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Cultural Divide and the Age of Terrorism
(1973 - 2007)
© Copyright 2007 Bryan Hardesty. All rights reserved.
(NOTE: The DVD Edition of The American Testimony is available at our
NIXON: THE WATERGATE ERA
In the years
after the Second World War, the United States of America experienced a series of
cultural, political, and military setbacks that aroused a new spirit of cynicism
and divisiveness. Following the March 1973 conclusion of the costly,
demoralizing Vietnam War, embittered Americans endured a new scandal that
further damaged their trust in government.
President Richard Milhous Nixon established himself as a foreign policy
visionary, and his equally adept Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, skillfully
navigated the nation through the perilous global events of the 1970s. During its
first four years, the Nixon administration had opened relations with China and
the Soviet Union, and the second presidential term began with the conclusion of
US military involvement in the Vietnam conflict. From there, Secretary of State
Kissinger mediated in Middle East conflicts in the aftermath of 1973’s Yom
Kippur War, in which Israelis defeated Egyptian and Syrian invaders. When the
Arab nations retaliated with a petroleum boycott against Israel’s western
allies, Kissinger persuaded Israel to withdraw from certain disputed
territories. Although the Arab boycott was lifted, the Organization of Petroleum
Exporting Countries (OPEC) quadrupled crude oil prices. Prominent OPEC member
nations Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, and Venezuela imposed the increase as
a means to extract their own form of justice from the West.
The jump in oil
prices occurred at the same time that the Watergate scandal emerged as a leading
news item. James McCord, a security director for the Committee to Reelect the
President, was one of five men arrested in the June 1972 break-in of Democratic
headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, DC. In March of 1973,
McCord revealed that the failed attempt to plant listening devices in Democratic
offices was a wholly political operation, and that high level Republicans
pressured him to remain silent about the incident. Soon thereafter, John Dean,
President Nixon’s personal attorney, admitted to having prior knowledge of the
plan for the break-in, and went on to proclaim before a Senate committee that
the president wanted to suppress damaging evidence to protect loyal staff
members from prosecution.
Feigning ignorance, Richard Nixon appointed Harvard Law
School’s Archibald Cox to serve as special prosecutor over the Watergate
investigation. But when Cox learned that Nixon routinely recorded conversations
in his office, a subpoena was issued for the tapes. Nixon thereafter fired Cox,
triggering protests from the House Judiciary Committee.
Meanwhile, Vice President Spiro Agnew was accused of failing
to report questionable campaign contributions on his tax statements when he was
governor of Maryland. Agnew resigned his post in October of 1973, and was
replaced by House Republican leader Gerald Ford of Michigan.
As the American
people grew increasingly despondent over the moral failings of their government
leaders, the Supreme Court issued its controversial decision in the Roe v.
Wade case. At question was whether individual state governments retained the
powers to enact their own laws affecting the termination of an infant’s life
during developmental stages in the womb. Because lawmakers in the United States
Congress had not passed any federal abortion laws, the Constitution expressly
reserved the issue for state legislatures. The Supreme Court, however, violated
the Tenth Amendment authority of the states, federalizing abortion rights
without congressional approval. The court also failed to recognize the
inalienable rights of pre-born infants to merely live. In the years that
followed the Roe v. Wade decision, an average of 1.4 million pregnancies
were terminated each year, making abortion the leading cause of human species
death in America.
On the political front, Richard Nixon reluctantly surrendered most of his White
House tape recordings to trial judge John Sirica, while naming Leon Jaworski the
new Watergate prosecutor. In March of 1974, grand jury indictments were issued
against several former White House aides—as well as former Attorney General John
Mitchell—for their involvement in the Watergate cover-up. A final tape
recording, released under the order of the Supreme Court, revealed the
president’s attempt to use the Central Intelligence Agency to hamper FBI
investigations into the Watergate scandal. In response, the House Judiciary
Committee began deliberating on articles of impeachment, citing Richard Nixon
with obstruction of justice and misuse of presidential powers. A group of
congressional Republicans, led by Senator Barry Goldwater, advised the president
to resign before he was impeached. On August 8, 1974, Richard M. Nixon addressed
the American people, announcing his resignation, effective at noon the following
Under the 25th Amendment, Vice President Gerald R. Ford ascended to the
presidency. The following month, Ford issued a presidential pardon of
Richard Nixon, though the disgraced president had yet to be charged with a
crime. Since many Americans longed to see Nixon prosecuted, this act of mercy
was detrimental to Gerald Ford’s future political prospects.
further with the April 1975 fall of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, to
communist North Vietnamese forces, rendering prior US military efforts in vain.
