The presidency of George W. Bush began on January 20, 2001 at noon Eastern Standard Time, when George W. Bush was inaugurated as President of the United States, and ended on January 20, 2009. A Republican, he took office following a very close win in the 2000 presidential election over Democratic nominee Al Gore, the then–incumbent Vice President. Bush, the 43rd United States president, is the son of the 41st president, George H. W. Bush. Bush was re-elected in 2004, defeating his Democratic opponent John Kerry by a slim margin. He was succeeded in office by Democrat Barack Obama, who won the 2008 presidential election.
- State of the Union Addresses
- Administration and cabinet
- Attorney General
- Homeland Security
- Advisors and other officials
- Military nominations and appointments
- Judicial nominations
- Federal Reserve Chair appointment
- International trips
- Bush tax cuts
- Marriage abortion and faith
- Stem cell research
- Environmental policies
- Campaign finance reform
- Corporate auditing
- Science and technology
- Attempted Social Security reform
- Response to Hurricane Katrina
- 2007 2008 financial crisis
- Foreign policy
- September 11 attacks
- Policy response
- Military response
- Weapons of mass destruction
- Continuation of the war
- Rise of Hamas
- Israel Lebanon conflict
- Free trade agreements
- North Korea
- Intelligence reform
- Response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami
- AIDS relief
- CIA leak scandal
- Dismissal of United States attorneys
- Political philosophy
- Approval ratings
- 2000 elections
- 2002 mid term elections
- Presidential debates
- Election day
- 2006 mid term elections
- 2008 elections
Upon taking office, Bush pushed through a $1.3 trillion tax cut program and the No Child Left Behind Act, a major education bill. He also pushed for socially conservative efforts, such as the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act and faith-based welfare initiatives. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Bush declared a global war on terrorism and, in October 2001, ordered an invasion of Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban, destroy the terrorist group al-Qaeda, and capture Osama bin Laden. That same month, he signed into law the controversial Patriot Act in order to strengthen security and allow for greater surveillance. In 2003, Bush ordered an invasion of Iraq, asserting that Iraq possessed stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1441. Later that year, he signed the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act, which created Medicare Part D and made other changes to Medicare.
Bush's second term was highlighted by several free trade agreements, a strong push for offshore and domestic drilling, and the successful nominations of Supreme Court Justices John G. Roberts and Samuel Alito. Bush pushed for Social Security and immigration reform, but both efforts failed. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continued, and in 2007 he launched a a surge of troops in Iraq. The Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina and the dismissal of U.S. attorneys controversy earned wide coverage, and his second term saw a drop in his approval ratings. The financial crisis of 2007–2008 dominated his last days in office as policymakers looked to avert a major economic disaster, and he signed into law the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Bush's presidency is frequently ranked by historians as among the worst in American history.
State of the Union Addresses
Administration and cabinet
Bush's Cabinet included figures that were prominent in past administrations, such as Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had served as United States National Security Advisor under Ronald Reagan. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had served as White House Chief of Staff and Secretary of Defense under Gerald Ford; Rumsfeld's successor, Robert Gates, served as Director of Central Intelligence under George H.W. Bush. Vice President Dick Cheney served as Secretary of Defense under George H. W. Bush.
Bush placed a high value on personal loyalty and, as a result, his administration had high message discipline. He maintained a "hands-off" style of management. "I'm confident in my management style. I'm a delegator because I trust the people I've asked to join the team. I'm willing to delegate. That makes it easier to be President," he said in an interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC in December 2003. Critics alleged, however, that Bush was willing to overlook mistakes made by loyal subordinates.
There was only one non-Republican in Bush's cabinet: Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta. Mineta resigned from Bush's cabinet on July 7, 2006 to pursue "other challenges". Mary Peters, a Republican, was nominated and confirmed to succeed him as Transportation Secretary. At least one other non-Republican was apparently offered a position in the administration but declined. CNN reported that in the transition to his second term, Bush offered the positions of Ambassador to the United Nations and subsequently Secretary of Homeland Security to Senator Joe Lieberman.
On November 8, 2006 (the day after the Democrats took back Congress in the midterm elections), Bush announced plans to replace Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with former CIA Director Robert Gates. Gates was confirmed by the United States Senate on December 6 and took office as the 22nd Secretary of Defense on December 18.
Bush's first Attorney General, John Ashcroft, was politically controversial, and viewed by many as incompetent. According to the sworn testimony of two FBI agents interviewed by the 9/11 Commission, Ashcroft ignored warnings of an imminent al-Qaida attack. Ashcroft resigned days after Bush's 2004 re-election. Bush's second Attorney General was Alberto Gonzales. In addition to his work on providing guidelines for detainee interrogation methods prior to his appointment, he claimed there was no right to Habeas Corpus for detained combatants. Michael Mukasey succeeded Gonzales and was the country's 81st Attorney General.
Bush's first nomination for Secretary of Labor was Linda Chavez. This nomination came under attack when evidence came to light that she had given money to an illegal immigrant from Guatemala who lived in her home. Chavez claimed that the woman was not an employee and she had merely provided her with emergency assistance due to the domestic abuse the woman had been facing at the time. Chavez's nomination was withdrawn.
Instead, Bush nominated Elaine Chao, a former official with the administrations with Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, who was confirmed by the Senate. Chao was the only member of Bush's Cabinet to serve during Bush's entire tenure as President.
Bush's first Secretary of Energy, Spencer Abraham, was controversial at the time of his 2001 appointment because as a senator he co-sponsored S.896, a bill to abolish the United States Department of Energy, in 1999. Samuel Wright Bodman III, Sc.D. replaced Abraham as United States Secretary of Energy in 2005 and remained in this position until January 2009. Bodman was previously Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Treasury.
When Tom Ridge announced his decision to resign as Secretary of Homeland Security, Bush's first choice to replace him was Bernard Kerik, who served as Police Commissioner of the City of New York during the September 11, 2001 attacks. Kerik's nomination raised controversy when it was discovered that he had previously hired an undocumented worker as a nanny and housekeeper. After a week, Kerik pulled his nomination and Bush went on to nominate Michael Chertoff.
Advisors and other officials
Military nominations and appointments
Bush nominated the three people to the Supreme Court of the United States, with two successful nominations:
Bush also appointed 62 judges to the United States Courts of Appeals, 261 judges to the United States district courts, and 2 judges to the United States Court of International Trade. Bush appointed Neil Gorsuch to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in 2006; Gorsuch would later be nominated by President Donald Trump for a seat on the Supreme Court.
Federal Reserve Chair appointment
On October 24, 2005, Bush nominated Ben Bernanke to succeed Alan Greenspan as Chairman of the Federal Reserve. The Senate Banking Committee recommended Bernanke's confirmation by a 13–1 voice vote on November 16, 2005. With the full Senate's approval on January 31, 2006, by another voice vote, Bernanke was sworn in on February 1, 2006.
He visited six continents: Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America. On one of his two trips to Sub-Saharan Africa, he visited three of the poorest countries in the world: Liberia, Rwanda, and Benin. He was the first sitting president to visit: Albania, Bahrain, Benin, Estonia, Georgia, Lithuania, Mongolia, Qatar, Slovakia, Sweden, and the United Arab Emirates. Bush also made a secret trip to Iraq on Thanksgiving Day 2003 to dine with the troops. His father had made a similar visit to the U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia in 1990. On November 15–20, 2006, Bush made the third round the world presidential flight (after Johnson and Nixon).
The number of visits per country where he travelled are:
Bush tax cuts
Facing opposition in Congress, Bush held public meetings across the United States to increase nationwide support for his plan for a $1.3 trillion tax cut. He and his economic advisors argued that unspent government funds should be returned to the taxpayers who had provided these funds, and with reports of the threat of recession from Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, Bush argued that such a tax cut would have the beneficial effect of stimulating the economy and creating jobs. Five Senate Democrats crossed party lines to join Republicans in approving this $1.35 trillion tax cut program. It was one of the largest in United States history and regarded as a major political victory given Bush's controversial election.
