The George W. Bush Administration

The George W. Bush Administration

George W. Bush's two terms in office were characterized by a socially conservative agenda, the U.S. response to the 9/11 attack, and the Iraq War.

Learning Objectives

Summarize President George W. Bush's initiatives while in office

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • After the close and highly contested election of 2000, George W. Bush served his first term as president from 2001 to 2004.
  • The Bush administration's guiding political philosophy has been classified as neoconservative, characterized by the belief that America should seek global leadership by maintaining the preeminence of U.S. military forces. Bush's first term was marked by a socially conservative agenda; he passed tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and passed the No Child Left Behind Act.
  • Bush was reelected over Senator John Kerry in 2004, despite criticisms of how Bush was handling the economy and the Iraq War.
  • During his second term, Bush passed a number of free trade agreements, the Energy Policy Act of 2005, and Social Security and immigration reform measures; he also led the surge of troops in Iraq.

Key Terms

  • Neoconservatism: A variant of political ideology that combines features of traditional conservatism with political individualism and a qualified endorsement of free markets, as well as an emphasis on maintaining global military power.
  • No Child Left Behind Act: A U.S. Act of Congress that came about as wide public concern about the state of education; first proposed by the administration of George W. Bush immediately after he took office in 2001.
  • Energy Policy Act of 2005: A bill passed by the United States Congress on July 29, 2005, and signed into law by President George W. Bush on August 8, 2005, which provided tax incentives and loan guarantees for energy production of various types.

The Election of George W. Bush 

The presidency of George W. Bush began on January 20, 2001, when he was inaugurated as the 43rd President of the United States. The oldest son of former president George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush became the second U.S. president whose father had held the same office (John Quincy Adams was the first).


President George W. Bush: Official presidential portrait of U.S. President George W. Bush.

The general election of 2000 was highly contested. After two vote recounts, Democratic presidential candidate and incumbent Vice President Al Gore filed a lawsuit for a third recount. The Supreme Court's controversial decision in Bush v. Gore resolved the dispute. The Florida Secretary of State certified Bush as the winner of Florida, and Florida's 25 electoral votes gave Bush, the Republican candidate, 271 electoral votes, enough to defeat Al Gore. Bush was reelected in 2004, and his second term ended on January 20, 2009.

Political Philosophy

Bush had campaigned with a promise of “compassionate conservatism” at home and non-intervention abroad. These platform promises were designed to appeal to those who felt that the Clinton administration’s initiatives in the Balkans and Africa had unnecessarily entangled the United States in the conflicts of foreign nations. 

The guiding political philosophy of the Bush administration has been termed neoconservatism. By the time Bush became president, the concept of supply-side economics had become an article of faith within the Republican Party. The oft-repeated argument was that tax cuts for the wealthy would allow them to invest more and create jobs for everyone else. This belief in the self-regulatory powers of competition also served as the foundation of Bush’s education reform. By the end of his two terms in 2008, however, Americans’ faith in the dynamics of the free market had been badly shaken. 

The specific elements of neoconservative leadership have been discussed in policy papers by leading members of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). Influential leaders in this philosophy include Dick Cheney, Richard Perle, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz. In September of 2000, the PNAC issued a report stating that, in order to maintain military leadership, the U.S. must be prepared to take military action. The PNAC argued that defense spending and force deployment must reflect the post-Cold War duties that U.S. forces are obligated to perform. PNAC advocated that the U.S.-globalized military should be enlarged, equipped, and restructured for the "constabulary" roles associated with shaping the security in critical regions of the world.

First Term: Major Initiatives and Events 

Taxes and Social Conservatism

When Bush took office in January 2001, he was committed to a Republican agenda. He cut tax rates for the rich and tried to limit the role of government in people’s lives, in part by providing students with vouchers to attend charter and private schools, and by encouraging religious organizations to provide social services instead of the government. He pushed through a $1.3 trillion tax cut program, largely benefiting the wealthiest Americans, and passed the No Child Left Behind Act, an educational reform act that supported standards-based education reform based on the premise that setting high standards and establishing measurable goals could improve individual outcomes in education. While his tax cuts pushed the United States into a chronically large federal deficit, many of his supply-side economic reforms stalled during his second term. 

Bush pushed for socially conservative efforts such as the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act and faith-based welfare initiatives. He reinstated the Mexico City Policy, requiring any non-governmental organization receiving U.S. government funding to refrain from performing or promoting abortion services in other countries. Also, in 2002, President Bush withdrew funding from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), a key player in promoting family planning in the developing world.

"The War on Terror"

After the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City on September 11, 2001, Bush declared a global "War on Terrorism" aimed largely at Muslim states. In October of 2001, he ordered an invasion of Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban, destroy Al-Qaeda, and capture Osama bin Laden on the pretense that "weapons of mass destruction" were being hidden by these groups. In March of 2003, Bush received a mandate from the U.S. Congress to lead an invasion of Iraq, asserting that Iraq was in violation of United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 1441. 

Re-Election and Second Term 

Running as a self-styled "war president" in the midst of the Iraq War, Bush won re-election in 2004; his campaign against Senator John Kerry was successful despite controversy over Bush's handling of the Iraq War and the economy.

Bush's second term was highlighted by several free trade agreements, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 alongside a strong push for offshore and domestic drilling, the nominations of Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito, a push for Social Security and immigration reform, a surge of troops in Iraq, and several different economic initiatives aimed at preventing a banking system collapse, stopping foreclosures, and stimulating the economy during the recession.

Hurricane Katrina and the Mortgage Crisis

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina brought to light ongoing racial injustices embedded within American society and government, underscoring the limited capacities of the federal government under Bush to assure homeland security. In combination with increasing discontent over the Iraq War, these events handed Democrats a majority in both houses in 2006. Largely as a result of a deregulated bond market and dubious innovations in home mortgages, the nation reached the pinnacle of a real estate boom in 2007, followed almost immediately by the Great Recession of 2008. The threatened collapse of the nations’ banks and investment houses required the administration to extend aid to the financial sector. Many resented this bailout of the rich, as ordinary citizens lost jobs and homes in the Great Recession.


Bush Cabinet Meeting: President George W. Bush answers a question from the reporter at the end of a Cabinet Meeting to discuss his energy plan. In his second term, the Bush administration passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

The Disputed Election of 2000

In the disputed and extremely close 2000 presidential election, Democratic candidate Al Gore lost to Republican George W. Bush.

Learning Objectives

Examine the 2000 presidential election

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • In the 2000 election, Al Gore, who was Clinton's Democratic Vice President, ran against George W. Bush, the Republican Governor of Texas and son of former president George H. W. Bush.
  • Gore won the Democratic nomination unanimously and chose Joe Lieberman as his running mate. Bush won the Republican nomination and chose former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney as his running mate.
  • Clinton's impeachment cast a shadow on the Democratic campaign, especially because Gore was Clinton's Vice President; as a campaign strategy, Gore attempted to distance himself from Clinton.
  • Ralph Nader was the most successful third-party candidate. Some Democrats argue that Nader split the Democratic vote, tipping the election in George W. Bush's favor. 
  • The election came down to Florida's 25 electoral votes. The outcome of Florida's election took a month to determine because of the recount process and questions about the accuracy of the voting machines.
  • In the controversial Supreme Court case Bush v. Gore, Bush was given the presidency. Though Gore came in second in the electoral vote, he received more popular votes than Bush; this was the fourth election in the history of the U.S. where the winning president won fewer popular votes than the runner-up.

Key Terms

  • Bush v. Gore: The United States Supreme Court decision that effectively resolved the dispute surrounding the 2000 presidential election in favor of George W. Bush.
  • Ralph Nader: An American political activist, author, lecturer, and attorney focused on the areas of consumer protection, humanitarianism, environmentalism, and democratic government.
  • Help America Vote Act: A U.S. federal law signed into law by President Bush on October 29, 2002 designed to upgrade election procedures.

The 2000 Election

The United States presidential election of 2000 was a contest between Republican candidate George W. Bush, then-governor of Texas, and Democratic candidate and incumbent Vice President Al Gore. Bush narrowly won the November 7 election with 271 electoral votes to Gore's 266 (with one elector abstaining in the official tally). Though Gore came in second in the electoral vote, he received 543,895 more popular votes than Bush.

