In the past few years, America and the world have undergone somewhat of a turbulent period, diplomatic language permitted. Yet through all the bad and the good, no one man has been as prominent during these times as George W. Bush, the 43rd President of America. He ascended to the office in a very controversial manner and has since withstood a terrifying attack upon his country, a vicious reelection bid, and everything in between. Analyzing the Bush Presidency is undoubtedly difficult, partly due to the complexities of the time and the dynamics of the man himself, even though appearances suggest a relatively simple person. I am no biographer, and this analysis will not focus on Bush’s life, but some aspects of his perceived personal character will palpably play a partial role in covering the events of the 21st century. The analysis will also suffer from the fact that Bush’s second term is not yet over, and so any clear highlights of his presidency are being done mindful of the past, not the future. The purpose of this is simple and threefold: recapitulate the events of the past four and a half years (to be done very briefly), analyze those events in the context of the historical zeitgeist, and contemplate the possible effects of current US geostrategic policy in upcoming decades (the first half of the 21st century). This topic would naturally need books to do it justice, but here we’ll attempt the feat in a few words. My political philosophy is generally liberal, and there may be some manifestations of bias in this paper, but mostly it will be kept in check. I am more interested in what’s correct rather than what would please my ears.
Bush ran a fairly heated campaign against Democratic candidate Al Gore and, despite the odds, won. But the victory, attributed to a 5-4 partisan vote in the Supreme Court, left a great deal of people embittered. The country was badly split, and it was hoped Bush would somehow mitigate this division once in office. In a fashion which would practically become this President’s trademark, Bush appointed whomever he wanted and generally did whatever he wanted. This comparably uncomprising nature (compared to other Presidents, that is) has earned admiration among some and disdain among others. The first few months of Bush’s Presidency were not particularly auspicious; the President experienced sinking poll numbers and apparently could do little to get out of the maelstrom. An economic slowdown that had begun under the Clinton Administration transformed into an official recession by March 2001, and no doubt this contributed to Bush’s unpopularity. Terrorism was seemingly not that high on the agenda, and no one had any idea how huge it would eventually become. Some Clinton Administration officials claimed they attempted to schedule meetings with their Bush counterparts in order to give warnings about possible terrorist plays, but they say they were largely ignored. Evidently, those from the Bush Administration deny the charges and claim all that could be done was to prevent what would become one of the most heinous attacks on American soil. In mid-morning on September 11, 2001, two passenger planes hijacked by 19 foreign terrorists crashed into the two towers of the World Trade Center (WTC). 3,000 people died and the nation was stunned. In the immediate aftermath, the stock market suffered tremendously and the Bush Administration geared up for a diplomatic and military war they knew would last a long time. It was quickly discovered that terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda (“The Base”) was behind the attacks, and Afghanistan became the natural place to prosecute the war, in light of the heavy concentration of Al-Qaeda bases and members or recruits. In early October, American warplanes began to attack Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and with help from the Northern Alliance, who controlled the Northeastern part of the country, had rooted the five-year rulers from power by December. An encouraging sign about Afghanistan was the amount of international participation; after the attacks, French newspaper Le Monde declared, “We are all American,” and people all over the world felt a deeper connection to America than they ever had before. The campaign in Afghanistan reflected these new bonds as many nations sent troops to help overthrow the Taliban and establish a democratic regime. The US and France were the only two nations that conducted bombing runs over Afghanistan (France sent a carrier fleet, the finest in Europe, to aid in bombing Al-Qaeda and Taliban positions), and their warm relations finally broke during the push for war with Iraq. Today, the majority of the military presence in Afghanistan falls under the umbrella of America’s allies, a striking sign that the world generally believed that particular conflict to be ‘righteous.’ Afghanistan has since struggled in many aspects, although positive signs are clearly visible. The nation now has a democratically-elected President (Hamid Karzai) and continues its rebuilding initiatives under international supervision. One recurring problem, however, has been increased poppy production which has made Afghanistan the originating source of 90% of the world’s heroin. Under the Taliban, drug production was mild, but after liberation it has skyrocketed and the international coalition may not be doing much to stop it because they are worried about potential political consequences (the poppies are seen as a means to occupy certain segments of Afghan society which could turn dangerous if incited). After 9-11, Bush proclaimed a global war on terror and threatened all nations who were willingly harboring terrorists that they were not safe. Under this loose pretext, the American government began to target Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime and in the process established the doctrine of pre-emption, a policy of eliminating a possible threat before its detrimental effects materialized. The policy worried many individuals who saw US action in preceding decades and centuries as contravening Bush’s new order. Meanwhile, on the economic front, the recession lasted six months (till September), but that good news was tossed aside after the attacks and the country underwent new woes. The airline industry was particularly hard hit, and the government even financed a $15 billion rescue package to give them breathing space. The global economy was also filled with uncertainty, but has recovered fairly well in the years since. 