Bush sought and obtained Congressional approval for these major tax cuts spread over three years: 2001, 2002, and 2003. They reduced taxes for almost every taxpayer in the U.S. by altering the lowest tax bracket, increasing the child tax credit and eliminating the so-called "marriage penalty". Arguably, tax cuts were distributed disproportionately to higher income taxpayers through a decrease in the marginal rates at higher income, but the change in rates was greater for those of lower income, resulting in an income tax structure that was more progressive overall. Complexity was increased, however, with new categories of income to be taxed at different rates and with the introduction of new deductions and credits; at the same time, the number of individuals subject to the Alternative Minimum Tax increased, since this remained unchanged.
One of the administration's early major initiatives was the No Child Left Behind Act, which aimed to measure and close the gap between rich and poor student performance, provide options to parents with students in low-performing schools, and target more federal funding to low-income schools. This landmark education initiative passed with broad bipartisan support, including that of Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. It was signed into law by Bush in early 2002. Many contend that the initiative has been successful, as cited by the fact that students in the U.S. have performed significantly better on state reading and math tests since Bush signed "No Child Left Behind" into law. Critics argue that it is underfunded and that NCLBA's focus on "high-stakes testing" and quantitative outcomes is counterproductive.
Looking back on his first term, on August 1, 2005, in response to a question from the media about the teaching of intelligent design versus evolution in public schools, Bush answered, "Both sides ought to be properly taught... so people can understand what the debate is about.... I think that a part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought." Bush did not elaborate upon his personal views concerning "intelligent design".
Marriage, abortion and faith
On his first day in office, Bush moved to block federal aid to foreign groups that offered counseling or any other assistance to women in obtaining abortions. Days later, he announced his commitment to channeling more federal aid to faith-based service organizations, despite the fears of critics that this would dissolve the traditional separation of church and state in the United States. To further this commitment, Bush created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to assist faith-based service organizations. In a televised address on August 9, 2001, Bush announced a national policy on stem cell research that authorized funding and research work, with federal restrictions over the use of human embryos.
Bush also successfully pushed for the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, enacted in 2003 with bi-partisan support but criticized by pro-choice groups as an attack upon legalized abortion rights. Following a national furor over the recognition of same-sex marriages in San Francisco and Massachusetts, Bush announced his opposition to same-sex marriages in 2004 when he endorsed the Federal Marriage Amendment (later reintroduced as the Marriage Protection Amendment in his second term) to the United States Constitution which would have permanently defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman citing that marriage should not be cut off from its cultural, religious, and natural roots and claiming that so-called "Activist" courts and judges should not decide who can get married. Although Bush later said he supported allowing states to perform civil unions, critics said that the Federal Marriage Amendment would have also not allowed them.
Bush was staunchly opposed to euthanasia and supported Attorney General John Ashcroft's decision to file suit against the voter-approved Oregon Death with Dignity Act, which was ultimately decided by the United States Supreme Court in favor of the Oregon law. However, as governor of Texas, Bush had signed a law which gave hospitals the authority to remove life support from terminally ill patients against the wishes of spouse or parents, if the doctors deemed it to be medically appropriate. This perceived inconsistency in policy became an issue in 2005, when Bush signed controversial legislation forwarded and voted on by only three members of the United States Senate to initiate federal intervention in the court battle of Terri Schiavo, a comatose Florida woman who ultimately died.
Stem cell research
In July 2006 Bush used his first Presidential veto on the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which would have expanded federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. A similar bill was passed in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate in the early summer of 2007 as part of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's 100-Hour Plan. However, Bush vetoed the second bill as well and the votes in Congress were still not enough to override the President's rejection of the legislation.
Following the events of September 11, Bush issued an executive order authorizing the President's Surveillance Program which included allowing the NSA to monitor communications between suspected terrorists outside the U.S and parties within the U.S. without obtaining a warrant as required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. As of 2009, the other provisions of the program remained highly classified. Once the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel questioned its original legal opinion that FISA did not apply in a time of war, the program was subsequently re-authorized by the President on the basis that the warrant requirements of FISA were implicitly superseded by the subsequent passage of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists. The program proved to be controversial, as critics of the administration, as well as organizations such as the American Bar Association, argued that it was illegal. In August 2006, a U.S. district court judge ruled that the NSA electronic surveillance program was unconstitutional, but on July 6, 2007, that ruling was vacated by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on the grounds that the plaintiffs lacked standing. On January 17, 2007, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales informed U.S. Senate leaders that the program would not be reauthorized by the President, but would be subjected to judicial oversight. Later in 2007, the NSA launched a replacement for the program, referred to as PRISM, that was subject to the oversight of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. This program was not publicly revealed until reports by The Washington Post and The Guardian emerged in June 2013.
George W. Bush’s environmental record began with promises as a presidential candidate to clean up power plants and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In a speech on September 29, 2000 in Saginaw, Michigan, Bush pledged to commit two billion dollars to the funding of clean coal technology research. In the same speech, he also promised to work with Congress, environmental groups and the energy industry to require a reduction of the emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and carbon dioxide into the environment within a “reasonable period of time.” He would later reverse his position on that specific campaign pledge in March 2001 in a letter to Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel, stating that carbon dioxide was not considered a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, and that restricting carbon dioxide emissions would lead to higher energy prices.
In 2001, Bush appointed Philip A. Cooney, a former lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, to the White House Council on Environmental Equality. Cooney is known to have edited government climate reports in order to minimize the findings of scientific sources tying greenhouse gas emissions to global warming.
In March 2001, the Bush administration announced that it would not implement the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty signed in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, that would require nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, claiming that ratifying the treaty would create economic setbacks in the U.S. and does not put enough pressure to limit emissions from developing nations. In February 2002, Bush announced his alternative to the Kyoto Protocol, by bringing forth a plan to reduce the intensity of greenhouse gases by 18 percent over 10 years. The intensity of greenhouse gases specifically is the ratio of greenhouse gas emissions and economic output, meaning that under this plan, emissions would still continue to grow, but at a slower pace. Bush stated that this plan would prevent the release of 500 million metric tons of greenhouse gases, which is about the equivalent of removing 70 million cars from the road. This target would achieve this goal by providing tax credits to businesses that use renewable energy sources.
In late November 2002, the Bush administration released proposed rule changes that would lead to increased logging of federal forests for commercial or recreational activities by giving local forest managers the ability to open up the forests to development without requiring environmental impact assessments and without specific standards to maintain local fish and wildlife populations. The proposed changes would affect roughly 192,000,000 acres (780,000 km2) of US forests and grasslands. Administration officials claimed the changes were appropriate because existing rules, which were approved by the Clinton administration two months before Bush took office, were unclear.
In November 2004, Bush administration officials asked the United Nations to allow US industries to use an additional 458 tons of methyl bromide, an ozone-destroying pesticide that was slated for elimination by the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. The additional increase request brings the US’s total exemption for the year 2005 to 9,400 metric tons of methyl bromide, more than all other nations’ requests combined, and well over the 7,674 metric tons used by US agribusiness in 2002.
In January 2004, United States Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton approved a move to open nearly 9,000,000 acres (36,000 km2) of Alaska's North Slope to oil and gas development, citing claims from the energy industry that nearly 13 billion barrels (2.1×109 m3) of oil could be extracted from the region. The North Slope borders the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a sanctuary and habitat for migratory birds, whales, seals and other wildlife. Reports from the U.S. Geological Survey, however, estimate that less than one-third of the reported 13 billion barrels (2.1×109 m3) is economically recoverable in the entire 23,500,000-acre (95,000 km2) National Petroleum Reserve.
In July 2005 the Environmental Protection Agency decided to delay the release of an annual report on fuel economy. The report shows that automakers have taken advantage of loopholes in US fuel economy regulations to manufacture vehicles that are less fuel-efficient than they were in the late 1980s. Fuel-efficiency had on average dropped six percent during that period, from 22.1 miles per gallon to 20.8 mpg. Evidence suggests that the administration’s decision to delay the report’s release was because of its potential to affect Congress’s upcoming final vote on an energy bill six years in the making, which turned a blind eye to fuel economy regulations.