George W. Bush won 4 votes from New Hampshire, 13 from Virginia, 14 from North Carolina, 8 from South Carolina, 13 from Georgia, 25 from Florida, 12 from Indiana, 21 from Ohio, 5 from West Virginia, 8 from Kentucky, 11 from Tennessee, 9 from Alabama, 7 from Mississippi, 11 from Missouri, 6 from Arkansas, 9 from Louisiana, 3 from North Dakota, 3 from South Dakota, 5 from Nebraska, 6 from Kansas, 8 from Oklahoma, 32 from Texas, 3 from Montana, 3 from Wyoming, 8 from Colorado, 4 from Idaho, 5 from Utah, 8 from Arizona, 4 from Nevada, and 3 from Alaska. Al Gore won 4 votes from Maine, 3 from Vermont, 12 from Massachusetts, 4 from Rhode Island, 8 from Connecticut, 33 from New York, 14 from New Jersey, 23 from Pennsylvania, 3 from Delaware, 10 from Maryland, 5 from New Mexico, 11 from Washington, 7 from Oregon, 54 from California, and 4 from Hawaii.

2000 Presidential Electoral College Votes: Presidential election results map: red denotes states won by Bush/Cheney, Blue denotes those won by Gore/Lieberman.

The election was noteworthy for a controversy over the awarding of Florida's 25 electoral votes, the subsequent recount process in that state, and the unusual event of the winning candidate having received fewer popular votes than the runner-up. Later research showed that by the standards requested by the Gore campaign, Bush would have won the recount. However, had the Gore campaign asked for a full statewide recount, the same research indicates that Gore would have probably won the recount by about 100 votes, consequently giving him Florida's electoral votes and victory in the presidential election.

The Candidates 

Democratic Candidates

Al Gore of Tennessee was a consistent front-runner for the nomination. Gore easily defeated the other main Democratic candidate Bill Bradley in the primaries, largely because of support from the Democratic Party establishment and Bradley's poor showing in the Iowa caucus. Al Gore unanimously won the Democratic nomination at the Democratic National Convention, and Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman was nominated for Vice President.


Al Gore: Portrait of 2000 Democratic Presidential Nominee Al Gore

Republican Candidates

Several Republican candidates appeared on the national scene to challenge Gore's candidacy. George W. Bush became the early front-runner, acquiring unprecedented funding, a broad base of leadership support from his governorship of Texas, and the name recognition and connections of the Bush family. Several aspirants withdrew before the Iowa Caucus because they were unable to secure funding and endorsements sufficient to remain competitive with Bush. John McCain emerged as the main contender. However, Bush won the nomination, selecting former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney as his running mate.


George W. Bush: Portrait of George W. Bush

Campaign Issues

Although the campaign focused mainly on domestic issues—such as the projected budget surplus, proposed reforms of Social Security and Medicare, health care, and competing plans for tax relief—foreign policy was often an issue. Bush criticized the Clinton administration's policies regarding Somalia and the Balkans. Gore, meanwhile, questioned Bush's fitness for the job, pointing to gaffes made by Bush in interviews and speeches, and suggesting the Texas governor lacked the necessary experience to be president.

Bill Clinton 's impeachment cast a shadow on the Democratic campaign and on his vice president's run to replace him, and Gore and Lieberman studiously avoided the Clinton scandals. Ralph Nader was the most successful third-party candidate, drawing 2.74 percent of the popular vote. Many Gore supporters claimed Nader split the Democratic vote, tipping the election for Bush.

A Close Election

Florida: The Defining State

As election night wore on, the returns in a handful of small-to-medium sized states, including Wisconsin and Iowa, were extremely close; however, it was the state of Florida that would make clear the winner of the election. As the final national results were tallied the following morning, Bush had clearly won a total of 246 electoral votes, while Gore had won 255 votes. 270 votes were needed to win. Florida's 25 electoral votes became the key to an election win for either candidate. The outcome of the election was not known for more than a month after the balloting ended because of the extended process of counting and then recounting Florida's presidential ballots.

Florida Recount

The final result in Florida was slim enough to require a mandatory recount (by machine) under state law; Bush's lead had dwindled to about 300 votes by the time it was completed later that week. A count of overseas military ballots later boosted his margin to about 900 votes.

Most of the post-electoral controversy revolved around Gore's request for hand recounts in four counties, as provided under Florida state law. In the highly controversial decision Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court ruled in a 7–2 vote that the Florida Supreme Court's ruling requiring a statewide recount of ballots was unconstitutional, and in a 5–4 vote that the previously certified total should hold.

Election Reform and Voting Machines

Because the 2000 presidential election was so close in Florida, the U.S. government and state governments pushed for election reform to be enacted before the 2004 election. Many of Florida's election night problems stemmed from usability and ballot design factors with voting systems. A proposed solution to these problems was the installation of modern electronic voting machines. In the aftermath of the election, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was passed to help states upgrade their election technology in the hopes of preventing similar problems in future elections.

Compassionate Conservatism

In "compassionate conservatism," a philosophy  espoused by President George W. Bush, conservative techniques are thought to improve the welfare of society.

Learning Objectives

Examine the philosophy of compassionate conservatism

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Compassionate conservatism suggests that social issues such as health care or immigration are best solved through private companies, charities, and faith-based organizations, rather than large government-funded programs.
  • Compassionate conservatism as espoused by President Bush argued for policies in support of "traditional families," welfare reform to promote individual responsibility, active policing, standards-based schools, and assistance to poor countries around the world.
  • Proposed by the Bush Administration, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) reformed education by setting high standards and establishing measurable goals.
  • Critics of NCLB argue that it is incompatible with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), that punishing poor school performance does not improve education, and that NCLB encourages teachers to narrowly "teach to the test."
  • Democrats have criticized compassionate conservatism for simply ‘sugarcoating' traditional conservative policies and placing America's social safety net in the hands of churches and private corporations instead of the government.
  • Conservative Republicans have also criticized compassionate conservatism, arguing that it leads to increased government spending.

Key Terms

  • social safety net: A set of governmental programs, entitlements, or benefits providing citizens and residents with a minimum level of financial protection, food, access to public infrastructure, or medical services.
  • Faith-Based Organizations: Groups, government ideas, or plans based on religious beliefs, specifically Christian beliefs.
  • compassionate conservatism: A political philosophy that stresses using traditionally conservative techniques and concepts in order to improve the general welfare of society.


"Compassionate conservatism" is a political philosophy that stresses using traditionally conservative techniques and concepts in order to improve the general welfare of society. The term itself is often credited to U.S. historian and politician Doug Wead, who used it as the title of a speech in 1979. This label and philosophy has been espoused by U.S. Republican and Democratic politicians since then, though in recent times it has been strongly associated with former U.S. President George W. Bush, who commonly used the term to describe his personal views. 

Compassionate Conservatism as a Political Doctrine 

Compassionate conservatism has been defined as the belief that conservatism and compassion complement each other. A compassionate conservative sees the social problems of the United States, such as health care or immigration, as issues that are better solved through cooperation with private companies, charities, and religious institutions rather than directly through government departments. As former Bush chief speechwriter Michael Gerson put it, "Compassionate conservatism is the theory that the government should encourage the effective provision of social services without providing the service itself." Compassionate conservatism argues for policies in support of "traditional families," welfare reform to promote individual responsibility, active policing, standards-based schools, and assistance (economic or otherwise) to poor countries around the world.

George W. Bush began his presidency hoping to make compassionate conservatism his centerpiece. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, he focused less on this theme; however, according to professor and author Ira Chernus, its fundamental ideas became central in his rhetoric about the "War on Terrorism."

The No Child Left Behind Act 

Perhaps one of the greatest examples of compassionate conservatism is the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The Act is a United States Act of Congress first proposed by the administration of George W. Bush immediately after he took office in 2001. The bill passed in the U.S. Congress with bipartisan support. NCLB supports standards-based education reform on the premise that setting high standards and establishing measurable goals can improve individual outcomes in education. The Act requires states to develop assessments in basic skills, which they then must give to all students at select grade levels in order to receive federal school funding. The Act does not assert a national achievement standard; standards are rather set by each individual state. NCLB expanded the federal role in public education through annual testing, annual academic progress, report cards, teacher qualifications, and changes in funding.