Communists also took control of neighboring Cambodia, and more than two million
civilians were subsequently slaughtered.
THE CARTER PRESIDENCY
Overwhelmed by negative news, the American people yearned for new beginnings.
Unlike previous presidents, Gerald Ford had not been elected to office, and in
the cynical post-Watergate era, he stood little chance of retaining the
presidency. In the 1976 election, the Republican incumbent was defeated by
Democratic challenger Jimmy Carter, a former peanut farmer and governor of
Georgia. Though Carter projected a “common man” image, this shrewd political
operator was a founding member of the Trilateral Commission, a public policy
group aligned with international banking cartels.
In serving these banking interests, the new president surrendered the Panama
Canal so that the Panamanian government could, in turn, sell canal holdings to
repay its 1.7 billion dollar debt to international financiers. Carter dismissed
the fact that the canal zone was awarded in 1903 to the US for helping Panama
achieve independence from Columbia. The United States alone had constructed the
canal more than six decades earlier, and the president’s giveaway earned the
disdain of many Americans.
The single triumph of the Jimmy Carter presidency was the September 1978 Camp
David peace summit, in which the president served as mediator between Israel and
Egypt. As part of the ensuing treaty, signed in March of 1979, the Israelis
surrendered land in the Sinai region in exchange for Egypt’s formal recognition
of Israel as a legitimate nation.
Subsequent foreign policy decisions of the Carter White House
were not as well received by the American public. The Chinese Nationalist
government, a World War II ally of the United States had been driven to Taiwan
in 1949 by communists in mainland China. Nearly three decades later, President
Carter, on December 15, 1978, broke relations with Taiwan, formally recognizing
communist China. The president also supported the proliferation of communism in
Central America, persuading Congress to allocate 75-million dollars to aid the
Marxist, pro-Soviet Sandinista regime in overthrowing the government of
Carter fared no better with domestic policy. Federal mandates
against oil refiners, automobile companies, and power plants were issued in
conjunction with new taxes on gasoline, crude oil, and the windfall profits from
new petroleum discoveries. Compounding the situation, OPEC, the cartel of
petroleum exporting countries, elevated crude oil prices to new heights. As a
result, an energy crisis plagued the nation. Instead of confronting OPEC
ministers, the president penalized American consumers by restricting domestic
fuel usage. Peacetime gasoline rationing was instituted for the first time in
the nation’s history, and American motorists faced long lines, short supplies,
and drastically increased prices at the fuel pump. All industries using
petroleum products raised their prices, and economic inflation soared. The
unintended consequences of government meddling worsened the very conditions they
were designed to alleviate.
The nation also suffered from cultural and moral decline. The
1970s, labeled the “me decade,” was characterized by pop psychologists, college
professors, authors, motion picture artists, and journalists—many of whom
promoted a spirit of self-gratification. Disdaining personal accountability,
they demanded new government programs to eliminate poverty, disregarding the
fact that the number of people on welfare had doubled between 1960 and ’77. It
was evident that the very policies designed to assist the needy merely launched
an epidemic of social dependency. At the same time, gender resentments enflamed
a feminist movement that mocked and devalued traditional roles of motherhood and
household management. Pressured by the prevailing cultural trend, half of all
women over the age of sixteen entered the workforce during the late 1970s, while
the number of single-parent households increased from 13 to 22 percent.
Americans were also forced to deal with the repercussions of
the US abandonment of South Vietnam. “Boat people,” persecuted Vietnamese who
had escaped the communists in crowded boats, were granted sanctuary in the
United States. They arrived in abject poverty, but by applying hard work, these
new immigrants rocketed to the middle class in a few short years, shattering the
myth that minorities still did not share the same opportunities as white-skinned
In many aspects, American morale continued to decline. During
the four years of the Carter presidency, the monetary inflation rate skyrocketed
from 7.2 to 13.3 percent, vastly devaluing the dollar, while interest rates on
loans reached 20 percent. Nevertheless, the greatest crisis of the Carter
administration was yet to come.
