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The presidency of George W. Bush

During Bush's presidency (2001-2009) the United States embarked on a Global War on Terror and suffered from a severe economic recession. 


  • Republican George W. Bush served two terms as president, from 2001-2009.
  • The September 11, 2001 terrorist attack led President Bush to reframe American foreign policy as a War on Terror, and to fight two wars in the Middle East.
  • A housing market crash led to a severe economic downturn in President Bush’s final years in office.

The presidential election of 2000

Republican George Walker Bush served for two terms as President of the United States from 2001-2009.
Photo portrait of George W. Bush.
Official White House photo portrait of George W. Bush. Photo by Eric Draper. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Describing himself as a “compassionate conservative,” Bush—former governor of Texas and the son of former President George H.W. Bush—became President of the United States in 2001 in one of the closest US presidential elections ever. Al Gore, Bush’s Democratic rival, won the popular vote by a narrow margin, but Bush attained a plurality of votes from the electoral college.
Ultimately, the outcome hinged on election results from the state of Florida, where voting irregularities created uncertainty about who had truly triumphed. The Florida Supreme Court authorized a vote recount, but the Bush campaign appealed the decision. The case of Bush v. Gore went to the Supreme Court, which decided to halt the recount and declare Bush the winner.1

President Bush’s foreign policy

On September 11, 2001, 19 terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda hijacked and crashed 4 airplanes into the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. (the fourth plane crashed in a field in central Pennsylvania).2 Shortly thereafter, the Bush administration declared a Global War on Terror. The first front in this war was Afghanistan, where the governing Taliban regime had provided safe haven to al-Qaeda.
In 2003, the United States went to war with Iraq. Though US forces quickly ousted (and eventually killed) Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the conflict dragged on for years. Before the war began, intelligence agencies in the United States and around the world claimed that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, but no such weapons were found during the war or in its aftermath.
A key component of the Global War on Terror was the USA Patriot Act (2001) which sought to protect the nation from future acts of terror by expanding domestic surveillance programs and permitting the use of enhanced interrogation techniques to extract information from detainees. Critics of the law insisted that it subverted valuable individual freedoms, and that the act violated the Geneva Convention by allowing what they considered torture. The Patriot Act prompted an ongoing public debate about the balance between security and freedom in an age of terrorism.

President Bush’s domestic policy agenda

George W. Bush came into office with an ambitious domestic policy agenda that included reforms in the areas of education, Social Security, and immigration.
Although most elements of Bush’s domestic agenda were conservative, he also supported spending on programs traditionally associated with liberal Democrats. He actively supported the No Child Left Behind Act, a bipartisan effort to raise school standards in low-income areas. His successful support for a new federal program that subsidized the cost of prescription drugs for the elderly was considered by many the sort of government program historically supported by Democrats.
The Bush administration increased funding for many federal programs and agencies, while implementing some of the largest tax cuts in history. This substantially enlarged both the federal debt and the federal budget deficit. During Bush’s presidency the national debt doubled from around $5 trillion to $10 trillion.3
In 2007 and 2008 the United States tumbled into a sharp economic recession when a multi-trillion dollar housing price collapse led the Federal Reserve and US Treasury Department to intensive direct economic intervention in the private sector to bail out failing financial institutions.
A combination of tax cuts, increased federal spending, economic recession, and vast expenditures on two wars in the Middle East led to the “Great Recession,” the worst economic crisis the country had faced since the Great Depression.

What do you think?

How did the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon fundamentally reshape US foreign policy?
Does President Bush bear responsibility for the “Great Recession”? Why or why not?
What were the most significant events of the Bush presidency?

Want to join the conversation?

  • old spice man green style avatar for user Don Spence
    U.S. forces captured Saddam Hussein and turned him over to the new Iraqi government for trial. They executed him.
    (19 votes)
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    • starky ultimate style avatar for user slowlead
      Correct, it was the Iraqi government which tried, sentenced and executed Saddam Hussein. One of several mistakes in this piece. Some are correlations which are mistaken as causality (e.g. while there is correlation between the tax cuts, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the recession, given their occurrence in the same time frame, it is difficult to demonstrate that the first two items caused the third, whose more immediate cause was housing and weaknesses in the finance and labor market. This is further demonstrated by the fact that movement out of the recession started without much change to the first two factors). Seems thematic amongst current history textbooks and articles (bias and faulty logic/argumentation).
      (8 votes)
  • piceratops seed style avatar for user Monique Laviolette
    what does subsizied cost of prescription drugs mean?
    (5 votes)
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  • starky ultimate style avatar for user E Simms
    Why do people place such an emphasis on voting in presidential elections when the electorial college can just decided for us
    (8 votes)
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    • starky ultimate style avatar for user Joshua
      The electoral college enables larger states to have more representation in the government to account for those states' larger sizes. If Rhode Island had the same number of votes in the electoral college as California, that would lead to a small percentage of the US population having 1/50 of the power to decide the president.
      (2 votes)
  • winston default style avatar for user 2000001
    Was 9/11 one of those events
    (4 votes)
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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Blue
    What is the Geneva Convention?
    (2 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      The conventions, which stretch back to 1859, detail how nations at war are to act in order to respect the human lives of those not involved in combat.

      The Swiss businessman Henry Dunant went to visit wounded soldiers after the Battle of Solferino in 1859. He was shocked by the lack of facilities, personnel, and medical aid available to help these soldiers. As a result, he published his book, A Memory of Solferino, in 1862, on the horrors of war. His wartime experiences inspired Dunant to propose:

      A permanent relief agency for humanitarian aid in times of war
      A government treaty recognizing the neutrality of the agency and allowing it to provide aid in a war zone
      The former proposal led to the establishment of the Red Cross in Geneva. The latter led to the 1864 Geneva Convention, the first codified international treaty that covered the sick and wounded soldiers on the battlefield. On 22 August 1864, the Swiss government invited the governments of all European countries, as well as the United States, Brazil, and Mexico, to attend an official diplomatic conference. Sixteen countries sent a total of twenty-six delegates to Geneva. On 22 August 1864, the conference adopted the first Geneva Convention "for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field".
      (5 votes)
  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user reina
    housing price collapse is Bush’s fault?
    (1 vote)
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    • leaf orange style avatar for user jasonberning
      Not really all of it, interestingly some of it was Bill Clinton. The reason for this was that he with the support of the Republicans in Congress repealed the Glass-Steagall Act which was put into affect during the Great Depression to prevent that kind of disaster from happening again. The basics of it was to prevent banks from gambling in the stock market with your money. Unfortunately, as I said before, it was repealed by Bill Clinton and that lead to the Great Recession. Many people do not realize it, but the world economic system almost collapsed during that time. To get out of it President Bush and the others in Congress decided to print some $700,000,000,000 on the spot to get us out. This has caused other problems and we are still recovering from it. Part of the problems it has caused is that interest rates are very low, and inflation is very high.
      (6 votes)
  • boggle blue style avatar for user x.asper (bio)
    Where could I find more information on the USA Patriot Act?

    Thank you in advance.
    (2 votes)
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  • stelly orange style avatar for user איזי (Izzy)
    When did George W. Bush die?
    (0 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user 312895
    what would happen if he was still alive?
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user 293917
    how did they go out of all that economic recession.
    (2 votes)
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