Provisions of the Act

No Child Left Behind requires all government-run schools receiving federal funding to administer an annual state-wide standardized test to all students. All students in the state must take the same test under the same conditions. Schools that receive Title I funding through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 must make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in test scores (e.g. each year, the school's fifth graders must do better on standardized tests than the previous year's fifth graders).

If the school's results are repeatedly poor, then steps are taken to improve the test performance of the school. Schools that miss AYP for a second consecutive year are publicly labeled as being "in need of improvement" and are required to develop a two-year improvement plan for the subject(s) in which they are under-performing. Students are given the option to transfer to a better school within the school district, if any exists. Missing AYP for a third year forces the school to offer free tutoring and other supplemental education services to struggling students. 

If a school misses its AYP target for a fourth consecutive year, the school is labelled as requiring "corrective action," which might involve wholesale replacement of staff, introduction of a new curriculum, or extending the amount of time students spend in class. A fifth year of failure results in planning to restructure the entire school; the plan is implemented if the school fails to hit its AYP targets for the sixth year in a row. Common options include closing the school, turning the school into a charter school, hiring a private company to run the school, or asking the state office of education to run the school directly.

The act requires states to provide "highly qualified" teachers to all students. Each state sets its own standards for what counts as "highly qualified." Similarly, the act requires states to set "one high, challenging standard" for its students. Each state decides for itself what counts as "one high, challenging standard," but the curriculum standards must apply to all students in the state. If the school provides students' contact information to universities or employers, the Act requires that it also give that access to military recruiters, unless the student opts out.

Critiques of the Act 

Critics argue that NCLB unfairly treats students with disabilities, is incompatible with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and does not have enough provisions to account for those with different learning styles. Critics also argue that punishing poor school performance does not improve education, and that NCLB encourages teachers to narrowly "teach to the test" rather than teaching an expansive and varied curriculum. Some argue that NCLB does not do enough to account for the wide range of factors related to social and economic inequality that cause schools to underperform, and that without this analysis, "corrective" measures do more harm than good. Because of these criticisms, various efforts have been made to reform NCLB; for example, Obama has introduced a comprehensive plan for reform called the Race to the Top Initiative.

Criticism of Compassionate Conservatism

Some critics of George W. Bush have criticized the phrase "compassionate conservatism" as simply sugarcoating traditional conservatism to make it sound more appealing to moderate voters. Others on the left have viewed it as an effort to remove America's social safety net (such as social services) out of the hands of the government and give it to Christian churches and private corporations. Keynesian economist and columnist Paul Krugman has called it a "dog whistle" to the religious right.

Conversely, the policy has also been attacked from the right. Commentator Herman Cain criticized compassionate conservatism as leading to the Bush administration's increased government spending, saying that it "completely betrayed conservative voters and their decades of grassroots activism" and "alienated the party's conservative base," noting Bush policies such as the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act, which increased the size of the Medicare program by around $500 billion. Conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg has written that compassionate conservatism as implemented by George W. Bush differs markedly from the theoretical policy concept. He wrote: "...most conservatives never really understood what compassionate conservatism was, beyond a convenient marketing slogan to attract swing voters. The reality—as even some members of the Bush team will sheepishly concede—is that there was nothing behind the curtain..."


Doug Wead at a political conference in Reno, Nevada (September 2011).: Doug Wead, a historian and presidential advisor, is credited with coining the term "compassionate conservative".

The Environment

The Bush administration was often criticized for discounting the human influence on global warming and refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol.

Learning Objectives

Assess the environmental record of President George W. Bush

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • During his 2000 presidential campaign, Bush promised to clean up power plants, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and fund clean coal technology research.
  • Bush refused to implement The Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty signed in 1997 that pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The United States is the only country that signed but did not ratify the Protocol.
  • In 2003, Bush signed the Clear Skies Initiative, which sought to reduce air pollution and reduce emissions. 
  • Bush frequently admitted that global warming was a problem, but asserted that there is a debate over whether its causes are man-made or natural.

Key Terms

  • global warming: A sustained increase in the average temperature of the earth, sufficient to cause climate change.
  • Kyoto Protocol: A standard to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or FCCC) aimed at fighting global warming.

The Environment under the Bush Administration

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 of 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 now known to have edited government climate reports in order to minimize the findings of scientific sources tying greenhouse gas emissions to global warming.

Kyoto Protocol

In March of 2001, shortly after Bush took office, 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. The Bush administration claimed that ratifying the treaty would create economic setbacks in the United States, and argued that the treaty did not put enough pressure to limit emissions from developing nations. Bush stated that human activity had not been proven to be the cause of environmental issues and cited concerns about the treaty's impact on the U.S. economy; he also pointed out that China and India had not signed on.

The Kyoto Protocol entered into force on 16 February 2005. As of 2014, there were 192 parties to the treaty. 

In June of 2005, State Department papers showed the Bush administration thanking oil company Exxon executives for the company's "active involvement" in helping to determine climate change policy, including the U.S. stance on Kyoto. Input from the business lobby group Global Climate Coalition was also a factor.

Controversial Acts and Policies


In late November of 2002, the Bush Administration released proposed rule changes that would lead to increased logging of federal forests for commercial or recreational activities. This could occur 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 U.S. 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.

The Clear Skies Act of 2003

Initially announced by President Bush in 2002, the Clear Skies Initiative was aimed at amending the Clean Air Act to further reduce air pollution and expand the emissions trading programs to include new pollutants such as mercury. The goal of the initiative was to reduce the sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and mercury emissions of power plants over the course of 15 years, while saving consumers millions of dollars.

Fuel Economy

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 U.S. fuel economy regulations to manufacture vehicles that are less fuel-efficient than they were in the late 1980s. Fuel-efficiency had on average dropped 6%, 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.

Stance on Global Warming

In May of 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.

Throughout his presidency, President Bush consistently noted global warming as a serious problem but asserted there is a "debate over whether it's manmade or naturally caused." He also maintained that regardless of that debate, his administration was working on plans to make America less dependent on foreign oil for both economic and national security reasons. In his 2007 State of the Union Address, President Bush renewed his pledge to work toward diminished reliance on foreign oil by reducing fossil fuel consumption and increasing alternative fuel production.

September 11th and the War on Terror

The attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001 led to a restructuring of the U.S. government and the initiation of the War on Terror.

Learning Objectives

Examine the events surrounding the September 11 attacks and the American response

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The September 11 attacks were a series of four suicide attacks in which al-Qaeda militants intentionally piloted two planes into the World Trade Center in New York City and one plane into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
  • In response to the attacks, the Bush administration announced a War on Terror, which was then used to justify a U.S. armed invasion of Afghanistan and later Iraq.
  • After the attacks, the United States created the Department of Homeland Security and passed the USA PATRIOT Act.  The U.S. government increased homeland security spending and increased security in air travel and U.S. borders.
  • Many argue that the USA PATRIOT Act has significantly reduced civil liberties. Similarly, critics of the War on Terror argue that the interrogation methods used at Guantanamo Bay, for example, are a violation of international law and civil liberties.
  • Critics of the War on Terror argue that the term "war" is inappropriate, as terrorism is not likely to be ended through military action. Critics also argue that the War on Terror exemplifies inappropriate unilateral action by the United States.

Key Terms

  • War on Terror: A term commonly applied to an international military campaign led by the United States and the United Kingdom with the support of other NATO and non-NATO countries; originally, the campaign was waged against al-Qaeda and other militant organizations with the purpose of eliminating them.
  • Homeland Security Act of 2002: An act introduced in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks and subsequent mailings of anthrax spores, signed into law by President George W. Bush in November 2002.
  • Department of Homeland Security: A cabinet office of the United States federal government created in response to the September 11 attacks. Its primary responsibilities are protecting the United States from terrorist attacks, man-made accidents, and natural disasters.