In October of 1979, Reza Pahlavi, the former Shah of Iran who had been ousted
the previous year by militant Shiite Muslims, arrived in the United States for
medical treatment. President Carter ignored Shiite demands to return the Shah
for trial, and in retaliation, militant Iranian students seized 90 westerners—63
of whom were Americans—on November 3, 1979. Carter thereafter froze Iranian
monetary assets held in American banks, then declared a trade embargo against
Iran. After female and minority hostages were released, the militant Shiites
held the remaining 52 American captives for 444 days.
In the midst of the Iranian hostage crisis, relations
collapsed between the United States and the Soviet Union. Following the 1979
drafting of Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty Number Two (SALT II), agreeing to
further reduce weapons stockpiles, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.
President Carter withdrew the SALT II treaty, halted grain and technology
exports to the Soviet Union, and banned American athletes from competing in the
1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow.
On April 24, 1980, the president ordered a military operation to rescue the 52
American hostages in Iran. However, instead of allowing front-line military
officials to make the crucial onsite decisions, Carter blindly directed the
mission from the Oval Office, prompting the protest resignation of Secretary of
State Cyrus Vance. With military budget cuts, the helicopters employed for the
mission were nominally operational. During a sandstorm, one collided with a
transport plane, killing eight US servicemen. The mission was aborted before any
of the hostages could be reached.
This final humiliation sealed the fate of the Jimmy Carter
presidency. By the 1980 presidential election, the Republican Party recovered
from its post-Watergate taint by nominating a man who symbolized patriotism,
decisiveness, and faith in the American spirit. Instead of promoting his own
qualities, Ronald Wilson Reagan, the former two-term governor of California,
articulated his confidence in the nation’s people, providing a practical,
positive vision for the future. As a result, Reagan won the presidency by a
landslide. Before leaving office, outgoing president Jimmy Carter released
Iranian financial assets held in American banks. The July 1980 death of ousted
Shah Reza Pahlavi left little else for the militant Shiites to demand. On
January 20, 1981, the day of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, the 52 American
hostages were released.
“THE REAGAN REVOLUTION”
Days after taking office, the new president issued an
Executive Order, terminating government meddling in oil production. Within four
months, Americans were enjoying abundant fuel supplies and a 61 percent
reduction in the price of gasoline. Reagan also tackled the job market crisis
that had vexed his predecessor. The unemployment rate exceeded ten percent—the
highest since the Great Depression—and the new administration embarked on a
program to slash taxes and eliminate those destructive excise preferences,
subsidies, and government regulations that had spiraled the nation in an
economic tailspin. To stimulate marketplace activities and revive investments in
American enterprise, supply-side economics dictated that the nation’s working
population would need to take home a greater share of the wages that were
rightfully theirs in the first place.
The greatest obstacle to Reagan’s economic revitalization
plan was the Democratic majority in Congress. Thus, the president took his cause
to the people through a televised address. Thereafter, Capitol Hill telephone
lines were flooded with calls by constituents who pressured their
representatives to support Reagan’s proposal.
the political debate, Ronald Reagan was shot on March 30, 1981, by an
emotionally disturbed loner who was trying to impress a Hollywood film actress.
Reagan took a bullet in the chest, while his press secretary sustained a
debilitating head wound. A Secret Service agent was also shot in the melee.
Though close to death at one point, the president eventually recovered. With
Americans rallying behind their wounded leader, a more cooperative Congress
passed Reagan’s Economic Recovery Tax Act in August of 1981, incrementally
slashing the taxes of all income groups by 25 percent, while reducing the
maximum tax rate from 70 to 50 percent. This legislation launched the longest
uninterrupted period of economic growth up to that time.
Also in August of 1981, Ronald Reagan fearlessly interceded
in a transportation crisis that threatened to paralyze the nation. When federal
air traffic controllers across the country went on strike, the president
asserted that their actions jeopardized public safety. Approximately 11,400
controllers ignored directives to return to work, prompting the decisive
president to fire them and assign their positions to military controllers until
new civilian replacements could be trained. This bold, potentially unpopular
remedy averted the aviation safety crisis.