That same year, the administration exempts hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act, citing another EPA study.
In May 2006, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) allegedly blocked release of a report that suggested global warming had been a contributor to the frequency and strength of hurricanes in recent years. In February, NOAA (part of the Department of Commerce) set up a seven-member panel of climate scientists to compile the report. The panel’s chair, Ants Leema, received an e-mail from a Commerce Department official asking for the report to not be released as it needed to be made “less technical.” NOAA would later go on to say that the report was not released because it “was not complete” and was in reality not a report, but a “two-page fact sheet about the issue”.
On January 6, 2009, President Bush designated the world's largest protected marine area. The Pacific Ocean habitat includes the Mariana Trench and the waters and corals surrounding three uninhabited islands in the Northern Mariana Islands, Rose Atoll in American Samoa, and seven islands along the equator.
Campaign finance reform
In March 2002, Bush signed into law the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. In signing the law, Bush stated that he thought the law would improve the financing system for elections but was "far from perfect."
Bush promoted the increase of de-regulation and investment options in social services, leading Republican efforts to pass the Medicare Act of 2003, which added prescription drug coverage to Medicare and created Health Savings Accounts, which would permit people to set aside a portion of their Medicare tax to build a "nest egg." Kalanz said that the law, estimated to cost US$400 billion over the first 10 years, would give the elderly "better choices and more control over their health care."
Science and technology
In the wake of the Columbia space shuttle disaster on January 14, 2004, Bush announced a major re-direction for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Known as the Vision for Space Exploration, the policy called for the completion of the International Space Station by 2010 and the retirement of the space shuttle, while developing a new spacecraft called the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) under the title Project Constellation. The CEV would be used to return American astronauts to the Moon by 2018.
The Bush administration implemented a major change in United States foreign policy by withdrawing its participation in the 1998 Kyoto Protocol on world climate change. The Bush administration during this period has been accused of censoring or manipulating scientific research to suit various political agendas, most notably in the areas of climate change and the economic development of environmentally sensitive locations. In January 2006, lead NASA climate scientist Dr James E Hansen and several other career scientists at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies accused appointee George Deutsch of forbidding them from publicly discussing research on global warming risks. The Union of Concerned Scientists published a report, Scientific Integrity in Policymaking, in March 2004 that criticized the unprecedented "manipulation, suppression, and misrepresentation of science by the Bush administration."
Much talk had circulated during Bush's first eight months in office over how to handle the stem-cell research debate. On August 8, 2001, in a televised address to the nation from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Bush announced that the federal government would provide funding, but only for research that used human embryos which had already been destroyed.
Attempted Social Security reform
The first month of Bush's second term was largely spent in debate over one of his stated goals, partial privatization of Social Security. The plan called to give younger workers the option of redirecting some payroll taxes into their own private account. Current retirees and those soon to retire would see little change, but opponents of Social Security reform contend that later retirees would receive lower benefits. Congress' budget analysts estimated that the program's trust funds would be depleted in 2052, and something had to be done to save the program. Republicans even argued that the trust fund had already been spent for other purposes with no plan to pay it back and that Social Security would run out of funds by 2018. Democrats, however, accused the President and other Republicans of creating a Social Security scare, and that the program was not in as much danger as the Republicans had claimed. The Social Security plan remained a priority for Bush's national agenda for several months but it proved unpopular with the majority of the public and ultimately, since no reform bill was released by committees in the Republican controlled House and Senate, nothing came to pass.
Response to Hurricane Katrina
During a working vacation Bush left his ranch two days early following criticism of a slow and inadequate response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama in late August 2005. On August 30, 2005, Bush received additional criticism when photographed playing a guitar he was presented with by country singer Mark Wills during a speech at California's Naval Base Coronado. The administration also faced mounting complaints about the ongoing occupation of Iraq, which some saw as draining much needed manpower and resources needed in the United States during disasters. Bush also faced criticism from fiscal conservatives and those who felt the disaster relief efforts came too late when Bush signed into law a flurry of legislation, including the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act to Meet Immediate Needs Arising From the Consequences of Hurricane Katrina, Second Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act to Meet Immediate Needs Arising From the Consequences of Hurricane Katrina, 2005 Flexibility for Displaced Workers Act, Katrina Emergency Tax Relief Act of 2005, QI, TMA, and Abstinence Programs Extension and Hurricane Katrina Unemployment Relief Act of 2005, and the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act of 2005. Some pundits observed that these recovery activities illustrated Bush's compassionate conservatism, giving opportunities to the needy through a public works overhaul that included emergency aid and incentives to work. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Michael Brown, with whom the Bush administration feuded in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, resigned on September 12; on September 13, in a vague answer to his critics, Bush said, "[T]o the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility."
In response to the massive immigration protests following bill H.R. 4437 and the subsequent intense debate within and beyond Congress, Bush proposed sweeping legislation that would include a guest worker program, path to citizenship, and increased border security. Bush, who faced opposition from fellow Republicans on the illegal immigration issue, announced on May 15, 2006 that he would dispatch the National Guard to the United States-Mexico border as an immediate solution. On May 25 the Senate approved bill S. 2611 that would create comprehensive immigration reform consistent with Bush's proposal. On October 26 Bush signed the Secure Fence Act of 2006, authorizing the construction of a 700-mile fence along the 1,951-mile United States-Mexico border. In May and June 2007, Bush strongly advocated Senate passage of another sweeping immigration reform proposal, the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007. The bill was prepared by a bipartisan group of senators with an active participation of the Bush administration. For this reason, the time of its introduction in the Senate in May 2007 the bill was seen as having a greater chance of becoming law compared with the previous immigration reform proposals. A heated debate, both in Congress and among the public, followed. Most of the conservatives broke ranks with Bush and vigorously opposed the bill, for its provisions regarding legalization of illegal immigrants and providing them with a path to citizenship. The bill was ultimately defeated in the Senate, when, on June 28, 2007, a cloture motion to limit the debate failed, 46-53, and did not gather even a simple majority, whereas 60 votes were needed for the motion to pass. In the absence of legislative action, on August 10, 2007 the Bush administration announced a series of immigration enforcement initiatives that do not require a change in law.
2007-2008 financial crisis
The economy had seen a fairly large growth in Bush's second term until a huge increase in the price of oil occurred and the subprime mortgage crisis went into full swing. In the fall of 2008, the economy suffered its most serious downturn since the Great Depression. In response to the crisis, Bush signed the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, and the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, the latter of which created the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
Initial public perceptions of the Bush administration detected a lack of interest in foreign affairs. However, the Bush administration implemented a major change in U.S. foreign policy by withdrawing its participation in the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, in order to pursue a national missile defense strategy of its own. In June 2001, Bush gave a speech in Iowa touting missile defense as a sensible post-Cold War system. International leaders criticized Bush for withdrawing U.S. support for the International Criminal Court soon after he assumed the presidency. The administration had voiced concerns that the court could conceivably over-rule the authority of the United States' judicial system.
In 2002, during his State of the Union Address, Bush set forth what has become known as the Bush Doctrine. Although this doctrine was technically used for justifying the invasion of Afghanistan, it was not clearly stated as a matter of policy until this address. Simply put, because of the "new world" Americans were now living in and the possibility of further massive terrorist attacks orchestrated by organizations that existed in multiple places all over the world, the United States could no longer think of the world as being exclusively made up of sovereign nations. Because of this, the United States would now implement a policy of using preemptive military strikes against any nation known to be harboring or aiding a terrorist organization hostile to the United States. President Bush also outlined what he called the Axis of Evil, consisting of three nations that, he stated, posed the greatest threat to world peace at the time. These were Iraq, North Korea and Iran.