September 11, 2001

The September 11 attacks were a series of four suicide attacks that were committed in the United States on September 11, 2001, coordinated to strike the areas of New York City and Washington, D.C. On that Tuesday morning, 19 members of the Islamist militant group al-Qaeda hijacked four passenger jets. The hijackers intentionally piloted two of those planes, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center complex in New York City; both towers collapsed within two hours. The hijackers also intentionally crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and intended to pilot the fourth hijacked jet, United Airlines Flight 93, into a target in Washington, D.C.; however, the plane crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania after its passengers attempted to take control of the jet. Nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks, including the 227 civilians and 19 hijackers aboard the four planes.

Suspicion quickly fell on al-Qaeda, and in 2004, the group's leader Osama bin Laden, who had initially denied involvement, claimed responsibility for the attacks. Al-Qaeda and bin Laden cited the United States's support of Israel, the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, and sanctions against Iraq as motives for the attacks. The United States responded to the attacks by launching the "War on Terror" and invading Afghanistan to depose the Taliban, who were accused of harboring al-Qaeda. Many countries strengthened their anti-terrorism legislation and expanded law enforcement powers. In May of 2011, after years at large, bin Laden was found and killed. In the United States and elsewhere, the aftermath of the attacks saw tensions increase between Muslims and non-Muslim.


At 8:46 a.m., five hijackers crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Center's North Tower (1 WTC), and at 9:03 a.m., another five hijackers crashed United Airlines Flight 175 into the South Tower (2 WTC). Five hijackers flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m.

The image shows the twin towers of World Trade Center engulfed in flames and smoke.

9/11 Attacks on the World Trade Center: The north face of Two World Trade Center (south tower) immediately after being struck by United Airlines Flight 175.

A fourth flight, United Airlines Flight 93, under the control of four hijackers, crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, southeast of Pittsburgh, at 10:03 a.m. after the passengers fought the hijackers. Flight 93's target is believed to have been either the Capitol or the White House. Flight 93's cockpit voice recorder revealed crew and passengers attempting to seize control of the plane from the hijackers after learning through phone calls that similarly hijacked planes had been crashed into buildings that morning. Once it became evident to the hijackers that the passengers might regain control of the plane, the hijackers rolled the plane and intentionally crashed it.

America's "War on Terror"

The Bush Doctrine

Following the attacks, President Bush's approval rating soared to 90%. In the subsequent nine days of rescue and recovery efforts, New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani's highly visible role won him high praise in New York and nationally. The evening of the attacks, President Bush promised the nation that those responsible for the attacks would be brought to justice. Three days later, Congress issued a joint resolution authorizing the president to use all means necessary against the individuals, organizations, or nations involved in the attacks. On September 20, in an address to a joint session of Congress, Bush declared war on terrorism, blamed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden for the attacks, and demanded that the radical Islamic fundamentalists who ruled Afghanistan, the Taliban, turn bin Laden over or face attack by the United States. This speech encapsulated what became known as the Bush Doctrine, the belief that the United States has the right to protect itself from terrorist acts by engaging in pre-emptive wars or ousting governments deemed hostile to the United States in favor of more supportive, preferably democratic, regimes.

Preemptive War  

A preemptive war is a war that is commenced in an attempt to repel or defeat a perceived offensive or invasion, or to gain a strategic advantage in an impending (allegedly unavoidable) war before that threat materializes. It is a war that preemptively 'breaks the peace.' Internationally, the U.S. government's War on Terror was used to justify an invasion of Afghanistan in October of 2001, under the expressed purpose of ousting the Taliban. Claiming that Iraq’s president Saddam Hussein was building weapons of mass destruction, perhaps with the intent of attacking the United States, the president sent U.S. troops to Iraq as well in 2003, beginning the Iraq War. The Bush administration stated the Iraq War was part of the War on Terror, something that was later contested. Thousands were killed, and many of the men captured by the United States were imprisoned and sometimes tortured for information. 

The doctrine of preemption gained renewed reputation following the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The Bush administration mainly claimed for the necessity to intervene to prevent Saddam Hussein from deploying weapons of mass destruction prior to launching an armed attack. However, it has since been confirmed that no weapons of mass destruction were found, and that the suspicions of the Bush administration were mistaken. Some question the true intention of the U.S. government for invading Iraq, based on possibility of retaliation on the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001. It is still unclear whether the U.S. invasion of Iraq is legally justifiable.

The Department of Homeland Security

In the largest restructuring of the U.S. government in contemporary history, the United States enacted the Homeland Security Act of 2002, creating the Department of Homeland Security. This Department centralized control over a number of different government functions in order to better control threats at home; it has many duties, including guarding U.S. borders and wielding control over the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, U.S. Customs, and a multitude of other law enforcement agencies. 

The org chart of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security: The Department of Homeland Security has many duties, including guarding U.S. borders and, as this organizational chart shows, wielding control over the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, U.S. Customs, and a multitude of other law enforcement agencies.

Increasing Domestic Surveillance

Congress also passed the USA PATRIOT Act, which enabled law enforcement agencies to monitor citizens ’ e-mails and phone conversations without a warrant. The government defended that this would help detect and prosecute terrorism and other crimes. Civil liberties groups have criticized the PATRIOT Act, saying it allows law enforcement to invade the privacy of citizens and eliminates judicial oversight of law enforcement and domestic intelligence. 

The Bush administration was fiercely committed to rooting out threats to the United States wherever they originated, and in the weeks after September 11, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) scoured the globe, sweeping up thousands of young Muslim men. Because U.S. law prohibits the use of torture, the CIA transferred some of these prisoners to other nations—a practice known as rendition or extraordinary rendition—where the local authorities can use methods of interrogation not allowed in the United States.

While the CIA operates overseas, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the chief federal law enforcement agency within U.S. national borders. Its activities are limited by, among other things, the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures. Beginning in 2002, however, the Bush administration implemented a wide-ranging program of warrantless domestic wiretapping, known as the Terrorist Surveillance Program, by the National Security Agency (NSA), giving the agency broad powers. The shaky constitutional basis for this program was ultimately revealed in August 2006, when a federal judge in Detroit ordered the program ended immediately. 

Guantanamo Bay

The use of unconstitutional wire taps to prosecute the war on terrorism was only one way the new threat challenged authorities in the United States. Another problem was deciding what to do with foreign terrorists captured on the battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq. In traditional conflicts, where both sides are uniformed combatants, the rules of engagement and the treatment of prisoners of war are clear. In the new War on Terror, however, extracting intelligence about upcoming attacks became a top priority that superseded human rights and constitutional concerns. For that purpose, the United States began transporting men suspected of being members of al-Qaeda to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for questioning. The Bush administration labeled the detainees “unlawful combatants,” in an effort to avoid affording them the rights guaranteed to prisoners of war, such as protection from torture, by international treaties such as the Geneva Conventions. Furthermore, the Justice Department argued that the prisoners were unable to sue for their rights in U.S. courts on the grounds that the constitution did not apply to U.S. territories. It was only in 2006 that the Supreme Court ruled in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that the military tribunals that tried Guantanamo prisoners violated both U.S. federal law and the Geneva Conventions. 


Criticism of the War on Terror addresses the issues, morals, ethics, efficiency, economics, and other questions surrounding the War on Terror and made against the phrase itself, calling it a misnomer. The notion of a "war" against "terrorism" has proven highly contentious, with critics charging that it has been exploited by participating governments to pursue long-standing policy/military objectives, reduce civil liberties, and infringe upon human rights. It is argued that the term "war" is not appropriate in this context (as in "War on Drugs"), since there is no identifiable enemy, and that it is unlikely for international terrorism to be brought to an end by military means.

The Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and then Iraq in 2003, justifying both as part of the ongoing "War on Terror."