As the nation’s economy rebounded, the federal government received more revenues
than ever before. Nevertheless, Congress spent more money than it had
accumulated. In 1982, the House of Representatives, under the leadership of
Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, began taxing Social Security benefits, while
simultaneously increasing welfare spending. In a compromise measure, President
Reagan agreed not to veto the new measure, in exchange for a congressional
promise to save three dollars of taxpayer revenue for every one dollar it spent.
However, after passing the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act, Congress
reneged on the agreement, embarking on a spending frenzy that tripled the
federal deficit in three short years.
In foreign affairs, Ronald Reagan showed no timidity in criticizing totalitarian
governments. In March of 1983, he publicly denounced Soviet communism as the
“focus of evil in the modern world.” Whereas Cold War tensions had
threatened global peace for much of the latter twentieth century, a new form of
danger—Islamic terrorism—began to menace western democracies during the 1980s.
On April 18, 1983, the American Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, was bombed, killing
63 people, 16 of whom were Americans. In response, the United States endorsed
military reprisals by Israel.
Five months later, US-Soviet relations worsened after a
Soviet fighter jet shot down a Korean Airlines passenger plane. Sixty-one
Americans were among the 269 travelers killed in the incident.
Although the American State Department was adept at
addressing controversies with foreign powers, it had little experience dealing
with isolated acts of terrorism. In October of 1983, US and French military
housing units in Beirut were bombed, killing 239 American service personnel.
With no identifiable government backing the assaults, the Reagan White House
launched an investigation to pinpoint the culprits.
The administration faced a number of concurrent, overlapping crises. Two
thousand US troops were dispatched to the Caribbean island nation of Grenada in
November 1983, following an invasion by communist forces from Cuba. After the
Americans quickly liberated the island, they uncovered a stockpile of documents
detailing a plot between the Soviet Union, Cuba, and North Korea to install
communist dictatorships throughout the Caribbean region and Central America. The
revelation provided ample justification for Reagan’s firm, no-nonsense approach
in foreign affairs.
On the domestic front, the economy continued to improve, as
oil reserves increased by 41 percent, dispelling previous scholarly forecasts
that the earth’s fuel resources would run out by 1980. Likewise, innovations in
agriculture debunked late 1960s predictions that food shortages would cause
hundreds of millions to starve by the 1980s. There was, nonetheless, an alarming
new health crisis that stunned the nation.
As a consequence of 1970s “me generation” self indulgence,
many young Americans never learned the difference between natural desire and
animalistic impulse. Like a fire that escaped the bounds of the fireplace,
sexuality spilled beyond the secure intimacy of marriage, bringing destruction
instead of the intended warmth and comfort. The debased values celebrated in the
1970s launched an epidemic in sexually transmitted diseases and introduced a new
retrovirus that rendered the human immune system susceptible to opportunistic
infections, neurological disorders, and certain forms of cancer. In 1981,
scientists named the disease Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, better known
as AIDS. Because it was a blood-borne pathogen, AIDS was initially unleashed by
a highly promiscuous male subculture where unsanitary and indiscriminant forms
of sexual interaction were commonly practiced. Through blood donations, the AIDS
virus spread to hemophiliacs and surgical patients receiving transfusions. The
disease was also transmitted among intravenous drug users who shared hypodermic
needles. Death came to thousands, prompting many Americans to adapt more
the time, the AIDS crisis was largely contained within certain high-risk groups,
and the overall population continued to experience improved living standards
during the 1980s. By the end of his first term, Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts had
reduced inflation from its 1979 high of twelve percent to its 1984 low of four
percent. Distraught by wayward deficit spending, the president pressured
Congress to pass 1984’s Deficit Reduction Act. Campaigning for a second term
that year, Reagan received the electoral votes of 49 states, soundly defeating
Democratic challenger Walter Mondale, the former Vice President under Jimmy
Carter. Democrats, however, retained their majority in Congress.
An exceptionally heated issue between executive and
legislative branches of government involved Nicaragua. During the Carter years,
congressional Democrats had supported the communist overthrow of the Central
American country, and Ronald Reagan called for a policy reversal, requesting aid
for the pro-democracy Nicaraguan Contras. When his plea was rebuffed,
administration officials began seeking ways to circumvent congressional
obstructions. Their actions would eventually create the one significant scandal
of the Reagan presidency.
