Bush’s Presidency was dominated by the events of September 11, 2001. The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (and don’t forget the fourth plane that was downed by the passengers on board in Pennsylvania, whose target is unclear). 9/11 was shocking because the United States was completely caught off guard by such a highly organized terrorist attack. Lapses in the collection of intelligence allowed the planning of the hijackings to go undetected.
In response to 9/11, Congress passed the Patriot Act (2001, renewed in 2006). It created the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate the War on Terror. It also gives government agencies—like the FBI and CIA—greater power to suspend civil liberties to prevent a similar attack. Supporters of the Act point to the absence of a similar attack in America as proof that the legislation works. Others feel that it is a violation of people’s rights as agencies monitor phone calls, e-mails and text messages.
Another direct response to 9/11 was the War in Afghanistan. Afghanistan was ruled by an extremist Islamic fundamentalist group called the Taliban. It was friendly to Al Qaeda, an international terrorist organization led by Osama bin Laden, and allowed Al Qaeda terrorist training camps to operate in Afghanistan. So the United States invaded to shut down those camps and help rebels overthrow the Taliban. American troops have since been kept there to protect the Afghani government and prevent the Taliban from taking back over.
The War in Iraq was not directly connected to September 11, despite many American’s confusion. Saddam Hussein had been in violation of United Nations treaties for years. Concern that he possessed large amounts of Weapons of Mass Destruction and what he might do with them led to the U.S. invasion in 2003. Hussein’s government was overthrown and he was eventually tried and executed for crimes he committed against his people. Technically, the war was over. But American troops were kept in Iraq to occupy that nation as the United States helped create a new, democratic Iraqi government. Pacification of Iraq was difficult. Explanations of this are complicated by people’s political affiliations. Regardless, the United States has helped establish a democratic government and has been shifting responsibility to it and its police force. American troops are currently being removed from the country.
Another global concern that emerged in the 2000’s involved North Korea. The communist dictatorship there is trying to develop nuclear weapons. The United States has put quite a bit of pressure on them to stop their nuclear program with limited results.
The American economy sank into a recession at the end of the 2000’s. One cause was a rash of corporate bankruptcies and scandals. In the early 2000’s, corporate greed and fraud became headline news as abuses by major corporations and their officers shocked the public. Many people lost their life savings when these corporations—Enron and WorldCom—went bankrupt, leading to demands that government investigate.
In 2002, Bush signed a national education law—called No Child Left Behind—designed to improve American’s education system, raising standards and holding schools accountable for low test scores by tying scores to federal funding.
The legacy of George W. Bush’s Presidency is still undetermined.