Learning Objectives

Examine the cases for the U.S.'s 2001 bombing of Afghanistan and 2003 invasion of Iraq

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Advocates of U.S. unilateralism argue that other countries should not have "veto power" over matters of U.S. national security. Unilateral elements were evident in the first months of Bush's presidency.
  • In October of 2001, shortly following the September 11 attacks by al-Qaeda, the United States invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban, who they believed were harboring al-Qaeda leaders.
  • Later in 2003, the Bush administration justified the invasion of Iraq with the need to prevent Saddam Hussein from deploying weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
  • The Iraq War began on March 20, 2003 and lasted officially until December 15, 2011, though sectarian violence still continues.
  • In 2007, President Bush increased the number of American troops by 20,000 in the Iraq War to increase security in Baghdad and the Al Anbar Province and impose rule throughout the country.
  • The March 2003 invasion of Iraq resulted in the massive degradation of Iraq's water, sewage, and electrical systems. Efforts to rebuild infrastructure have focused on improving water and sewage systems, electricity, housing, health, education, and transportation.

Key Terms

  • Saddam Hussein: The fifth President of Iraq, serving in this capacity from 16 July 1979 until 9 April 2003; a leading member of the revolutionary Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party, which espoused a mix of Arab nationalism and Arab socialism, he played a key role in the 1968 coup, later referred to as the 17 July Revolution, that brought the party to long-term power of Iraq.
  • unilateralism: A tendency of nations to act on their own, or with only minimal consultation and involvement with other nations.
  • Preemptive War: An armed conflict that is commenced in an attempt to repel or defeat a perceived offensive or invasion, or to gain a strategic advantage in an impending (allegedly unavoidable) war before that threat materializes.


Unilateralism is any doctrine or agenda that supports one-sided action. Advocates of U.S. unilateralism argue that other countries should not have "veto power" over matters of U.S. national security. Proponents of U.S. unilateralism generally believe that a multilateral institution, such as the United Nations (UN), is morally suspect because, they argue, it treats non-democratic, and even despotic, regimes as being as legitimate as democratic countries.

Two distinct schools of thought arose in the Bush Administration regarding the question of how to handle countries such as Iraq, Iran, and North Korea (the so-called "Axis of Evil" states). Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, as well as U.S. Department of State specialists, argued for what was essentially the continuation of existing U.S. foreign policy. These policies, developed after the Cold War, sought to establish a multilateral consensus for action (which would likely take the form of increasingly harsh sanctions against the problem states, summarized as the policy of containment).

The opposing view, argued by Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and a number of influential Department of Defense policy makers such as Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, held that direct and unilateral action was both possible and justified and that America should embrace what it referred to as opportunities for democracy and security offered by its position as the sole remaining superpower. Unilateral elements were evident in the first months of Bush's presidency. Conservative Charles Krauthammer, coiner of the term "Bush Doctrine," deployed "unilateralism" in February of 2001 to refer to the president's foreign policy.

Invading Afghanistan 

When it became clear that the person behind the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentegon was Osama bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi Arabian national who led the Islamic militant group al-Qaeda from Afghanistan, the full attention of the United States turned towards Central Asia and the Taliban. In his address to a joint session of Congress on September 20, President Bush had declared war on terrorism, blamed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden for the attacks, and demanded that the radical Islamic fundamentalists who ruled Afghanistan, the Taliban, turn bin Laden over or face attack by the United States.

Bin Laden had deep roots in Afghanistan. Like many others from around the Islamic world, he had come to the country to oust the Soviet army, which invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Ironically, both bin Laden and the Taliban received material support from the United States at that time. By the late 1980s, the Soviets and the Americans had both left, although bin Laden, by that time the leader of his own organization, al-Qaeda, remained.

The Taliban refused to turn bin Laden over, and the United States began a bombing campaign in October of 2001, allying with the Afghan Northern Alliance, a coalition of tribal leaders opposed to the Taliban. U.S. air support was soon augmented by ground troops. By November of 2001, the Taliban had been ousted from power in Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul, but bin Laden and his followers had already escaped across the Afghan border to mountain sanctuaries in northern Pakistan.

The Iraq War

The Iraq War is a conflict that occurred in Iraq from March 20, 2003 to December 15, 2011, though sectarian violence still continues. Prior to the war, the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom claimed that Iraq's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) posed a threat to their security and that of their coalition/regional allies.


Declaring War on Iraq: President George Bush, surrounded by leaders of the House and Senate, announces the Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq, October 2, 2002.


At the same time that the U.S. military was taking control of Afghanistan, the Bush administration was looking towards a new and larger war with the country of Iraq. Relations between the United States and Iraq had been strained ever since the Gulf War a decade earlier. Economic sanctions imposed on Iraq by the United Nations, and American attempts to foster internal revolts against President Saddam Hussein’s government, had further tainted the relationship. A faction within the Bush administration, sometimes labeled neoconservatives, believed Iraq’s recalcitrance in the face of overwhelming U.S. military superiority represented a dangerous symbol to terrorist groups around the world, recently emboldened by the dramatic success of the al-Qaeda attacks in the United States. Powerful members of this faction, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, believed the time to strike Iraq and solve this festering problem was right then, in the wake of 9/11. Others, like Secretary of State Colin Powell, a highly respected veteran of the Vietnam War and former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were more cautious about initiating combat.

The more militant side won, and the argument for war was gradually laid out for the American people. The immediate impetus to the invasion, it argued, was the fear that Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction (WMDs): nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons capable of wreaking great havoc. Hussein had in fact used WMDs against Iranian forces during his war with Iran in the 1980s, and against the Kurds in northern Iraq in 1988—a time when the United States actively supported the Iraqi dictator. Following the Gulf War, inspectors from the United Nations Special Commission and International Atomic Energy Agency had in fact located and destroyed stockpiles of Iraqi weapons. 

Those arguing for a new Iraqi invasion insisted, however, that weapons still existed. President Bush himself told the nation in October of 2002 that the United States was “facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof—the smoking gun—that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.” The head of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, Hanx Blix, dismissed these claims. Blix argued that while Saddam Hussein was not being entirely forthright, he did not appear to be in possession of WMDs. Despite Blix’s findings and his own earlier misgivings, Powell argued in 2003 before the United Nations General Assembly that Hussein had violated UN resolutions. Much of his evidence relied on secret information provided by an informant that was later proven to be false. On March 17, 2003, the United States cut off all relations with Iraq. Two days later, in a coalition with Great Britain, Australia, and Poland, the United States began “Operation Iraqi Freedom” with an invasion of Iraq.

After investigation following the invasion, the U.S.-led Iraq Survey Group concluded that Iraq had ended its nuclear, chemical, and biological programs in 1991 and had no active programs at the time of the invasion, but that they intended to resume production if the Iraq sanctions were lifted. Although some degraded remnants of misplaced or abandoned chemical weapons from before 1991 were found, they were not the weapons which had been the one of the main arguments for the invasion.

Invading Iraq

The march into Bagdad went fairly smoothly. Soon Americans back home were watching on television as U.S. soldiers and the Iraqi people worked together to topple statues of the deposed leader Hussein around the capital. The reality, however, was far more complex. While American deaths had been few, thousands of Iraqis had died, and the seeds of internal strife and resentment against the United States had been sown. The United States was not prepared for a long period of occupation; it was also not prepared for the inevitable problems of law and order or for the violent sectarian conflicts that emerged. Thus, even though Bush proclaimed a U.S. victory in May 2003, the celebration proved premature by more than seven years.

The 2007 Surge 

In 2007, President Bush increased the number of American troops in Iraq in order to provide security to Baghdad and Al Anbar Province. The surge had been developed under the working title "The New Way Forward," and it was announced in January of 2007 by Bush during a television speech. Bush ordered the deployment of more than 20,000 soldiers into Iraq and five additional brigades; he also extended the tour of most of the Army troops in country and some of the Marines already in the Anbar Province area. The President described the overall objective as establishing a "...unified, democratic federal Iraq that can govern itself, defend itself, and sustain itself, and is an ally in the War on Terror." The President stated that the surge would provide the time and conditions conducive to reconciliation among political and ethnic factions.

The surge was met with widespread disagreement and growing skepticism from politicians and the American public alike. Immediately following Bush's speech announcing the plan, Democratic politicians, including Ted Kennedy, Harry Reid, and Dennis Kucinich, called on Congress to reject the surge. More citizens began to question America's decision to go to war in the first place. 