Meanwhile, overseas, Mikhail Gorbachev emerged as leader of the Soviet Union,
and this self-styled reformer made peace overtures to the United States. Ronald
Reagan responded warmly, but refused to make any one-sided arms treaties, trade
agreements, or technology exchanges that weakened America’s position.
Gorbachev’s attempts to persuade the president to approve the terms of Jimmy
Carter’s aborted SALT II arms limitation agreement came to no avail, as Reagan
argued that there was little way of ensuring Soviet compliance. During March of
1985, Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was launched. Nicknamed “Star
Wars,” the proposal involved the development of a network of laser-guided,
anti-missile space satellites for the purpose of shielding the United States
from ballistic missiles attacks. The Soviet Union, bankrupted by seven decades
of counterproductive bureaucratic rule, could no longer stay in stride with
American defense technology. The very concept of Reagan’s “Star Wars” plan
panicked Soviet officials, setting the stage for the gradual unraveling of the
THWARTING COMMUNISM AND ISLAMIC TERRORISM
In June of 1985, terrorism erupted again, as radical Shiite Muslims hijacked a
Trans-World Airlines jet after takeoff from Athens, Greece. One US serviceman
was killed, and 39 Americans were held captive for seventeen days on runways in
Beirut and Algiers. After Ronald Reagan ordered warships to bomb the coast of
Lebanon, the government of Israel intervened, releasing Lebanese and Palestinian
Shiites from its jails. Though Israel’s acquiescence to terrorist demands
secured the hostages’ release, this concession only encouraged future acts of
Four months later, Palestinian terrorists hijacked the Italian cruise ship
Achille Lauro in the Mediterranean Sea, murdering an elderly American tourist.
With threats to explode a bomb on the ship, the hijackers demanded the release
of fifty fellow terrorists from Israeli prisons. This time, however, Israel
stood firm, forcing the hijackers to negotiate surrender, offering to submit to
Egyptian authorities on the condition of first being flown to Tunisia. However,
during their journey to that destination, US Navy F-14 jets—under Ronald
Reagan’s order—intercepted the plane, forcing it to land in Sicily, where the
terrorists were taken into custody.
Intelligence reports identified the Muammar al-Qaddafi regime
in Libya as the primary sponsor of most of the recent acts of terrorism. Thus,
in January of 1986, the President Reagan froze all Libyan financial assets in
the United States, imposed trade and commercial sanctions against the North
African country, then ordered Americans in Libya to evacuate. Soon thereafter,
the Sixth Fleet began patrolling the Gulf of Sidra off the Libyan coast.
At the time, the attention of the American people was diverted to a national
tragedy involving the space program.
1981, NASA had launched 24 successful missions employing reusable manned space
shuttles. On January 28, 1986, a fuel tank leak in the space shuttle Challenger
triggered an explosion 74 seconds into the launch, killing the shuttle’s seven
crew members, which included a civilian elementary school teacher. After a
painful series of investigations and corrective measures, the space shuttle
program eventually resumed, and scores of successful missions would be conducted
over the next two-decades. (The Challenger incident, however, would not be the
last shuttle tragedy.)
Congress passed Ronald Reagan’s Tax Reform Act, alleviating some six million
low-income families of the burden of taxation, while lowering the maximum income
tax rate from 50 to 28 percent. Additionally, the maximum corporate tax rate was
reduced from 46 to 34 percent. By allowing consumers and businesses to keep more
of their own earnings, the economy was further stimulated and new jobs were
created in the private sector. As a result, the free market generated new
revenues, bringing more money into the federal government than any tax increase
could ever provide. Nevertheless, accelerated congressional spending expanded
the federal deficit. In 1986, American voters pressured Congress to pass the
Gramm-Rudman Act, forcing the legislature to balance the federal budget by the
At a time of enormous domestic prosperity, international terrorism remained a
primary concern of the Reagan White House. In April of 1986, terrorists bombed a
West German nightclub frequented by members of the American military. Among the
two people killed was an American soldier, and a third of the 155 injured
victims were US service personnel. When intelligence sources linked the bombing
to Muammar al-Qaddafi, President Reagan ordered air strikes against strategic
Libyan military bases, as well as Qaddafi’s residence. The Libyan leader was
wounded, but survived. The show of American force had its intended affect.