September 11 attacks
Prior to September 11, 2001, President Bush had been receiving growing criticism for the amount of vacation time he was taking. Due to the nature of the U.S. presidency there is no strict or clear guidance regarding days that the president can take off. Different sources claim that the president was averaging between two or three days off a week. He spent most of August 2001 on a near month-long vacation.
Eight months after Bush had taken office, however, a single day was to define the first term of his presidency. On September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked airliners and flew them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, destroying both 110-story skyscrapers, and into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. An aircraft thought to be intended to be used in an attack on either the White House or Capitol Hill was brought down in Pennsylvania, following a struggle between terrorists and the aircraft's passengers. On the evening of the day of these attacks, the President declared a War on Terror. Soon afterwards, President Bush's approval rating, calculated by the Gallup Organization, rose to 90%, the highest approval rating it had recorded for any president. Gallup begun its polls during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
President Bush's first policy response to 9/11 came on October 8, 2001, when, during a speech to Congress, he announced the creation of the Office of Homeland Security and appointed Tom Ridge, a former governor of Pennsylvania, as its director. This was the first new executive-level office to be created since 1988, when President Ronald Reagan had appointed a head of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The stated purpose of the Office of Homeland Security was "to develop and coordinate the implementation of a comprehensive national strategy" and "to secure the United States from terrorist threats or attacks."
This department's most public accomplishment came on March 12, 2002, when the Homeland Security Advisory System was unveiled, a system of color-coded alerts designed to warn the population of the United States of the assessed level of threat from terrorist activity, based on the evaluation of credible intelligence reports. The "terror alert" level was posted on a daily basis.
Bush's military response to the terrorist attacks began in October 2001, with the deployment of 11,000 troops to Afghanistan. The invasion was supported by many countries, but especially by troops from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Germany. This military invasion was supported also by the Afghan Northern Alliance, a large group of allied Afghan tribes that had been waging a civil war against the Taliban for many years. The invasion was supported by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). The stated goal of the mission was to overthrow the Taliban government, an Islamic fundamentalist regime thought to be allowing terrorist training camps directed at western targets to operate in Afghanistan and believed to be harboring Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization that was blamed for the 9/11 attacks, and which later claimed responsibility for them.
On Tuesday, September 24, 2001. President Bush signed a bill authorizing the building of a national memorial to the passengers and crew who died aboard Flight 93 when it crashed into Shanksville, in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, during the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Taliban had described Osama Bin Laden as their guest and refused to place him in United States custody, although Bin Laden may have been hiding out of the reach of the Taliban, in the mountains of Afghanistan. The U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan overthrew the Taliban from the capital Kabul, and from large areas of Afghanistan, and a U.S.-approved government was installed. The majority of Al-Qaeda members, including Osama Bin Laden, were not captured, however, and some were still active in 2009. Bush has been criticized for sending an insufficient number of troops into Afghanistan initially and thus failing to achieve all of the mission's objectives. The Bush administration was successful in freezing Al-Qaeda funds and shutting down many of the terrorist training camps. The U.S. captured many Al-Qaeda leaders and members in the months and years following invasion.
In the days immediately following 9/11, the Bush Administration national security team actively debated an invasion of Iraq. A memo written by Sec. Rumsfeld dated November 27, 2001 considers a US-Iraq war. One section of the memo questions "How start?", listing multiple possible justifications for a US-Iraq War.
Weapons of mass destruction
The Bush administration began announcing in 2002 that officials had evidence for the development of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq. The description of these devices ranged from chemical weapons to nuclear warheads with their associated delivery systems. The administration supported this claim with intelligence documents as well as aerial photographs. Saddam Hussein, the President of Iraq, was described as being a threat to the world and to his own people as long as he remained in power – especially if his regime had access to WMDs. Saddam had been supplied with conventional weapons and other assistance by the United States during the Iran–Iraq War in the 1980s, but since then, the political arena had altered, especially due to an increasingly hardline stance taken by Saddam in Iraq, and his arbitrary invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
The armed forces of the United States and several other countries invaded Iraq in 2003. The operation was known in the United States as Operation Iraqi Freedom. Although the American government, with encouragement from the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, had attempted to gain a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force to remove Saddam from power, this attempt to gain international approval for the invasion was unsuccessful. Proponents of the use of force pointed to current and previous violations by Iraq of resolutions and sanctions imposed by the United Nations (UN) and the UN Security Council, as substantive enough to justify military intervention. President Bush, however, drew criticism for preemptively attacking a country that had never attacked the United States or threatened to do so, and for disregarding the opinion of the United Nations. He was criticized also, especially at home, for diverting attention away from capturing Osama Bin Laden. When asked during a press conference in March 2002 about what he was doing to capture Bin Laden, the president remarked: "You know, I just don't spend that much time on him.".
On May 2, from the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, in front of a huge banner that read "Mission Accomplished", Bush declared that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended." This drew criticism for being premature, since many Coalition forces were still fighting in Iraq. The banner, some said, was supposed to have been removed before the speech, and the president had not been involved.
Following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), made up of 1,200 members of British and American experts in the field of concealed weapons programs, was established. On October 3, 2003, it released its Interim report on Iraq, which stated that it had found numerous "WMD related materials" but no actual WMDs.
On November 27, 2003, the president made a surprise visit to Iraq to share a Thanksgiving dinner with the soldiers there in an effort to raise low morale. He spent two hours eating with troops at Baghdad International Airport before returning to the U.S.. The visit was kept top secret and even the army personnel had no idea he was coming. Some saw it as a patriotic gesture; others as a dangerous political stunt. Accompanied by U.S. National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice, the trip went without incident.
A few weeks later, on December 13, Saddam Hussein, the deposed President of Iraq, was found and captured by U.S. forces. Pictures of the now bearded former leader, looking severely dazed, being poked and prodded by medical examiners, circulated in newspapers and on the Internet around the world. This was a boost to the Bush presidency; most Americans were pleased that Saddam had been found and captured.
On January 23, 2004, the head of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), David Kay, resigned his position, stating that he believed WMDs would not be found in Iraq. "I don't think they existed," he commented. "What everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the last Gulf War and I don't think there was a large-scale production program in the '90s." Kay criticized the intelligence that led to the war in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, saying: "We were all wrong and that is most disturbing." The former UN weapons inspector Charles Duelfer was named by CIA director George Tenet as Kay's successor. In May, Bush's approval rating had fallen to 46%. On September 30, the ISG released the Duelfer Report, its final report, confirming David Kay's assertion that there were no WMDs in Iraq.
Some said that allegations of Iraqi development of WMDs were a lie to get access to Iraq's oil reserves and that Bush had committed young Americans' lives for financial gain. Many people saw a continuation of this stance, even after the invasion, as illustrated by this May 29, 2003 statement:
"We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories. You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said, Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons. They're illegal. They're against the United Nations resolutions, and we've so far discovered two. And we'll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong, we found them."
It is now known that the Bush administration had full knowledge, from their team of independent experts on May 27, 2003, that these labs were used for nothing more than filling weather balloons with hydrogen.
Some people felt that the President had had adequate reason to attack Iraq and that he truly believed there were WMD development programs in place, given that allied intelligence agencies believed that they had grounds for suspicion, and that numerous requests by UN inspectors to visit facilities of interest in Iraq had consistently been refused by Saddam. Bush, in their opinion, was acting in the best interest of the United States.
Continuation of the war
Bush remained committed to the Iraq War, acknowledging on August 21 that it was "straining the psyche of our country" and would be an issue in the fall congressional elections, but said that the United States would remain in Iraq throughout his presidency.
In 2005, the Iraq War persisted during a year in which Iraq underwent revolutionary democratic reforms. True to a Bush campaign promise, on January 30 Iraq held its first general election since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, in which the Iraqi people voted on representatives for the Iraqi National Assembly. On December 15, Iraqis elected the first permanent assembly under the Constitution of Iraq, which was ratified on October 15.
