fighting. Despite the impressive military victory, President Bush faced criticism for his decision to end the war before U.S. troops reached Baghdad, which allowed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to remain in power. In addition, many Americans felt that the president did not understand their concerns about the U.S. economy and other domestic issues. In 1992 the elder Bush lost his bid for reelection to Democrat Bill Clinton.

With his father's career effectively over, George W. Bush felt free to pursue his own political ambitions. In 1994 he resigned from the Rangers job to run for governor of Texas. After securing the Republican Party nomination, he defeated the incumbent Ann Richards with 53.5 percent of the vote. As governor, Bush became known for his ability to build coalitions and reach compromises with members of the opposing political party. His major accomplishment was reforming public education in Texas.

In 1998 Bush was reelected governor of Texas with 68.6 percent of the vote. Later that year his group of investors sold the Rangers baseball franchise. Bush earned nearly $15 million on the deal, which he used to run for president of the United States in 2000. As a presidential candidate, Bush appealed to fiscally conservative Republicans as well as to socially conservative Christians. He also enjoyed support from big business, especially the oil industry. He collected more campaign contributions than any previous candidate, which was a big factor in his victory over U.S. Senator John McCain in the Republican primary.

Becomes president in a disputed election

During the presidential race, Bush presented himself as a "compassionate conservative." He was criticized for his lack of experience in foreign policy, his close ties to special interest groups and big business, and his tendency to misspeak and jumble his words. But many praised his folksy appeal, which they claimed made his opponent, Vice President Al Gore, seem stiff by comparison. Some voters also appreciated the Bush campaign's focus on domestic issues like education reform and tax cuts.

The 2000 election turned out to be the closest in American history. Gore won the popular vote (the actual number of individuals who cast their ballots) by more than five hundred thousand. But Bush won a narrow victory in the electoral college (an institution that converts the popular vote into delegates awarded from each state). Questions arose about the process used to count votes in Florida, where Bush's brother Jeb served as governor. These questions were ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, which voted 5 to 4 to award Bush the presidency.

Upon taking office, Bush surrounded himself with an administration full of experienced politicians, including Vice President Dick Cheney (see entry), Secretary of State Colin Powell (see entry), and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (see entry). Still, Bush had trouble finding his stride during his first eight months in office. The United States entered an economic recession, and a wave of corporate scandals caused a decline in the stock market. But then a national crisis caused the American people to rally around the president. On September 11, 2001, members of a radical Islamic terrorist group called Al Qaeda hijacked four commercial airplanes and crashed them into the World Trade Center towers in New York City, the Pentagon building near Washington, D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania. Nearly three thousand people were killed in the attacks.

That evening, Bush appeared on national television to reassure the American people. "Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom, came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist attacks," he stated. "Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining."

In the wake of September 11, Bush announced a global war on terrorism that initially focused on the people directly responsible for the attacks, Muslim cleric (religious leader) Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terrorist organization. U.S. intelligence experts quickly tracked bin Laden to Afghanistan, a country on the outskirts of the Middle East that was led by a radical Islamic government called the Taliban. The Bush administration demanded that the Taliban turn over bin Laden and members of Al Qaeda so that they could be punished for organizing the September 11 terrorist attacks. But the Taliban viewed bin Laden as a hero to the fundamentalist Islamic cause and refused to cooperate.

In October 2001 Bush launched Operation Enduring Freedom, a series of air strikes that targeted Taliban military capabilities and Al Qaeda training facilities in Afghanistan. The United States also provided military support to the Northern Alliance, an Afghan opposition group that had long fought against the Taliban. Although the U.S. troops and their Afghan allies soon succeeded in removing the Taliban from power, bin Laden managed to escape. Still, Bush administration officials claimed that they had completed the first phase in their global war against terrorism by destroying the home base of Al Qaeda.

Launches an invasion of Iraq

In early 2002 Bush expanded the fight against terrorism to include nations that he described as harboring terrorists or providing weapons, training, or financial support for their activities. Among the countries that he accused of supporting terrorism was Iraq. Ever since Bush's father had led the United States to victory in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had failed to comply with the UN peace agreement that had ended the war. Part of this agreement required Iraq to destroy its biological and chemical weapons and allow UN weapons inspectors to monitor its progress. But Hussein consistently failed to cooperate with the inspectors and threw them out of Iraq in 1998. Although there was no clear link between Hussein's government and Al Qaeda, Bush claimed that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and could provide such weapons to terrorists. He argued that Hussein posed an immediate threat to world security and should be removed from power in Iraq.

In September 2002 Bush challenged the United Nations to enforce its resolutions calling for Iraq to destroy its weapons of mass destruction and submit to international weapons inspections. He also made it clear that the United States would act alone to disarm Iraq by force if necessary. "The history, the logic, and the facts lead to one conclusion: Saddam Hussein's regime is a grave and gathering danger," he said in a speech before the UN General Assembly. "To suggest otherwise is to hope against the evidence. To assume this regime's good faith is to bet the lives of millions and the peace of the world in a reckless gamble. And this is a risk we must not take."

Bush's threat to invade Iraq created a great deal of controversy in the international community. Some of America's longtime allies, including France and Germany, strongly opposed a U.S. military invasion of Iraq. Large-scale antiwar protests took place in many countries around the world. While some Americans appreciated Bush's firm stand in the face of international opposition, others criticized him for using "cowboy diplomacy." Some people questioned his motives for going to war in Iraq. Critics claimed that he wanted to remove Hussein from power because of personal resentment, or in order to gain access to Iraq's vast oil reserves.