Libyan-sponsored terrorism came to an immediate halt.
In October of 1986, Reagan attended a summit meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, with
Mikhail Gorbachev. The Soviet leader offered to finalize a new arms reduction
treaty in exchange for Reagan’s cancellation of his Star Wars defense
initiative. The president stood his ground, sternly criticizing the Soviets for
cheating on previous treaties. The talks collapsed, leaving a stunned Mikhail
By the end of the year, Ronald Reagan found himself embroiled
in a political firestorm over his administration’s measures to aid
pro-democratic Contra fighters in Nicaragua. Central Intelligence Agency
Director William Casey, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North of the National Security
Council, National Security Advisor John Poindexter, and former National Security
Advisor Robert McFarland were among those who had placed their careers on the
line to help the Nicaraguan Contras fight the communists.
controversy first began when these officials decided to reward a group of
cooperative Iranian negotiators for securing the release of American hostages in
Lebanon. This friendly Iranian faction was allowed to purchase US weapons from
Israel, and profits from the arms sales were donated to the Nicaraguan Contras.
When learning of the arrangement, congressional Democrats proclaimed it a
scandal of Watergate proportions. In May of 1987, the Iran-Contra Hearings were
conducted before network television cameras. Key National Security Agency
officials were subjected to harsh questioning until Marine Lieutenant Colonel
Oliver North, the targeted scapegoat of the proceedings, fired back by publicly
exposing the depth of prior congressional support for the communist Sandinista
regime in Nicaragua. After North’s revelations, millions of telegrams from
across the country arrived at the capital in support of the persecuted colonel.
Over time, most of the charges and convictions levied against the participants
in the Iran-Contra affair were overturned. The contrite Congress, under pressure
from angry American constituents, voted to provide assistance to the Nicaraguan
Emerging somewhat embarrassed, but largely untainted by the
Ronald Reagan resumed his crusade against communist oppression in the world. At
the Brandenburg Gate of the Berlin Wall—which divided the prosperous free zone
of the German city from the destitute communist zone—Reagan issued this
challenge to the Soviet Union’s reform-minded leader: “General Secretary
Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and
Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr.
Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
(Click here for
As 1987 drew to a
close, Mikhail Gorbachev journeyed to Washington, DC, in a last-ditch attempt to
secure an arms limitation agreement with President Reagan. This time, the Soviet
leader was more cooperative, no longer insisting that Reagan abandon the
Strategic Defense “Star Wars” Initiative. Gorbachev also conceded to Reagan’s
demand for full verification of Soviet compliance. Satisfied that Gorbachev was
genuinely sincere, Reagan signed the treaty, and the nuclear arsenals of both
countries were reduced.
GEORGE BUSH, THE 41ST PRESIDENT
Reagan years had been a time of renewed patriotism in America, and most voters
were pleased with their two-term president, hoping his successor would continue
the trend. After issuing the pledge, “Read my lips: no new taxes,” Vice
President George Bush easily defeated the Democratic nominee, Massachusetts
Governor Michael Dukakis. Democrats, however, maintained majorities in both
houses of Congress. As the new president began his term, his predecessor’s
steadfast stance against communist totalitarianism began to bear fruit.
Showing further signs that the once-mighty Soviet empire was
weakening, Gorbachev’s government in Moscow ordered troops to withdraw from
Afghanistan in February of 1989. By August, communist rule came to an end in
Poland, and a democratic government was subsequently elected.
also instituted democratic reforms, prompting East Germans in that country to
demolish Hungarian fences and escape to freedom across the Austrian border. In
October, East German leader Erich Honecker was ousted, inspiring the German
masses to tear down the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. In the absence of
Soviet reprisals, the people of other communist-bloc nations were emboldened to
take similar actions. On November 17th, Bulgaria called for free elections, and
on Christmas Day, 1989, Nicolae Ceausescu, the iron-fisted communist dictator of
Romania, was executed after ordering the massacre of civilian dissidents.
Ceausescu’s wife, whom he had appointed deputy prime minister, was also
executed. Communism was thereafter outlawed in Romania. Czechoslovakia,
likewise, held democratic elections in late December 1989.