As public opinion in the United States began to favor troop withdrawals, and as Iraqi forces began to take responsibility for Iraq's security, members of the Coalition withdrew their forces. In December 2011, all U.S. personnel were withdrawn, and the United States officially declared the end of the Iraq War.

Effects of the War on Iraq

Iraq's infrastructure had already suffered severe damage during the Gulf War of 1991. Sanctions imposed by the UN after this war worsened these problems. The March 2003 invasion of Iraq resulted in the further degradation of Iraq's water, sewage, and electrical systems.

In the wake of the Iraq War in 2003, there have been numerous international efforts to rebuild the infrastructure of Iraq, many of which necessitate foreign investment. Along with the economic reform of Iraq, international aid projects have attempted to repair and upgrade Iraqi water and sewage treatment plants, electricity production, hospitals, schools, housing, and transportation systems. Much of this work has been funded by the the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund. At the Madrid Conference on Reconstruction, which occurred on October 23, 2003, representatives from over 25 nations met to discuss plans for rebuilding Iraq. Funds for this task were assembled at this conference as well as from other sources, and they have been administered by the United Nations and the World Bank.

While these international reconstruction efforts have produced some successes, problems have also emerged. These include inadequate security, pervasive corruption, insufficient funding, and poor coordination between international agencies and local communities. Many critics suggest that the efforts have been hampered by the international community's poor understanding of Iraq as a nation. Many have criticized private contractors for not delivering the services they promised. It has been suggested that more Iraqis, rather than Americans, should be involved in the rebuilding of Iraq. 


The Iraq War: Clockwise, starting at top left: a joint patrol in Samarra; the toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue in Firdos Square; an Iraqi Army soldier readies his rifle during an assault; a roadside bomb detonates in South Baghdad.

The Election of 2004

In the 2004 presidential election, incumbent President George W. Bush was elected for a second term when he narrowly defeated Democratic candidate John Kerry.

Learning Objectives

Examine the 2004 United States presidential election

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • In the 2004 presidential election, Republican Party candidate and incumbent President George W. Bush narrowly defeated Democratic Party candidate John Kerry, the then-junior Senator from Massachusetts. 
  • Foreign policy was the dominant theme throughout the election campaign, particularly related to Bush's conduct of the War on Terrorism and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. 
  • Bush focused his campaign on national security, presenting himself as a decisive leader and contrasting Kerry as a "flip-flopper."
  • Kerry emphasized his service in the Vietnam War, and his campaign focused on the theme of making America "stronger at home and more respected in the world." His campaign appealed to the dwindling popularity of the Iraq War.
  • Bush won 50.73% of the popular vote to Kerry's 48.27%. High voter turnout in addition to the nation's growing population meant that both Bush and Kerry received more votes than any presidential candidate in American history.

Key Terms

  • John Kerry: An American diplomat and Democratic Party politician who is the 68th and current United States Secretary of State. He previously served in the United States Senate, where he chaired the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. He was the Democratic nominee in the 2004 presidential election, losing narrowly to Republican incumbent George W. Bush
  • George W. Bush: An American politician and businessman who was the 43rd President of the United States from 2001 to 2009 and the 46th Governor of Texas from 1995 to 2000.
  • John Edwards: A former American politician, who served as a U.S. Senator from North Carolina. He was the Democratic nominee for Vice President in 2004, and was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004 and 2008.


The United States presidential election of 2004 was held on Tuesday, November 2, 2004. Republican Party candidate and incumbent President George W. Bush defeated Democratic Party candidate John Kerry, the then-junior Senator from Massachusetts. Foreign policy was the dominant theme throughout the election campaign, particularly related to Bush's conduct of the War on Terrorism and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In the Electoral College, Bush received 286 votes to Kerry's 251. Kerry's running mate, John Edwards, who had also run as a Democratic primary candidate, received one electoral vote for president from an elector from Minnesota. This was presumably in error, as that elector also separately voted for Edwards for vice president. Bush's vote total was the highest in history until broken by his successor Barack Obama in 2008.

The Campaign 

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Americans had rallied around their president in a gesture of patriotic loyalty, giving Bush approval ratings of 90%. Even following the first few months of the Iraq War, his approval rating remained historically high at approximately 70%. But as the 2004 election approached, opposition to the war in Iraq began to grow. While Bush could boast of a number of achievements at home and abroad during his first term, the narrow victory he achieved in 2000 augured poorly for his chances for re-election in 2004 and a successful second term.

As the 2004 campaign gained momentum, the president was persistently dogged by rising criticism of the violence of the Iraq War and the fact that his administration’s claims of weapons of mass destruction had been greatly overstated. In the end, no such weapons were ever found. These criticisms were amplified by growing international concern over the treatment of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and widespread disgust over the torture conducted by U.S. troops at the prison in Abu Ghraib, Iraq, which surfaced only months before the election.

With two hot wars overseas, one of which appeared to be spiraling out of control, the Democrats nominated a decorated Vietnam War veteran, Massachusetts senator John Kerry, to challenge Bush for the presidency. As someone with combat experience, three Purple Hearts, and a foreign policy background, Kerry seemed like the right challenger in a time of war. On July 6, 2004, John Kerry selected John Edwards as his running mate, shortly before the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston held later that month. Heading into the convention, the Kerry/Edwards ticket unveiled their new slogan—a promise to make America "stronger at home and more respected in the world." This advanced the suggestion that Kerry would pay more attention to domestic concerns; it also encapsulated Kerry's contention that Bush had alienated American allies by his foreign policy. 

Kerry's record of support for the invasion of Iraq, however, made his criticism of the incumbent less compelling and earned him the byname “Waffler” from Republicans. The Bush campaign also sought to characterize Kerry as an elitist out of touch with regular Americans—Kerry had studied overseas, spoke fluent French, and married a wealthy foreign-born heiress. Republican supporters also unleashed an attack on Kerry’s Vietnam War record, falsely claiming he had lied about his experience and fraudulently received his medals. Kerry’s reluctance to embrace his past leadership of Vietnam Veterans Against the War weakened the enthusiasm of antiwar Americans while opening him up to criticisms from veterans groups. This combination compromised the impact of his challenge to the incumbent in a time of war.

Bush focused his campaign on national security, presenting himself as a decisive leader and contrasting Kerry as a "flip-flopper." On October 29, four days before the election, excerpts of a video of Osama bin Laden addressing the American people were broadcast on al Jazeera. In his remarks, bin Laden claimed credit for the September 11, 2001 attacks and taunted Bush over his response to them. In the days following the video's release, Bush's lead over Kerry increased by several points.

Results of the Election

Urged by the Republican Party to “stay the course” with Bush, voters listened. Bush won another narrow victory, receiving 62,040,610 popular votes (50.73%) compared to Kerry's 59,028,444 (48.27%). High voter turnout in addition to the nation's growing population meant that both Bush and Kerry received more votes than any presidential candidate in American history. In the seven presidential elections from 1992 to 2016, this was the only one in which the Republican candidate won the popular vote. The Republican Party did well overall, picking up four seats in the Senate and increasing its majority there to fifty-five. In the House, the Republican Party gained three seats, adding to its majority there as well. Across the nation, most governorships also went to Republicans, and Republicans dominated many state legislatures. 

The map shows that Kerry won 4 votes from Maine, 4 from New Hampshire , 3 from Vermont, 12 from Massachusetts, 4 from Rhode Island, 7 from Connecticut, 31 from New York, 15 from New Jersey, 21 from Pennsylvania, 3 from Delaware, 10 from Maryland, 17 from Michigan, 21 from Illinois, 10 from Wisconsin, 9 from Minnesota, 11 from Washington, 7 from Oregon, 55 from California, and 4 from Hawaii. It shows that Bush won 20 from Ohio, 5 from West Virginia, 13 from Virginia, 15 from North Carolina, 8 from South Carolina, 15 from Georgia, 27 from Florida, 11 from Indiana, 8 from Kentucky, 11 from Tennessee, 9 from Alabama, 6 from Mississippi, 7 from Iowa, 11 from Missouri, 6 from Arkansas, 9 from Louisiana, 3 from North Dakota, 3 from South Dakota, 5 from Nebraska, 6 from Kansas, 7 from Oklahoma, 34 from Texas, 3 from Montana, 3 from Wyoming, 9 from Colorado, 5 from New Mexico, 4 from Idaho, 5 from Utah, 10 from Arizona, 5 from Nevada, and 3 from Alaska. It also shows that Edwards received 1 vote from Minnesota.