2002 became the year remembered for the escalating pressure on Saddam’s government by (most noticeably) America and Britain. President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice became the most prominent administration members to call for Iraq’s dismantlement of supposed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). In 1998, Saddam kicked out a UN team led by Scot Ritter that were searching and destroying whatever WMDs Iraq had. This unwelcome affront prompted a series of bombing runs by the American military, but, more importantly, it appears the UN team destroyed most if not all of Iraq’s weapons program (or so Scot Ritter claims). Both the American and British governments, however, adamantly insisted the Iraqi regime had WMDs, and they went to the UN to prove their case. In September 2002, President Bush gave a speech to the assembled members of the UN and described the dangers of Saddam’s regime. Britain and America tried to coordinate their efforts with the UN, but the simple truth was that many UN nations opposed their stance (which some saw as ‘warmongering’), three of those nations being on the Security Council: France, Russia, and China. Germany also voiced its opposition to a possible war, and, in a diplomatic sense, worked very closely with France to stall the efforts of Britain and the US. The UN agreed to send a new weapons investigative team to Iraq. This new ‘squad’ was led by Swede Hans Blix and remained in Iraq for a few weeks before being pulled out. They visited several sites throughout the country but found no WMDs. In December of 2002, Iraq sent a gargantuan document to the UN ‘detailing’ their weapons stockpiles; it was about 12,000 pages and many believed it was a cheap trick to buy some time (the Iraqis probably believed the analysis of such a huge work would’ve taken a long time). The Bush Administration dismissed the document as false and unhelpful and raised its rhetoric in the homestretch of the road to war. Several experts and analysts have raised an interesting aspect regarding the Administration’s actions towards Iraq before open conflict: such strong rhetoric coupled with the movement of several divisions to Kuwait meant the Administration had already invested a great deal politically in this matter for it not
to go to war. Basically, America's image as the world's superpower may have been tainted if its push for war had been held up or thwarted by UN conferences. In early 2003, there was a flurry of diplomatic activity trying to prolong what some saw as inevitable and others as illegal. The UN had passed a resolution advising Saddam to disarm and warning his regime would be overthrown should he fail to do so. Saddam continued to deny the charges being leveled at his government. Colin Powell conducted a famous session at the UN where he revealed evidence of Saddam's WMDs, among them mobile biochemical trucks (earlier Britain had even claimed Saddam could deploy some chemical weapons in about 45 minutes). By this point, however, the posturing by all sides was just to kill time. The spring of 2003 saw the commencement of the war which led to the destruction of the Iraqi army and the fall of Baghdad in approximately three weeks. The spectacular success of the US army was virtually fait accompli, but few in the Administration seem to have been worried about what would follow (at least from what was reported in the media). Statements from Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and the Vice President stood out as the most optimistic, both men claiming that Iraq would settle down fairly quickly and peacefully (Paul Wolfowitz even claimed the funds from the oil fields could finance Iraq's reconstruction by themselves, a stunning mischaracterization as time has revealed). The largely Anglo-American victory (many other nations were politically allied to this venture, but few of them had the military muscle of Britain and America) brought scenes of jubilation and chaos; Iraqis were generally happy that a hated dictator had finally been booted from power, even pulling down his prime statue in Baghdad as a symbol of their new-found freedom, but also found themselves in a situation of instability, best characterized by the looting of the National Museum in the early stages of the occupation (many special and important artifacts were stolen). President Bush went on an aircraft carrier and, with a "Mission Accomplished" banner in the background, all but declared victory. Some have claimed the US shouldn't have disbanded the Iraqi military in the rapid manner that it did; they view this act as being significantly responsible for the early stages of the insurgency. Over time, a combination of loyal Baathists, petty criminals, and foreign jihadists have combined to create a quasi-miasmic situation that has led to about 15,000 American casualties (over 1,700 of them deaths) and over 100,000 dead Iraqis. The struggle for Iraq has dominated this Administration's foreign policy ever since it went in. It isn't unreasonable to claim that President Bush's legacy largely rests on what transpires in Iraq, but he still has three and a half years to eliminate the effects of previous mistakes. During the same time that Iraq was invaded, the economy was beginning to look up more and more. GDP growth was picking up and the unemployment rate would eventually be stabilized (today it remains in the low 5s). The global economy was shaking off the brutal anxieties which followed 9-11 and, in true tradition, began to expand just as America did. The war caused massive headaches among some of America's allies, many of which had interests in Iraq (the Iraqi government owed boatloads of money to Russia and a variety of French companies conducted business in Iraq). The friendly relations in the aftermath of 9-11 all but disappeared among some circles. Nations like Germany, France, and Russia saw America's actions as a serious violation to a stable world order, almost as if America had began to take matters "into its own hands." Furthermore, as time passed it became thoroughly clear that no weapons existed (leading to confusion amidst some when Vice President Cheney insisted the weapons were still there). The weapons were the main justification for the war, and the failure to find them casts severe doubt over the value of the conflict (in recent years the Administration has shifted its justification for the struggle to the fact that Iraq has become a major center of terrorism, and hence must be defended to give Al-Qaeda a black eye). With Iraq in the background, Bush plunged forward into a very uncertain reelection bid.