But the direction and stability of Iraq remain contentious. In August 2005, during what was termed a 'working vacation' at Bush's ranch outside Crawford, Texas, Cindy Sheehan, mother of Casey Sheehan, an American casualty in Iraq, led a demonstration in opposition to the Iraq War at the peace camp Camp Casey outside the ranch, sparking assembly in the town by both supporters and detractors of the war. In Iraq, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, elected the first post-invasion Prime Minister of Iraq in the December 2005 legislative election, faced calls for his resignation from Sunni and Kurdish Iraqi leaders and the Bush administration pressured al-Jaafari to step down. On April 22, 2006, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, with the White House's support, named Nouri al-Maliki prime-minister delegate. Maliki presented his Cabinet to Parliament on May 20; the seats of Interior Minister and Defense Minister were not permanently filled until June 8. Along with the death of Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi on June 7, Bush hailed Iraq's national unity government. Although Maliki, who vowed to crack down on militias upon stepping into office, presented his national reconciliation plan on June 25, and despite the security crackdown in Baghdad begun on June 14 dubbed Operation Forward Together, United States Central Command Commander John Abizaid, with the backing of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace, on August 3 told the Senate Armed Services Committee, "Sectarian violence is probably as bad as I have seen it." On September 3 Iraqi National Security Advisor Mowaffak al-Rubaie announced the arrest of second-ranking al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Hamid Juma Faris Jouri al-Saeedi. On September 6 Iraqi National Assembly President Mahmoud al-Mashhadani said that the Iraq must embrace national reconciliation within three to fourth months lest the government fail. On September 7, 8 days after General George Casey said on August 30 that he expected Iraqi forces to take over security operations in 12 to 18 months "with very little Coalition support", coalition forces handed over military command to the Iraq’s naval and air forces and the 8th Iraqi Army Division. On September 19, as Iraqi lawmakers demanded that the defense and interior ministries explain their plans for controlling rampaging Shiite death squads, General Abizaid announced the likelihood of the maintenance of or increase in U.S. troop levels in Iraq through the spring of 2007 or as needed. On September 2 Iraqi politicians agreed to consider a federalism bill that would allow some regional self-rule, as al-Maliki pleaded for peace a day before the holy Muslim month of Ramadan began. On September 26, Bush disputed the implications of, and declassified parts of, a leaked National Intelligence Estimate report that assessed, "The Iraq conflict has become the 'cause célèbre' for jihadists", that appeared in media reports on September 24, emphasizing the report's conclusion that the Iraq War was central to the "global jihadist movement" as reason to fight the war, Bush challenged Democrats who interpreted the report as saying the war has increased terrorism and decreased American safety. On September 27 a senior U.S. military official said that Iraqi Shiite militias have cooperated with the Iranian Badr Organization in killing thousands of Sunni Arabs in the country. On October 2, Maliki announced a four-point plan to stem sectarian violence through the unity of Sunni and Shiite parties in his government, as it extended Iraq's state of emergency for a month and the country suffered two massive kidnappings on consecutive days. On October 11, Bush rejected as not credible a report that Iraqi deaths had totaled 655,000 from the war, and United States Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker said that the U.S. military was planning to retain current troop levels in Iraq through 2010. Bush met with military commanders and Cabinet secretaries to discuss policy in Iraq on October 21, a day after saying, "The tactics are constantly changing." On October 24, U.S. officials said that Iraqi leaders have agreed to develop a security and political timetable by year's end and General Casey said that Iraq will take responsible for its security with U.S. support within twelve to eighteen months. On October 25, Bush said that he was not satisfied with the situation in Iraq and "The ultimate accountability rests with me. If people are unhappy about it, look right to the president", but "absolutely we're winning" the Iraq War. On October 28, hours after a Maliki aide quote the Iraqi prime minister as saying, "I am not America's man in Iraq", Bush and Maliki said they were "committed to the partnership" and agreed in the goals of speeding up the training, Iraqi control, and national control of security of Iraq's security forces. On November 5, former President of Iraq Saddam Hussein, who had been tried for murdering 143 Shiites from Dujail in retaliation for the failed assassination attempt against him of July 8, 1982, was sentenced to death for crimes against humanity. Bush hailed the conviction, saying, "Saddam Hussein's trial is a milestone in the Iraqi people's efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law—it's a major achievement for Iraq's young democracy and its constitutional government. A series of attacks in Sadr City on November 23 killed at least 215 people and injured 257 others, making it the deadliest attack in the Iraq War's history.
Bush participated in a flurry of activity on the war weeks after the mid-term elections. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld resigned on November 8 in the immediate aftermath of the elections, to be replaced by Robert Gates, whose term began on December 18, 2006. Gates said in his confirmation hearings that he would continue to try to transform the U.S. military into a light, robust force to deal with 21st-century changes and that he was open to significant changes to U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to a report by The New York Times on December 2, Rumsfeld wrote a classified dated November 6 that also said current U.S. strategy in Iraq is not working and requires major adjustments. On November 29, thirty Parliament lawmakers and six Cabinet ministers loyal to Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr boycotted the Iraq government to protest a planned meeting between Bush and Maliki that day; Maliki called on an end to the boycott on November 30. Bush and Maliki met in Amman, Jordan for crisis talks but a three-way dinner between the leaders and Jordan's King Abdullah was cancelled, reportedly because of a November 8 memo by National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley leaked by The New York Times expressing doubts about Maliki's ability to rein in Iraq's militias and secure the country. Bush and Maliki met with Abdullah separately, who was concerned about Iran's growing influence in Iraq. During the meeting between Bush and Maliki on November 30, Maliki said that Iraq would be able to assume command of its security forces by June 2007, Bush agreed to speed up the turnover of responsibility for security, and both leaders agreed that Iraq not be partitioned. Reports would surface that the Iraq government is in talks to replace Maliki and bring in a coalition against al-Sadr, but the White House has denied a bid to oust the Iraqi PM. Bush met with Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. On December 5 Maliki, who had rejected UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's request for a peace conference on Iraq because it would have been held outside the country, said Iraq would hold a regional conference with its neighbors, a development the White House welcomed. On December 6, the Iraq Study Group released its Report, which called for conditional phased withdrawal of U.S. troops, a conditional American transition from a leading to a supporting role, and for talks with Iraqi neighbors Iran, with which Iraq signed a security agreement on November 29, and Syria; Talibani decried the report on December 10. Bush met with Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, who asked for a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, on December 12. Bush, who has acknowledged the grave situation in Iraq, said on December 13 that he would not rush to make a decision for a "new way forward" there.
A CNN report noted that the U.S. led interim government, the Coalition Provisional Authority lasting until 2004 in Iraq had lost $8,800,000,000 in the Development Fund for Iraq. An inspector generals report mentioned that "'Severe inefficiencies and poor management' by the Coalition Provisional Authority would leave no guarantee that the money was properly used," Stuart W. Bowen Jr., director of the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, said.
President Bush advocated a "hands-off" approach to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in the wake of rising violence in the region and the failure of the Clinton administration's efforts to negotiate. Bush specifically shunned the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for not tracking down Palestinian militant groups per Ariel Sharon's requirements, but following prompts from European leaders, he became the first American president to embrace a two-state solution in the Middle East, envisaging an independent Palestinian state existing side-by-side with Israel. Bush sponsored dialogue between Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas, but continued his administration's boycott of Arafat. Bush also later supported Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan, and lauded the democratic elections held in the Palestinian National Authority following Arafat's death.
Rise of Hamas
Hamas's refusal to comply with the demand of the U.S., Israel, and the European Union to disarm, recognize Israel, and denounce terror following the group's winning a majority of seats in the January Palestinian legislative election and the return to violence between it and Israel months later inflamed the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and detracted from the road map for peace, which was first proposed by Bush. Yet the Bush administration still considers Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a peace partner. In a September 20 meeting with the Palestinian leader, Bush called Abbas, who was unsuccessfully trying to form a coalition government with Hamas that met the Quartet's demands for peace and recognition of Israel, a "man of peace".