2004 Presidential Electoral College: Presidential election results map. Red denotes states won by Bush/Cheney, Blue denotes those won by Kerry/Edwards. The split vote in Minnesota denotes an elector's vote counted for Vice President nominee John Edwards. Each number represents the electoral votes a state gave to one candidate.

Hurricane Katrina

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused extensive damage and the deaths of thousands of people along the Gulf Coast, particularly in New Orleans.

Learning Objectives

Examine the effects of Hurricane Katrina

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005, was the costliest natural disaster, as well as one of the five deadliest hurricanes, in the history of the United States.
  • On August 29, Katrina's storm surge caused 53 different levee breaches in greater New Orleans, submerging 80% of the city. The levee breaches have since been discovered as the result of cheap architectural design, rather than the strength of the storm.
  • After the storm, federal, state, and local government agencies were criticized for a perceived lack of planning and slow and uncoordinated responses. There was also criticism that racism and classism explained the delayed response to the crisis.
  • Thousands of New Orleans residents who were elderly, ill, or too poor to own a car followed the mayor’s directions and sought refuge at the Superdome, which lacked adequate food, water, and sanitation; the situation at the Superdome became representative of the government's poor response.

Key Terms

  • Levee: An embankment to prevent flooding.
  • cronyism: The practice of partiality in awarding jobs and other advantages to friends or trusted colleagues, especially in politics and between politicians and supportive organizations. 
  • Hurricane Katrina: The deadliest and most destructive hurricane of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season and the costliest natural disaster, as well as one of the five deadliest hurricanes, in the history of the United States.

Overview: Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina was the deadliest and most destructive Atlantic hurricane of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. At least 1,836 people died in the actual hurricane and in the subsequent floods, making it the deadliest U.S. hurricane since the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane. Total property damage was estimated at $81 billion (2005 U.S. dollars), nearly triple the damage wrought by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

The hurricane caused severe destruction along the Gulf Coast from central Florida to Texas, much of it due to the storm surge. The most significant number of deaths occurred in New Orleans, Louisiana, which flooded as the levee system catastrophically failed. The hurricane surge protection failures in New Orleans are considered the worst civil engineering disaster in U.S history. Katrina was the costliest natural disaster, as well as one of the five deadliest hurricanes, in the history of the United States; among recorded Atlantic hurricanes, it was the sixth strongest overall.

The Storm 

Approach and Evacuation

Hurricane Katrina formed over the Bahamas on August 23, 2005 and crossed southern Florida as a moderate Category 1 hurricane, causing some deaths and flooding in the state before strengthening rapidly in the Gulf of Mexico. The storm weakened before making its second landfall as a Category 3 storm on the morning of Monday, August 29 in southeast Louisiana.

On August 26, the state of Mississippi activated its National Guard in preparation for the storm's landfall. Voluntary and mandatory evacuations were issued for large areas of southeast Louisiana as well as coastal Mississippi and Alabama. About 1.2 million residents of the Gulf Coast were covered under a voluntary or mandatory evacuation order. Additionally, the state government activated its Emergency Operations Center the next day, and local governments began issuing evacuation orders. By 6:00pm CDT on August 28, 11 counties and 11 cities issued evacuation orders, a number that increased to 41 counties and 61 cities by the following morning. On the 29th, most infrastructure along the Gulf Coast had been shut down, including all Canadian National Railway and Amtrak rail traffic into the evacuation areas as well as the Waterford Nuclear Generating Station. Fifty-seven emergency shelters were established on coastal communities, with 31 additional shelters available to open if needed.

Levee Breaches in New Orleans

There was much concern because parts of New Orleans and the metro area are located below sea level. Because the storm surge produced by the hurricane's right-front quadrant (containing the strongest winds) was forecast to be 28 feet (8.5 m), emergency management officials in New Orleans feared that the storm surge could breach the levees protecting the city, causing major flooding. By August 29, Katrina's storm surge caused 53 different levee breaches in greater New Orleans, submerging 8% of the city. Levee breaches in New Orleans also caused a significant amount of deaths, with over 700 bodies recovered in New Orleans by October 23, 2005. Most of the major roads traveling into and out of the city were damaged.

A June 2007 report released by the American Society of Civil Engineers determined that the failures of the levees and floodwalls in New Orleans were found to be primarily the result of system design and construction flaws, rather than the result of natural forces beyond intended design strength. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is federally mandated in the Flood Control Act of 1965 with responsibility for the conception, design, and construction of the region's flood-control system. According to report published in August 2015 in the official journal of the World Water Council, the corps misinterpreted the results of a 1985 study and wrongly concluded that sheet piles in the flood walls needed to be driven to depths of only 17 feet instead of between 31 and 46 feet. That decision saved approximately US$100 million but significantly reduced overall engineering reliability, contributing to the massive failure of the levees in the face of Katrina.

The flooding killed some 1,500 people in New Orleans and so overwhelmed parts of the city that tens of thousands more were trapped and unable to evacuate. Thousands who were elderly, ill, or too poor to own a car followed the mayor’s directions and sought refuge at the Superdome, which lacked adequate food, water, and sanitation. Public services collapsed under the weight of the crisis.

The Storm's Effects: Damage and Inadequate Response

The effects of the storm were far-reaching. In addition to the destruction in Louisiana, the Gulf coast of Mississippi suffered massive damage, leaving 238 people dead, 67 missing, and billions of dollars in damage. Katrina traveled up the entire state, and afterwards, all 82 counties in Mississippi were declared disaster areas for federal assistance, 47 for full assistance. The Bush Administration sought $105 billion for repairs and reconstruction in the region, though it is estimated that the total economic impact in Louisiana and Mississippi may exceed $150 billion.

Over seventy countries pledged monetary donations or other assistance. Kuwait made the largest single pledge at $500 million; other large donations were made by Qatar and United Arab Emirates (each $100 million), South Korea ($30 million), Australia ($10 million), India, China (both $5 million), New Zealand ($2 million), Pakistan ($1.5 million), and Bangladesh ($1 million). Charitable organizations such as the American Red Cross, America's Second Harvest (now known as Feeding America), the Southern Baptist Convention, the Salvation Army, and Oxfam provided help to the victims of the storm. On September 13, 2005, it was reported that corporate donations to the relief effort were $409 million and were expected to exceed $1 billion.

Government Response and Criticism

Although the U.S. Coast Guard managed to rescue more than 35,000 of the 60,000 people from the stricken city of New Orleans, the response by other federal bodies was less effective. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), an agency charged with assisting state and local governments in times of natural disaster, proved inept at coordinating different agencies and utilizing the rescue infrastructure at its disposal. 

Critics argued that FEMA was to blame and that its director, Michael D. Brown, a Bush friend and appointee with no background in emergency management, was an example of cronyism at its worst. There was also widespread anger that racism, classism, and other factors might have contributed to delays in government response, as the majority of people in New Orleans who had been unable to evacuate and were victims of the greatest brunt of the storm were poor and working class African Americans. The failures of FEMA were particularly harmful for an administration that had made “homeland security” its top priority. Supporters of the president, however, argued that the scale of the disaster was such that no amount of preparedness or competence could have allowed federal agencies to cope.

FEMA and the Bush administration received widespread blame for the extent of the hurricane's damage and the government's slow and inadequate response. Even when the president attempted to demonstrate his concern with a personal appearance, the tactic largely backfired: photographs of him looking down on a flooded New Orleans from the comfort of Air Force One only reinforced the impression of a president detached from the problems of everyday people. Bush was unable to shake this characterization, and it underscored the disappointments of his second term. On the eve of the 2006 midterm elections, President Bush’s popularity had reached a new low as a result of the war in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina, and a growing number of Americans feared that his party’s economic policy benefitted the wealthy first and foremost. Young voters, non-white Americans, and women favored the Democratic ticket by large margins, and the elections handed Democrats control of the Senate and House for the first time since 1994. 