Bush’s handling of the economy has been subject to as much doubt as his foreign policy. Some have charged he has squandered away money on fruitless pursuits (such as tax cuts to the rich) while others are generally happy about his plans for an ‘ownership society’ and his supply side economics. It’s crucial to keep in mind that any President can only affect the economy so much. Although it’s very true that Presidents shouldn’t get the blame or the credit for the state of the national economy, most of the time they do, and there’s just no way around it. If economic times are bad, people will complain and turn on someone; the President would be the ideal choice. However, underlying global trends and various other factors, which far beyond the capability to be affected by a leader who may be in power for only four years, play a larger role. Statistically speaking, average GDP growth for the years 2001 (0.8%), 2002 (1.9%), 2003 (3.0%), and 2004 (4.4%) was 2.5%, a figure whose greatness will be subject to much debate (data is from the Bureau of Economic Analysis). The reason is because during the Clinton era average GDP growth was much higher, but a Bush supporter may counter that 9-11 caused much hardship and may be partly responsible for the ostensibly poor growth. Unemployment, however, seems to be doing much better. Bush got somewhat of a negative reputation in that field during the first term as he ran the risk of being the first president since Herbert Hoover to have a net loss in jobs. The unemployment rate has drastically fallen from the times when it had broken 6% and as of May 2005 stands at 5.1%. One problem I can gage with the Bush economic plan would be its overt simplicity, and though simplicity is often viewed as positive, it has a tendency to fail in the application to complex structures (like a national economy). Bush’s economic thinking is too supply-sided, this at a time when most economists dismiss supply-side theory as little more than ineffective. Even the development of supply-side theory was borne more by journalists than economists. Today, many economists are pursuing a neo-Keynesian course; few serious economists waste their time on supply side ‘theory.’ The idea from the perspective of taxes, famously established into policy under Reagan, argues that that limiting tax rates for the wealthiest individuals will cause some of that money to ‘trickle down’ to the lower levels of society, and in this manner bring wealth to everyone. It is a dangerously ineffective policy and data has shown this to be true over and over again. Policies like these only serve to increase the gap between the wealthy and the rest in this nation. Bush’s tax cut has no doubt been formulated with Reagan in mind; the majority of the tax cuts go to the extremely wealthy, the exact people who don’t need them (if anything, they need to be taxed, since they can still handle it financially). Like the rest of Bush’s policies, however, it’s still too early to make definitive conclusions. He still has three and a half years to go and many things could change in that interval.