The warfare between Israel and Lebanon disturbed the attention on the Iranian nuclear crisis. President Bush supported the Israelis on the basis that Hezbollah, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization, started the fight and Israel had the right to defend itself and live in peace. To this end, Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice resisted UN and international efforts to reach an immediate ceasefire, desiring a sustaining resolution to the conflict and not a return to the status quo. Bush and Rice demanded an international peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon as a precondition to the end of the fighting, and repeated that Iran and Syria must stop funding or otherwise sponsoring Hezbollah. This strong stance created a rift among Arab leaders, especially Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt due to domestic pressure to support Hezbollah. The issue also created a breakage between some European allies, especially France, although United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, unanimously approved on August 11 to end the fighting and approved respectively by the Lebanese and Israeli governments on August 12 and August 13 with Hezbollah's support, was based on a draft initially proposed by the United States and France.
Free trade agreements
As president, Bush signed into law several free trade agreements, including the Jordan–United States Free Trade Agreement, the Australia–United States Free Trade Agreement, the Chile–United States Free Trade Agreement, the Singapore–United States Free Trade Agreement, the Bahrain–United States Free Trade Agreement, the Morocco-United States Free Trade Agreement, the Oman–United States Free Trade Agreement, the Peru–United States Trade Promotion Agreement, and the Dominican Republic–Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA; includes Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic).
Iran has drawn international attention through what has been called the Iranian nuclear crisis, announcing on April 11, 2006 that it had enriched uranium and on August 26, five days before the Security Council's August 31 deadline for Iran to abandon its nuclear program or risk facing economic and political sanctions, inaugurated a heavy-water nuclear reactor. On August 31, the UN declared that Iran had not complied with the deadline, while Iran reiterated its interest in reopening talks. On December 23, the Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1737 imposing sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program. In response, Iran said hours later that it would install 3,000 centrifuges in a uranium enrichment plant for what it continues to insist is civilian purposes.
North Korea launched missile tests on July 5, leading to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1695. The country said on October 3, "The U.S. extreme threat of a nuclear war and sanctions and pressure compel the DPRK to conduct a nuclear test", which the Bush administration has denied and denounced. Following North Korea's claimed nuclear test on October 9 (it was confirmed by the Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte's office on October 16), Bush said, "The United States condemns this provocative act. Once again North Korea has defied the will of the international community, and the international community will respond." Indeed, other Security Council members and neighbors of North Korea were quick to release statements of their own. On October 11, Bush said that the United States will seek to severely punish but not attack North Korea, shortly after Kim Jong-il said he would consider any further provocation by the U.S. an act of war. On October 14, the Security Council voted unanimously to sanction North Korea for the claimed test; North Korea immediately rejected the UN resolution. On October 31 North Korea agreed to join six-party talks; of the diplomatic breakthrough Bush said, "I am pleased and I want to thank the Chinese." On October 10, 2008, Bush dropped North Korea from the U.S's official list of state sponsors of terrorism because he felt that North Korea was complying with verification of its nuclear weapons checks.
As part of the recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission, Congress planned to pass a major intelligence reform bill in the summer of 2004. However, the bill was slowed down by disagreements between the Republicans in Congress. Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter from California opposed the bill because he thought it moved too much control over intelligence operations and budgets from the military to a new national intelligence director. House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin wanted the bill changed to stop states from issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. The Bush administration, however, was keen to push for the bill as part of its "war on terror" initiative, but it was blocked in the House on 20 November 2004.
On December 10, 2004, an agreement was finally reached on the language of the bill and it was approved in the Senate by 89 votes to 2. The bill forced intelligence and law enforcement agencies to share information, called for a minimum federal standard for state drivers' licenses and for Homeland Security to set a standard for the identification needed to board a commercial aircraft. The bill created a new federal counter-terrorism center and a new, controversial, United States Director of National Intelligence, who was to be given strong budgetary control. However, the complexity of the bill's language was criticized, with concerns that it might lead to confusion over the director's exact powers. Bush, who passed the bill into law on December 17, was accused of pressuring Congress into passing the bill before the end of the year. Some considered it to be the largest legislation overhaul in 50 years.
Response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami
The president was beginning his post-Christmas vacation at his Crawford, Texas ranch when he was informed of a devastating tsunami that was unfolding in the Indian Ocean. The first estimates of casualties were 22,000 people killed, of whom, six were Americans. These figures were to rise dramatically in the coming hours and days.
Bush said the earthquake was a "terrible loss of life and suffering" and a $15 million aid package was put together to help the Asian countries suffering from the devastation caused by this tsunami. The U.S. and other Western nations were criticized, however, first by the UN and then by The New York Times, for not providing enough aid. They claimed that the amount pledged by the United States was half as much as Republicans were planning to spend on inauguration festivities. The New York Times also criticized Bush for waiting three days to express his condolences to the countries hit by the disaster.
Further criticism was leveled at undelivered relief funds for the 2003 earthquake in Iran and also that foreign aid money made up less than one quarter of one percent of the United States budget. As further details of the devastation around the Indian Ocean were revealed, Bush stepped up U.S. aid to $35 million in response and sent his brother, the Governor of Florida Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell to Asia to assess the damage. After Japan announced that they were pledging US$500 million, the largest amount of any country so far, and when the death count had risen to estimates of around 150,000, Bush again increased the United States aid package to $350 million, making it the second largest contribution. On February 9, as relief efforts continued to be made, Bush asked Congress for a total of $950 million.
These financial pledges did not include the costs associated with the use of United States military personnel in the relief effort. By January 12, 2005, 15,000 troops had been committed, 25 ships and nearly 100 aircraft, whose role included the delivery of emergency supplies and search and rescue.
Private relief funding was also substantial. On January 3, 2005, the president named his two immediate predecessors, Bill Clinton and father George H. W. Bush, to head up a major campaign to gather private funding to assist the tsunami victims. By January 11, only eight days later, $360 million had already been raised and more was expected.
In his State of the Union message in January 2003, President Bush outlined a five-year strategy for global emergency AIDS relief, the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief. Bush announced $15 billion for this effort, $3 billion a year for five years, but requested less in annual budgets, though some members of Congress added amendments to increase the requested amounts. The emergency relief effort was led by U.S. Ambassador Randall L. Tobias, former CEO of Eli Lilly and Company and Global AIDS Coordinator at the Department of State. $9 billion was allocated for new programs in AIDS relief in the 15 countries most affected by HIV/AIDS. Another $5 billion was to go to continuing support for AIDS relief in 100 countries where the United States already had bilateral programs established. An additional $1 billion was to go to support the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
CIA leak scandal
In July 2005, Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney's chief political advisors, Karl Rove and Lewis "Scooter" Libby respectively, came under fire for revealing the identity of covert Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent Valerie Plame to reporters in the CIA leak scandal. Libby resigned on October 28, hours after his indictment by a grand jury on multiple counts of perjury, false statements, and obstruction in this case. In November Bush ordered that his staff take mandatory briefings on ethical behavior and handling of classified information.
On October 5, 2005, the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, which sought to outlaw inhumane treatment of prisoners by restricting interrogation methods to the confines of the U.S. Army Field Manual on Interrogation passed the Senate on a 90-9 vote. On December 15, 2005, President Bush announced that he would "make it clear to the world that this government does not torture and that we adhere to the international convention of torture, whether it be here at home or abroad." Bush clarified his interpretation of the legislation on December 30, 2005, in a signing statement, reserving what he interpreted to be his presidential constitutional authority in order to avoid further terrorist attacks. The amendment, which critics said had no power to stop the U.S. military from torturing terrorist suspects, followed years of reports of torture in overseas prisons, such as the abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison. Relatedly, a report of CIA secret prisons in a November 2, 2005 Washington Post article generated further controversy.
In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld the Supreme Court rebuffed the administration on the issue of detainee rights, ruling the military commissions at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp illegal and pressuring the interrogation program to reform.