A satellite image of the eye of the hurricane over the Gulf of Mexico.

Hurricane Katrina: Category 5 Hurricane Katrina at peak strength on August 28, 2005.

The Financial Crisis

The 2008 global financial crisis was caused by widespread corporate fraud and risky loans and resulted in foreclosures, bank bailouts, and a global recession.

Learning Objectives

Examine the causes of the global financial crisis of 2007

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The 2008 financial crisis and 2007-2012 global financial recession is considered to be one of the worst financial crises since the Great Depression.
  • The cause of the financial crisis is often attributed to the proliferation of high-risk, complex financial products, as well as the failure of regulators, consumers, and government to rein in the excesses of Wall Street.
  • The U.S. housing bubble "burst" in 2007, causing inflated real estate values to fall; many homeowners entered foreclosure and large financial institutions collapsed or threatened to collapse. 
  • In response to the economic crisis, the U.S. government initiated a controversial bailout of the banks and executed two stimulus packages, which totaled nearly $1 trillion during 2008 and 2009.

Key Terms

  • U.S. Housing Bubble: An economic occurrence affecting many parts of the United States real estate market in over half of American states; real estate prices peaked in early 2006, started to decline in 2006 and 2007, and reached new lows in 2012.
  • stimulus package: A set of actions by a government, bank, etc. that is intended to encourage activity and growth in the economy or in a particular industry or area.
  • mortgage: A loan given for the purchase of property such as a house or a piece of farm land. 

The Great Recession

The 2007–2012 global financial crisis, also known as the 2008 financial crisis, is considered by many economists to be the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It resulted in the collapse of large financial institutions, the bailout of banks by national governments, and downturns in stock markets around the world. In many areas, the housing market also suffered, resulting in evictions, foreclosures, and prolonged unemployment. The crisis played a significant role in the failure of key businesses, with declines in consumer wealth estimated in trillions of U.S. dollars, and a downturn in economic activity leading to the 2008–2012 global recession and contributing to the European sovereign-debt crisis.

Contributing Factors

Corporate Fraud

The first decade of the 21st century was marked by widespread corporate fraud and scandal. After years of reaping tremendous profits in the deregulated energy markets, Houston-based Enron imploded in 2003 over allegations of massive accounting fraud. Its top executives, Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling, received long prison sentences, but their activities were illustrative of a larger trend in the nation’s corporate culture that embroiled reputable companies such as JP Morgan Chase and the accounting firm Arthur Anderson. In 2003, Bernard Ebbers, the CEO of communications giant WorldCom, was discovered to have inflated his company’s assets by as much as $11 billion, making it the largest accounting scandal in the nation’s history. Only five years later, however, Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme would reveal even deeper cracks in the nation’s financial economy.

The Housing Bubble

Despite economic growth in the 1990s and steadily increasing productivity, wages had remained largely flat relative to inflation since the end of the 1970s; despite the mild recovery, they remained so. To compensate, many consumers were buying on credit, and with interest rates low, financial institutions were eager to oblige them. By 2008, credit card debt had risen to over $1 trillion. More importantly, banks were making high-risk, high-interest mortgage loans called subprime mortgages to consumers who often misunderstood their complex terms and lacked the ability to make the required payments.

These subprime loans had a devastating impact on the larger economy. Changes in finance and banking laws in the 1990s and early 2000s gave banks the ability to afford to make bad loans, because they could sell them and not suffer the financial consequences when borrowers failed to repay. Once they had purchased the loans, larger investment banks bundled them into huge packages known as collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and sold them to investors around the world. Even though CDOs consisted of subprime mortgages, credit card debt, and other risky investments, credit ratings agencies had a financial incentive to rate them as very safe. Making matters worse, financial institutions created instruments called credit default swaps, which were essentially a form of insurance on investments. If the investment lost money, the investors would be compensated. This system, sometimes referred to as the securitization food chain, greatly swelled the housing loan market, especially the market for subprime mortgages, because these loans carried higher interest rates. The result was a housing bubble, in which the value of homes rose year after year based on the ease with which people now could buy them.

The Bubble Bursts 

When the real estate market stalled after reaching a peak in 2007, the house of cards built by the country’s largest financial institutions came tumbling down. People began to default on their loans, and more than one hundred mortgage lenders went out of business. Large financial institutions that  had once been prevented by federal regulations from engaging in risky investment practices found themselves in danger. A financial panic ensued that revealed other fraudulent schemes built on CDOs.  

The bursting of the U.S. housing bubble, which peaked in 2007, caused the values of securities tied to U.S. real estate pricing to plummet, damaging financial institutions globally. The financial crisis was triggered by a complex interplay of valuation and liquidity problems in the U.S. banking system in 2008. Questions regarding bank solvency, declines in credit availability, and damaged investor confidence had an impact on global stock markets, where securities suffered large losses during 2008 and early 2009. Economies worldwide slowed during this period as credit tightened and international trade declined. Governments and central banks responded with unprecedented fiscal stimulus, monetary policy expansion, and institutional bailouts. Although there have been extensive aftershocks, the financial crisis itself ended sometime between late-2008 and mid-2009. In the United States, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. In the European Union, the United Kingdom responded with austerity measures of spending cuts and tax increases without export growth, and it has since slid into a double-dip recession.

Many causes for the financial crisis have been posited, with varying weight assigned by experts. The U.S. Senate's Levin-Coburn Report asserted that the crisis was the result of "high risk, complex financial products; undisclosed conflicts of interest; the failure of regulators, the credit rating agencies, and the market itself to rein in the excesses of Wall Street." Two factors that have been frequently cited include the liberal use of the Gaussian copula function and the failure to track data provenance.

Government Response and Aftermath 

Bailing out the Banks 

Members of Congress agreed to use $700 billion in federal funds to bail out the troubled institutions, and Congress subsequently passed the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, creating the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). One important element of this program was aid to the auto industry: the Bush administration responded to their appeal with an emergency loan of $17.4 billion—to be executed by his successor after the November election—to stave off the industry’s collapse.


Many suggest that the actions of the Federal Reserve, Congress, and the president prevented the complete disintegration of the nation’s financial sector and warded off a scenario like that of the Great Depression. However, the bailouts could not prevent a severe recession in the U.S. and world economy. As people lost faith in the economy, stock prices fell by 45%. Unable to receive credit from now-wary banks, smaller businesses found that they could not pay suppliers or employees. With houses at record prices and growing economic uncertainty, people stopped buying new homes. As the value of homes decreased, owners were unable to borrow against them to pay off other obligations, such as credit card debt or car loans. More importantly, millions of homeowners who had expected to sell their houses at a profit and pay off their adjustable-rate mortgages were now stuck in houses with values shrinking below their purchasing price and forced to make mortgage payments they could no longer afford.

Without access to credit, consumer spending declined. Some European nations had suffered similar speculation bubbles in housing, but all had bought into the mortgage securities market and suffered the losses of assets, jobs, and demand as a result. International trade slowed, hurting many American businesses. As the Great Recession of 2008 deepened, the situation of ordinary citizens became worse. During the last four months of 2008, one million American workers lost their jobs, and during 2009, another three million found themselves out of work. Under such circumstances, many resented the expensive federal bailout of banks and investment firms. It seemed as if the wealthiest were being rescued by the taxpayer from the consequences of their imprudent and even corrupt practices.

In response to the financial crisis, both market-based and regulatory solutions have been implemented or are under consideration. Paul Krugman, author of End This Depression Now! (2012), argues that while current solutions have stabilized the world economy, the world economy will not improve unless it receives further stimulus. Buchanan, Gjerstad, and Smith argue that fiscal and monetary policy are ineffective, failing to reignite residential investment and construction as they have in past contractions. The current type of contraction requires balance sheet repair via currency depreciation and export-driven growth. Fiscal stimulus extends a current account deficit and retards export growth. If the world economy does not improve, many economists fear sovereign default is a real possibility in several European countries and even the United States.