Democratic hopefuls had initiated their campaigns at or around the time of the Iraqi invasion. The early leading candidate was Howard Dean, the governor of Vermont whose appeal to the grass roots via active internet campaigning and fund-raising skyrocketed his presidential bid to the fore of the political spectrum. He was featured on the covers of Time magazine and Newsweek by the summer of 2003 and had many prematurely concluding that he would be the Democratic candidate for President. There were many others in the race, among the most eminent being Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts (the man whom many thought would be the leader in the race), Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, and Senator John Edwards of North Carolina. Former Supreme NATO Commander Wesley Clark joined the race later after polling displayed a public seemingly receptive to having him as President. The campaign was dynamic and had the Democrats generally assenting that the President had botched the mission in Iraq. Howard Dean drove this point home better than the others and his efforts led to widespread political approval. The candidates also accused the President of, among other things, mishandling the economy and violating environmental integrity, but it was unmistakably clear that Iraq and the war on terror were the prime issues, at least in the early stages. Administration officials played up the President's credentials in the war on terror, an arena where he still had large support with the public. In December 2003, Saddam Hussein was finally found. At this critical juncture, many believe Howard Dean made a mistake which may have cost him the Iowa caucus; he claimed that Saddam's capture didn't make us safer. As it turned out, he was right, but at the time such words were very explosive and served as fodder for both Bush and Dean's Democratic competitors. In January, John Kerry surged forward in the polls and managed to win the Iowa caucus, breathing new life into a campaign that up till then had been viewed as either a disappointment or a failure. He went on to win all the primary races except the one in South Carolina, which was snatched by the junior Senator John Edwards, and managed to grab the necessary amount of delegates needed to give him the nod at the convention. Democrats may have turned on Dean because they thought Kerry to be more 'electable,' a person more composed than Dean and one who seemed like a President. The country was sharply split and both Bush and Kerry realized they had more than a tough fight ahead. Kerry selected Edwards as his running mate a few weeks before the convention in hopes that Edwards' charisma and Southern origins would give counterweight to Kerry's perceived stale character and liberal, Massachusetts roots. The polls after the Democratic convention (which was before the Republic) in late July showed Kerry to be leading slightly, but all in all the situation was static. The Republican Convention was followed by a string of vicious attack ads from a group known as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. They claimed Kerry lied a great deal about his record in Vietnam. Polls showed these preposterous ads actually had an effect, and the Republicans entered their convention somewhat in a giddy mood. They emerged in an equally happy state since post-convention polls revealed Bush to be ahead of Kerry by double digits. The Kerry campaign did everything it could to resurrect the situation, but things pretty much continued in the same way until October, when the three debates virtually rescued Kerry. Kerry had been on debate teams and was considered dangerous by the Bush camp, although the Kerry campaign extended the same courtesies to Bush. After the three debates, Kerry was viewed as the frontrunner thanks to impressive performances (especially in the first). The two candidates went into Election Day with polls having them all but deadlocked. In the end, Bush won the popular vote by three million and triumphed in the electoral vote by dozens of points (although the change of one state, Ohio, to Kerry would've given Kerry the victory). The election had seriously tested Bush's mettle, but in the end he prevailed in a much more dependable fashion than his previous race. Bush believed his triumph vindicated his foreign and domestic policies and commented that he would 'spend' this newfound political 'capital' to the best of his abilities. What caused his victory is still subject to heated debate, but perhaps an influential factor may have been the comfort he gave to many Americans in these unsettling times. Many people view Bush as an honest individual, "one of them" in essence, and supported his efforts in the war on terror. The Bush campaign also did a spectacular jon in portraying John Kerry as a "flip flopper," a person who changes position on the issues (in this context at least), and going on to claim that such a person would be dangerous to have leading America in trying times. The campaign, largely masterminded by political strategist Karl Rove, was amazingly effective in light of the heavy opposition Bush faced from many circles. Surprisingly, the Democrats raised more funds than the Republicans during the race but were not that shrewd in spending them (Kerry had $15 million in the coffers by election's end, sparking much outrage and obfuscation). This unwise 'frugality' no doubt had some impact on the election's outcome, as money is virtually the end all and be all of American politics (Republican success in the past few decades has been brought about partially due to their advantage in money over the Democrats). A new feature of the campaign which will expand in the future will be heavy utilization of the internet, which both sides used to raise money, and the ubiquitous 527 ad groups that inundated the airwaves with excessively partisan messages (these were prominent on the liberal side).
The euphoria over Bush's victory has been eradicated in a very harsh manner. Today, the President's popularity is sagging and support for the Iraqi war has plummeted as well. Economic growth has been doing fairly well but much of the nation is apparently focused on Iraq. The Administration has been accused of doing a poor job of explaining the situation to the people and Bush, normally a very reclusive President, will give a public speech to be televised by the main networks next week. He will highlight the need for America to prevail in Iraq and the futility of placing timetables regarding troop withdrawal. Despite these media efforts, only success on the ground can convince the American public that this is a worthwhile pursuit. Many nations have already pulled their forces from Iraq or are going to pull them out, further weakening the Administration's assurances that the Iraqi invasion was a just act. We are all watching closely and hope it ends well. In the second part, I will analyze the Administration holistically and see what its actions mean for the not-too-distant future.