President Bush on September 6 acknowledged that the United States confines terrorists to jail cells overseas through a secret CIA interrogation program. Conceding the program's wide prior disclosure, Bush noted in a televised interview with CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric, "Everybody knows that, but I'm now formally announcing it." Bush denied that detainees are tortured but declared the interrogative techniques effective: "I cannot describe the specific methods used — I think you understand why... But I can say the procedures were tough, and they were safe, and lawful and necessary... Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al-Qaida and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland", he said, releasing declassified information about intelligence gained from captured terrorists. The president announced the transfer of fourteen high-profile terrorist suspects, including the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks and architects of the USS Cole bombing and U.S. Embassy bombings, from secret prisons to the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp for trial. Bush called on Congress to swiftly pass legislation legalizing the use of military commissions for trials of terrorist suspects.
On September 21, Bush bridged an impasse on negotiations for legislation on the treatment of terrorist suspects that was formed when Republican Senators John Warner, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, decorated Vietnam War veteran John McCain, and Armed Services and Judiciary Committee member Lindsey Graham broke with the party line with Bush's plan announced on September 6; former Bush administration Secretary of State Colin Powell also voiced his opposition to the program. In the agreement, Bush made concessions on the harshness of the language but he said it "preserves the single most potent tool we have in protecting America and foiling terrorist attacks." On September 28 and September 29 the Senate and House respectively passed different versions of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which Bush signed into law on October 17. It created military commissions to try suspected terrorists and allow the president to determine the legality of interrogation techniques so long as they do not constitute clear abuse of the Geneva Conventions.
According to the book Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals by Jane Mayer, in 2007, Red Cross investigators concluded in a secret report that the Central Intelligence Agency's interrogation methods for high-level Al-Qaeda prisoners constituted torture, which could make the Bush administration officials who approved them guilty of war crimes.
Manfred Nowak, the special representative on torture at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights stated in January 2009 that Bush and Donald Rumsfeld should both be prosecuted for war crimes due to their approval of the interrogation methods used on prisoners at the USA military base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Dismissal of United States attorneys
During Bush's second term, a controversy arose over the Justice Department's midterm dismissal of seven United States Attorneys. The White House maintained that the U.S. attorneys were fired for poor performance. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales later resigned over the issue, along with other senior members of the Justice Department. The House Judiciary Committee issued subpoenas for advisers Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten to testify regarding this matter, but Bush directed Miers and Bolten to not comply with those subpoenas, invoking his right of executive privilege. Bush maintained that all of his advisers were protected under a broad executive privilege protection to receive candid advice. The Justice Department determined that the President's order was legal.
Although Congressional investigations focused on whether the Justice Department and the White House were using the U.S. Attorney positions for political advantage, no official findings have been released. On March 10, 2008, the Congress filed a federal lawsuit to enforce their issued subpoenas. On July 31, 2008, a United States district court judge ruled that Bush's top advisers were not immune from Congressional subpoenas.
In all, twelve Justice Department officials resigned rather than testify under oath before Congress. They included Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and his chief of staff Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' liaison to the White House Monica Goodling, aide to the president Karl Rove and his senior aide Sara Taylor. In addition, legal counsel to the president Harriet Miers and deputy chief of staff to the president Joshua Bolten were both found in contempt of Congress.
In 2010, the Justice Department investigator concluded that though political considerations did play a part in as many as four of the attorney firings, the firings were "inappropriately political", but not criminal. According to the prosecutors, there was insufficient evidence to pursue prosecution for any criminal offense.
The guiding political philosophy of the Bush administration has been termed neoconservative. The specific elements of neoconservative leadership have been itemized in policy papers by leading members of the Project for a New American Century, and is represented in the editorial perspective of the political journal the Weekly Standard. Administration officials chosen from the membership of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) began with the selection of the candidate for vice president, Dick Cheney. Others included Richard Armitage, Zalmay Khalilzad, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Richard Perle, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz.
In September 2000, the PNAC issued a report entitled Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategies, Forces, and Resources For A New Century, proceeding "from the belief that America should seek to preserve and extend its position of global leadership by maintaining the preeminence of U.S. military forces." The group stated that when diplomacy or sanctions fail, the United States must be prepared to take military action. The PNAC argued that the Cold War deployment of forces was obsolete. Defense spending and force deployment must reflect the post–Cold War duties that US forces are obligated to perform. Constabulary duties such as peacekeeping in the Balkans and the enforcement of the No Fly Zones in Iraq put a strain upon, and reduced the readiness of, US forces. The PNAC recommended the forward redeployment of US forces at new strategically placed permanent military bases in Southeast Europe and Southeast Asia. Permanent bases would ease the strain on US forces, allowing readiness to be maintained and the carrier fleet to be reduced. Furthermore, PNAC advocated that the US-globalized military should be enlarged, equipped and restructured for the "constabulary" roles associated with shaping the security in critical regions of the world.
Bush's presidency was characterized by the unitary executive theory, which is a vigorous defense of "executive privilege", evidenced in such acts as signing Executive Order 13233, which suspends the release of presidential papers, tight control of Congressional inquiries into White House officers such as in the 9/11 Commission's interviews with Condoleezza Rice, Bush and Dick Cheney, and the generally high level of coordination between the White House, Congressional Republicans and Senate Republicans in both of Bush's terms. Many commentators have claimed that deference to executive privilege was one of the principal considerations in Bush's administration, when he proposed his three nominations for the Supreme Court, and appointed John R. Bolton to the United Nations.
Bush's approval ratings ran the gamut from high to all-time record low. Bush began his presidency with ratings near 50%. In the time of national crisis following the September 11 attacks, polls showed approval ratings of greater than 85%, peaking in one October 2001 poll at 92%, and a steady 80–90% approval for about four months after the attacks. Afterward, his ratings steadily declined as the economy suffered and the Iraq War initiated by his administration continued. By early 2006, his average rating was averaging below 40%, and in July 2008, a poll indicated a near all-time low of 22%. Upon leaving office the final poll recorded his approval rating as 19%, a record low for any U.S. President.
In Bush's first few months in office as president, the administration's focus was largely on matters concerning the economy, relations with North Korea and their nuclear efforts, stem cell research, and the job of uniting a nation still bitter over the controversy that surrounded the 2000 presidential election. In that election, Bush had lost the nationwide popular vote to Vice President Al Gore, yet narrowly defeated Gore in the Electoral College by the narrow margin of 271–266. A five-week-long battle over extremely close results in Florida ended when the Supreme Court abruptly terminated the state's month-long recounts on December 13, 2000. As a result of this, Bush won the state by 537 votes, the result of a November 27 recount that had been certified by Florida's Secretary of State, Katharine Harris. This judicial resolution was disputed by the Gore campaign and many other Democrats, since even the narrowest win for Gore in Florida would have been enough to make him President. Recounts following the November 27 certification by Harris had narrowed Bush's lead to just 125 votes when the U.S. Supreme Court declared George W Bush the winner in their December 13 ruling.
Bush's first few months were dominated by public disenchantment at this controversial and unusual election outcome, something reflected in his rainy inauguration ceremony in Washington DC, where 10,000 protesters rallied against the president.
2002 mid-term elections
In the 2002 mid-term elections, Bush campaigned strongly in support of some hand-picked Republican Senatorial candidates in states considered marginal, such as New Hampshire, Missouri, Georgia, Minnesota and South Dakota. According to conservative pundit John Podhoretz, Bush was instrumental in helping to revert Senate control back to the Republicans with a two-seat majority, defying the conventional wisdom that the party in power will lose seats mid-term. Of those marginal states visited by the President, only South Dakota retained its incumbent Democratic Senator. Bush helped to install such reliable conservative stalwarts as Norm Coleman, Saxby Chambliss, John E. Sununu and Jim Talent, defeating, respectively, former Vice-President Walter Mondale, incumbent Max Cleland, Governor Jeanne Shaheen and incumbent Jean Carnahan.
