Oxford University Press - Online Resource Centres

Young & Kent: International Relations since 1945 2e

George W. Bush

George W. Bush is the 43rd President of the United States. He was sworn into office on January 20, 2001, and re-elected on November 2, 2004. Prior to his Presidency, President Bush served for 6 years as the 46th Governor of the State of Texas, where he shaped public policy based on the principles of limited government, personal responsibility, strong families, and local control.

President Bush was born on July 6, 1946, in New Haven, Connecticut, and grew up in Midland and Houston, Texas. He received a bachelor’s degree in history from Yale University in 1968, and then served as an F-102 fighter pilot in the Texas Air National Guard. President Bush received a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School in 1975. Following graduation, he moved back to Midland and began a career in the energy business. After working on his father’s successful 1988 Presidential campaign, President Bush assembled the group of partners who purchased the Texas Rangers baseball franchise in 1989. On November 8, 1994, President Bush was elected Governor of Texas. He became the first Governor in Texas history to be elected to consecutive 4-year terms when he was re-elected on November 3, 1998.

Since becoming President of the United States in 2001, President Bush has worked with the Congress to create an ownership society and build a future of security, prosperity, and opportunity for all Americans. He signed into law tax relief that helps workers keep more of their hard-earned money, as well as the most comprehensive education reforms in a generation, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. President Bush has also worked to improve healthcare and modernize Medicare, providing the first-ever prescription drug benefit for seniors; increase homeownership, especially among minorities; and increase military strength, pay, and benefits.

Since September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks President Bush has taken unprecedented steps to fight terror on a global scale. These include overthrowing of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, and the on-going efforts to democratise the Middle East.

President Bush is married to Laura Welch Bush, a former teacher and librarian, and they have twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna.

Bush’s Foreign Policy

Bush’s attitude to foreign relations was strident from the beginning of his presidency. He expelled 50 Russian diplomats in March 2001 who were accused of spying following the arrest of an FBI double agent, Robert Hansen. Russian president Vladimir Putin responded with a tit-for-tat expulsion a few days later. The following month there was a diplomatic crisis after the mid-air collision of a US EP-3 spy plane and a Chinese F-8 fighter resulted in the emergency landing of the spy plane on Chinese territory and the death of the Chinese pilot. After 11 days of negotiations the Bush administration was able to secure the release of the American crew.

As Bush’s presidency developed he began to attract criticism, both within the US and abroad, for its unilateralist approach to policy. In March 2001 Bush said that the US would not implement the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to address the issue of global warming. He claimed to be sceptical about the scientific evidence that lay behind the agreement, and was concerned about the impact it would have on the US economy. In December 2001 the US gave notice that it would withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty of 1973 on the grounds that the US needed to be able to develop its defences against “rogue states”. Part of Bush’s new defence strategy was the plan to create a missile shield. In March 2002 President Bush announced that he was imposing tariffs of 30 per cent on steel imports, an attempt to give support to the US steel industry that was struggling against the cheaper products of its international competitors. The tariffs provoked the European Union and other steel-producing countries to complain to the World Trade Organization, and threatened to spark a trade war.

Despite the difficulties that such an approach introduced to international relations President Bush was able to achieve some acceptance for his strategy. On his visit to Europe in May 2002, he signed a nuclear disarmament agreement with President Putin, aiming to cut the nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia by two thirds over the next ten years. He also attended the NATO meeting in Italy at which a new NATO-Russia council was created, designed to include Russia in counter-terrorism, peacekeeping, and arms control initiatives.

September 11, 2001

The terrorist attack on the United States of September 11, 2001, in which passenger aircraft were deliberately flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, New York, and into the Pentagon office complex, Washington, D.C., was blamed by the administration on Osama bin Laden, a Saudi Arabian dissident based in Afghanistan, and the Al-Qaeda network of which he was believed to be the head. Under the aegis of his Secretary of State Colin Powell, President Bush built up a coalition of over 40 countries against international terrorism. By executive order, he froze the assets of all individuals and companies with any association to Bin Laden, and also appointed former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge to a new Cabinet-level Office of Homeland Security, with the responsibility of protecting the US against acts of terrorism. In November 2002 this became the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS combined dozens of federal agencies into one department, constituting the largest reorganization in the federal government since the Department of Defense was created in 1947. The Bush administration also introduced legislation, known as the Patriot Act, to give the state greater powers to prevent terrorist actions in the United States. The act was passed in October 2001.

A Congressional commission was formed in late 2002 to investigate the events of September 11. The report it delivered in July 2004 highlighted the failure of the intelligence services to correctly assess the threat from Al-Qaeda and to co-ordinate its information-gathering activities. President Bush responded in August by endorsing the report’s recommendation that a new post of national director of intelligence be created.

Afghanistan

The September 11 attacks spurred the Bush administration to take action against the sponsors of Islamist terror abroad. Following the refusal of the Taliban regime of Afghanistan to surrender Bin Laden, a sustained aerial bombardment of the country was launched. Aided by anti-Taliban forces on the ground, the Taliban regime was overthrown and a government hostile to Al-Qaeda, led by Hamid Karzai, was established by the end of December. However, despite the efforts of US and British special forces in a hunt through the heavily defended caves of Afghanistan, Bin Laden evaded capture. Several Al-Qaeda prisoners were transported to the US base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in January where they await trial. In his State of the Union speech that month Bush introduced the concept of an "axis of evil", nations (North Korea, Iran and Iraq) that he regarded as the greatest threat to the United States because of their alleged sponsorship of terrorism.

Iraq

After the offensive in Afghanistan ended, President Bush turned his attention to Iraq. In 2002 he identified Iraq as a threat to global security and sought proof that the regime of Saddam Hussein had destroyed weapons banned after its defeat in the Gulf War of 1991. The administration feared that these weapons could find their way into the hands of terrorist groups. In October, US Congress passed a resolution authorizing the President to use force to enforce all relevant UN resolutions regarding Iraq. The following month the UN Security Council passed a resolution ordering weapons inspectors to return to Iraq, from where they had been expelled in 1998, and threatening “serious consequences” if Iraq did not disarm. Iraq agreed to comply on admitting weapons inspectors and they started work in the country that same month.

Despite the resumption of inspections, the Bush administration argued that Iraq was not fully cooperating with inspectors and was continuing to hide banned weapons. President Bush, with the support of Britain and several other countries, sought UN authorization of force against Iraq. However, some countries, such as France, Germany, Russia, and China, wanted to give the weapons inspections more time to proceed and opposed military action. After the UN Security Council was unable to reach agreement about whether to authorize force against Iraq, President Bush decided to forego UN approval and pursue military action in a coalition with other willing countries. In March 2003 US-led forces invaded Iraq. Baghdad fell to US troops in early April, effectively bringing Saddam Hussein’s regime to an end.

Although the initial victory over Saddam Hussein had been achieved with relative ease, achieving stability and security in Iraq proved more difficult. Moreover, no evidence that Hussein’s regime had possessed banned weapons could be found. The capture of Hussein in December 2003 failed to prevent persistent attacks on US forces, and there were fears that groups linked to Al-Qaeda were establishing themselves in the country, creating a new “front line” in Bush’s “war on terror”.