As communism fell in eastern Europe, the Bush administration was forced to deal
with a corrupt regime in the Western Hemisphere. Manuel Noriega, president of
Panama, turned his government into a drug-smuggling pipeline to the United
States. As an American grand jury filed indictments against Noriega, George Bush
called for free elections in Panama. Noriega’s operatives rigged the election,
prompting Panamanian vote counters to abandon their posts in protest. After an
American soldier was murdered by Noriega’s men in December of 1989, President
Bush deployed ten thousand troops to capture the Panamanian dictator and restore
democratic governance. Noriega surrendered in January of 1990, and was flown to
Miami. The following month, another Central American country, Nicaragua,
submitted to elections that restored democracy.
The collapse of communism continued overseas.
February of 1990 the communists lost their monopoly over the government of the
Soviet Union, and in March, Lithuania declared its independence from Soviet
rule. Simultaneously, East Germany held its first free elections. By summertime,
Soviet republics Latvia and Estonia declared their independence. Fifteen diverse
republics had been part of the Soviet Union, and in late May of 1990,
reform-minded Boris Yeltsin emerged as leader over the Republic of Russia, the
seat of Soviet government. Two months later, Yeltsin severed ties with the
Communist Party, and in the month that followed, declared Russia a sovereign
nation. Other Soviet republics—including Moldavia, the Ukraine, Georgia, and
Uzbekistan, and Armenia—likewise declared independence. All the while,
non-communist presidents were elected in former Soviet satellite nations Hungary
euphoria over the demise of European communism was briefly derailed by sobering
news from the Arabian-Persian Gulf region.
August 2, 1990, Kuwait, a strategic oil producing country with prime oceanic
access, was invaded by neighboring Iraq for the purpose of annexation. Alarmed
that vast Kuwaiti resources fell under the control of brutal Iraqi dictator
Saddam Hussein, the United Nations imposed economic sanctions against Iraq while
President George Bush deployed 540-thousand US troops to the Persian Gulf
region. Saddam Hussein ignored United Nations orders to withdraw from Kuwait,
and on January 17, 1991—two days after the UN-imposed deadline—American forces
launched Operation Desert Storm, leading a 34-nation coalition for the
liberation of Kuwait. The Gulf War, as it was best known, commenced with a
series of aerial assaults to soften Iraqi targets. Ground forces began their
invasion on February 9th, and Iraqi troops fell back quickly, setting Kuwaiti
oil fields ablaze as they retreated. Seventeen days later, Kuwait was liberated.
Respecting the wishes of coalition allies, the United States refrained from
advancing deep into Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi leader remained in
power, agreeing to comply with United Nations weapons restrictions.
It had been many years since the American people held their
armed forces in such high esteem.
swelling of patriotic pride in the United States was further fueled by news of
the simultaneous demise of communism in the Soviet Union. Attempts by Soviet
hardliners to forcibly retake Lithuania and other Baltic republics merely drew
the ire of the Russian people. As a last-ditch attempt to maintain power in
Russia, the communists, in August of 1991, occupied a Moscow television station,
declaring the suspension of all civil rights. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev
hid in exile while communist deputies ordered the military to exert control over
Russia. Russian President Boris Yeltsin stood defiant against Soviet tanks, and
fellow civilians convinced the soldiers to defect. Devoid of military support,
the old-line communists were rendered powerless. The Soviet empire that had
ruled for more than seven decades collapsed. Finding himself without a governing
body over which to preside, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned from the Communist Party.
Ten of the twelve remaining Soviet republics declared independence, while
Yeltsin and the presidents of the Ukraine and Belarus created an alliance called
the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Less than a year later, the Yugoslavian state of Macedonia
declared independence, while Albania’s communist regime was overthrown and
Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In freeing themselves
from totalitarian rule, the former communist countries abandoned familiar
systems of production and distribution. The people were grossly inexperienced in
self-reliance. Although Americans willingly assisted in the development of new
free enterprise economies, their efforts were constantly sabotaged by die-hard
communists and Mafia operatives.
The opportunity to secure a freer world was at hand, but the necessary changes
required the leadership and commitment of the strongest nation on earth.