Intense issues in the Middle East, such as the overall security situation in Iraq and the lack of WMDs found in that country, fueled the fire for the 2004 election. During his campaign, Bush's platform changed little from that of the 2000 election, although he added several claims of success in fighting the war on terror and preventing another 9/11-style attack. Other presidential candidates criticized Bush for his failures in the war on terror, the war in Iraq, his policies on the environment, education, health care and the economy, the deficit in the Federal budget and his near-unilateral approach to foreign policy. Bush portrayed his Democratic opponent John Kerry as soft and said he would "flip-flop," or change opinions on issues for political gain. Kerry portrayed Bush as stubborn, rigid and unyielding in his views, although Republicans, seizing upon this, claimed that Bush's stubbornness was a positive asset for the country.
The campaign was bitterly fought and each candidate made attacks on his opponent in some form or another almost on a daily basis. The polls remained neck-and-neck in the weeks before the election. The only time either candidate was significantly ahead in the polls was after their political parties' conventions. After the 2004 Republican National Convention most polls showed an eleven-point lead for President Bush, which kept dwindling as time went on. Despite outcries by law enforcement agencies across the country, Bush allowed the Federal Assault Weapons Ban to quietly die on September 13; this did not substantially affect his approval rating, however. In fact, it went virtually unnoticed. Polls were very close to dead-even by the first presidential debate on September 30, 2004.
During the three presidential debates, reactions to President Bush's performance were mixed. He was said to have scowled during the first debate several times, which he later made light of. Most media sources agree that he lost the first two debates. But by the third, which media sources saw as a tie, Bush had noticeably straightened up and appeared as firm and confident as he had been during past performances. Highly speculative claims that the President might have worn a wire or an earpiece of some kind during the last debate were suggested, based on pictures of Bush, taken during the debate, which show an apparent "bulge" running down his back. No investigation was ever conducted into these claims and most agree that if the president had been coached through an electronic device, his performances would probably have been better. Some technical problems surrounding this have been pointed out as well.
On the eve of Election Day, most polls showed President Bush ahead by 2%. Many popular television, radio and print media, however, predicted that John Kerry would win the presidency. Exit polls showed Bush leading by 2 to 3%. As polling centers closed and the remaining votes were being counted, it became clear that Bush and Kerry were winning the same states that had been won by their parties in 2000. Bush managed to win the swing states of Florida (by 400,000 as opposed to the 537 margin of 2000) and Ohio (by 119,000). He won his re-election bid by 34 electoral votes, the end total being: Bush–286, Kerry–251. The next afternoon John Kerry conceded his candidacy. During a speech on that same day, Bush outlined what he hoped to do in his second term and stated that he interpreted the results of the election as a "mandate" from the American people.
The enthusiasm shown by the public in this election and its campaign resulted in a record voter turnout and something of a resurgence in the common American's interest in politics. It was often said that for Bush to have a successful second term, he must bridge a growing divide between Americans and win over his opponent's supporters. However, with a majority in both houses of Congress and the prospect of appointing three new Supreme Court Justices, getting his policies passed swiftly did not seem likely to require bi-partisan cooperation.
2006 mid-term elections
President Bush lent his views to a few controversies that would potentially shape the mid-term elections, held on November 7, 2006. On October 11 Bush called Mark Foley's actions in the congressional page scandal disgusting and said the Republicans would retain control of Congress in the 2006 congressional elections despite the scandal. On October 30, Senator John Kerry said, "You know, education - if you make the most of it, you study hard and you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq." Bush countered, "The senator's suggestion that the men and women of our military are somehow uneducated is insulting and shameful. The men and women who serve in our all-volunteer armed forces are plenty smart and are serving because they are patriots - and Senator Kerry owes them an apology." Kerry initially refused to apologize, saying, "The White House's attempt to distort my true statement is a remarkable testament to their abject failure in making America safe. It's a stunning statement about their willingness to reduce anything in America to raw politics." Kerry caved in to bipartisan pressure and apologized the next day on November 1.
Bush also went on the campaign trail, stressing that the Republicans were strong on national security and would keep taxes low, unlike the Democrats.
But Bush's tone changed accordingly when the Republicans lost the majority of state governorships and control of both houses of the bicameral legislature, the House of Representatives and the Senate, to the Democrats. The next day on November 8, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld resigned. Rumsfeld, who had endured several calls for his resignation but had won what many thought was an assurance of his job security as recently as November 1 by Bush's voiced confidence in his job performance, served until the confirmation of his successor, whom Bush nominated that day to be former CIA Director Robert Gates. Bush spoke about these developments in a press conference. Regarding the elections, he said, "Look, this was a close election. If you look at race by race, it was close. The cumulative effect, however, was not too close. It was a thumping... I'm obviously disappointed with the outcome of the election, and as the head of the Republican Party, I share a large part of the responsibility. I told my party's leaders that it is now our duty to put the elections behind us and work together with the Democrats and independents on the great issues facing this country." Bush highlighted bipartisan efforts in the past: "We had some pretty good success early on in this administration. We got the No Child Left Behind Act passed, which was an important part of bipartisan legislation. We got some tax cuts passed with Democrat votes", adding later that the prospects of immigration reform are improved under a Democratic-led Congress. He also said, "I knew we were going to lose seats, I just didn't know how many... I thought when it was all said and done, the American people would understand the importance of taxes and the importance of security." Regarding the Defense Secretary post, he said he made the decision based on the consent from Rumsfeld, who he said appreciated "the value of bringing in a fresh perspective during a critical period in this war [in Iraq]", and Gates from speaking to them on election day, and that the change would have happened regardless of the outcome of the elections. While affirming the United States' commitment to the mission in Iraq through statements to U.S. enemies, U.S. troops, and the Iraqi people, he said he was "looking forward" to the suggestions of the Iraq Study Group, of which Gates was a member at the time, on U.S. policy in Iraq.
Under the terms of the twenty-fifth amendment Bush was ineligible to seek a third term in 2008. Bush's 2000 Republican primary rival, Senator John McCain, won the Republican nomination to succeed Bush. The Democrats nominated Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. Obama defeated McCain, taking 52.9% of the popular vote and 365 of the 538 electoral votes. The election gave Democrats unified control of the legislative and executive branches for the first time since the 1994 elections.
On January 15, 2009, Bush gave a nationally televised farewell address. He discussed many of his decisions and said that he had kept the country safe since September 11, 2001. He said that the United States must continue promoting human liberty, human rights, and human dignity around the world. One of his final lines was "We have faced danger and trial, and there's more ahead. But with the courage of our people and confidence in our ideals, this great nation will never tire, never falter and never fail." A January 2009 Gallup poll found Bush with an approval rating of 34%, with 75% of Republicans, 28% of independents, and 6% of Democrats registering approval for the outgoing president. In a January 2009 CBS/New York Times poll, Bush received low marks for his handling of the Iraq War and the economy, though about half of Americans approved of his handling of the War on Terror.
Following the end of his second term, Bush kept a low profile, and avoided criticizing his successor, Barack Obama. In 2013 his favorable rating reached 49%, marking the first time since 2005 that more poll respondents approved than disapproved of Bush. In 2015, Bush's younger brother, Jeb Bush, began a campaign for the presidency, and the legacy of George W. Bush loomed large over the younger Bush's campaign. After leaving office, numerous former Bush administration officials wrote memoirs, some of them quite harsh in their judgments.
Polls of historians and political scientists taken after 2005 have generally ranked Bush as a below-average president. A 2005 Wall Street Journal/Federalist Society poll placed Bush as the 19th best president. In 2006, Siena College surveyed 744 professional historians; they regarded Bush's presidency to date as: Great: 2%; Near Great: 5%; Average: 11%; Below Average: 24%; Failure: 58%. Thomas Kelly, professor emeritus of American studies at Siena College, said that "In this case, current public opinion polls actually seem to cut the President more slack than the experts do." Similar outcomes were reported by two informal surveys done by the History News Network in 2004 and 2008. A 2009 C-SPAN survey of historians ranked Bush in 36th place among the 42 former presidents. In a 2015 survey of the American Political Science Association, Bush placed 35th out of the 43 people who had served as president.