As the threat of American military action increased, Iraq agreed to allow the UN weapons inspectors to return "without conditions." In November the UN Security Council responded to Bush's calls for action by unanimously passing a new resolution regarding Iraq. Resolution 1441 declared Iraq in violation of earlier UN resolutions, authorized a new round of weapons inspections, and promised that Iraq would face serious consequences if it failed to comply.

UN weapons inspectors returned to Iraq on November 18, 2002. Their reports over the next few months contained mixed results. Sometimes Iraqi authorities were very cooperative. At other times, however, they seemed to be hiding information from the inspectors. The Bush administration was dissatisfied with the reports and continued to pressure the UN Security Council to authorize the use of military force to disarm Iraq and remove Hussein from power. But many nations objected to Bush's calls for an invasion of Iraq. After a series of tense diplomatic negotiations, it became clear that France would use its veto power to block a new resolution authorizing the use of military force in Iraq. The United States and its allies decided not to seek a new resolution, instead arguing that military force was permitted under resolution 1441.

On March 17, 2003, Bush gave Saddam Hussein and his two sons forty-eight hours to leave Iraq or face a U.S.-led military invasion. "The danger is clear," he said in a nationally televised speech. President Bush went on to say:

Using chemical, biological, or one day nuclear weapons, obtained with the help of Iraq, the terrorists could fulfill their stated ambitions and kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country or any other. The United States and other nations did nothing to deserve or invite this threat, but we will do everything to defeat it. Instead of drifting along toward tragedy, we will set a course toward safety. Before the day of horror can come, before it is too late to act, this danger will be removed.

Removes Saddam Hussein from power

When Hussein ignored the ultimatum to leave Iraq, Bush ordered the invasion of the country. Operation Iraqi Freedom began with a series of punishing air strikes against the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. Thousands of tanks and other military vehicles then moved into Iraq as part of a major ground attack. From the beginning of the conflict, coalition troops faced less organized resistance from the Iraqi army than they expected. But they also received a more hostile reception from the Iraqi people than they anticipated. In fact, they faced a surprising number of sneak attacks from Iraqi resistance fighters using tactics of guerilla warfare (an unconventional fighting style that uses methods like ambushes, booby traps, and sniper attacks). As the situation in Iraq grew more complicated, the Bush administration faced increasing criticism of its war plan.

In early April the coalition forces prepared to fight for control of Baghdad. U.S. military officials worried that the troops might face stiff resistance from Iraqi Republican Guard forces, as well as the possibility of chemical weapons attacks, as they neared the capital. But Operation Iraqi Freedom continued to proceed rapidly and the Iraqi capital fell to coalition forces on April 9, after only three weeks of combat. Over the next week, coalition forces went on to capture Mosul and Tikrit in northern Iraq and secure the southern city of Basra. On May 1, 2003, Bush made a historic speech aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in which he declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq.

As soon as the war ended, the Bush administration began working to reconstruct Iraq and help the Iraqi people establish a democratic government. But the U.S. government's postwar plans soon ran into trouble. Security became a concern as Iraqi insurgents (people who fight against an established government or occupation force) and foreign fighters launched a series of violent attacks against American troops and international aid workers in Iraq. Although Saddam Hussein and most high-ranking members of his regime were eventually captured or killed, the postwar violence continued. The lack of security made it difficult for humanitarian aid to reach the Iraqi people, so conditions in the country were slow to improve. Despite massive searches, no evidence of weapons of mass destruction was found in Iraq, which raised questions about the Bush administration's stated reasons for going to war.

The Iraq War accomplished several important goals for the Bush administration. It removed a brutal dictator from power, ended decades of repression for the Iraqi people, and demonstrated the strength of U.S. military forces. But it also cost the United States billions of dollars, committed its military to a long and uncertain process of nation-building, and strained the alliances that the United States had depended on since World War II (1939–45). Bush said that he invaded Iraq in order to make the world safer for America's interests. Afterward, however, some analysts claimed that U.S. actions in Iraq had caused widespread resentment in the Arab world and made it easier for terrorist groups to recruit new members.

The majority of Americans supported Bush's decision to invade Iraq, and his approval ratings exceeded 70 percent at the beginning of the conflict. But the postwar problems in Iraq—combined with concerns about domestic issues like unemployment, health care, and a growing national budget deficit—dropped his approval ratings to around 50 percent in early 2004. Many people felt that the 2004 presidential elections would provide the final assessment of Bush's performance.

Where to Learn More

Alterman, Eric, and Mark J. Green. The Book on Bush: How George W. (Mis)leads America. New York: Viking, 2004.

Frum, David. The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush. New York: Random House, 2003.

"George W. Bush." Encyclopedia of World Biography, vol. 21, 2001. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 2004.

"George W. Bush." Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations: World Leaders, 2003. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 2004.

Gormley, Beatrice. President George W. Bush. New York: Aladdin, 2001.

Purdum, Todd S., and the staff of the New York Times. A Time of Our Choosing: America's War in Iraq. New York: Times Books, 2003.

Sifry, Micah L., and Christopher Serf, eds. The Iraq War Reader. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003.