President George Bush was highly skilled at foreign policy, but political
missteps prevented him from winning a second term of office. The public
adoration enjoyed by the president after the Gulf War was eradicated when he
broke his “no new taxes” pledge. In exchange for a congressional promise to
reduce federal spending, Bush refrained from vetoing a new tax bill. Many who
voted for him in the previous election viewed this concession a betrayal. In the
1992 presidential race, charismatic Arkansas governor William Jefferson “Bill”
Clinton procured the Democratic nomination, while Texas billionaire H. Ross
Perot ran as a third-party candidate. Popular largely among conservatives, Perot
diverted 19 percent of the vote away from George Bush, and Bill Clinton won the
presidency by a five percent margin of victory.
During his final month in office, outgoing President Bush
consented to a United Nations request, deploying 1,800 American troops for a
supposedly short-term UN “peacekeeping” mission to the African country of
Somalia, where infighting between tribal warlords prevented food distribution to
the beleaguered Somali population.
All the while, the American domestic landscape was
experiencing a technological revolution, as more affordable and increasingly
functional computers were employed in homes and businesses across the nation. In
the advancement of communications, the 1990s marked the onset of the internet
era, enabling personal computers across the globe to interconnect with vast
databases via the publicly accessible computer network known as the world wide
web. Methods of research, information retrieval, commerce, and socialization
were radically advanced through this new technology. America was nearing the
apex of the information age.
THE CLINTON PRESIDENCY
After an uneventful transfer of power, President Bill Clinton faced a new form
of domestic crisis. On February 26, 1993, Islamic terrorists detonated a bomb in
the parking garage of the World Trade Center in New York City, killing six
people and injuring more than a thousand. The chief architect of the attack,
Ramzi Yousef—better known by cohorts as “Rashid, the Iraqi”—was thought to be an
agent of Saddam Hussein, though his co-conspirators included Egyptians and
Palestinians. Most of those involved in the bomb plot were arrested within
months, though Yousef eluded capture for two years.
Bill Clinton, meanwhile, encountered difficulties filling the US Attorney
General’s post. After the withdrawal of two nominees, he settled for Miami,
Florida prosecutor Janet Reno.
first act as Attorney General was to oversee a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and
Firearms (BATF) operation involving an isolationist religious cult called the
Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. On February 28, 1993, BATF agents raided the
Davidian compound on suspicion of illegal firearms possession. Their shock
invasion left no time to present the search warrant, and the well-armed
Davidians aggressively defended themselves, killing four Bureau agents. Holding
the compound under siege, BATF personnel refused to allow medical access to
wounded Davidians. On April 19th, government tanks, under Janet Reno’s orders,
pierced the walls of Davidian living quarters, launching teargas canisters. A
fire erupted, killing 72 people, 17 of whom were children. Criticisms for the
unnecessarily heavy-handed tactics of federal law enforcement officials were
widespread among the American public.
As a man who once proclaimed to loathe the military, Bill
Clinton issued massive cutbacks on American armed services, closing 133 bases,
downgrading 45 others, and reducing troop personnel numbers by half. Military
operations were dramatically affected by diminished White House support.
an October 1993 mission to capture agents of a Somali warlord, Defense Secretary
Les Aspin, at the last minute, withheld essential armored protection to those US
Army Rangers conducting the raid. The American servicemen were ambushed in
Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, and two US Black Hawk helicopters were shot down.
Eighteen Americans died, 79 were wounded, and one Ranger’s body was dragged
through the streets before television cameras. The Rangers were forced to
retreat to a Pakistani base for safe evacuation. Secretary of Defense Aspin
shouldered much of the blame for the fiasco and resigned two months later.
divisions quickly erupted over White House domestic policy. During the autumn of
1993, the Clinton administration attempted to seize control of the nation’s
healthcare industries, amounting to fifteen percent of the American economy. The
plan, as coordinated by First Lady Hillary Clinton, was promoted as a means of
providing health services to 38 million uninsured Americans. Although existing
laws already required the nation’s hospitals to provide sufficient medical care
to all patients regardless of their ability to pay, the public was led to
believe that uninsured citizens were denied essential medical treatment. Under
the Clinton plan, 59 new federal programs and agencies were proposed, along with
the massive expansion of twenty others. Because 42 cents of every taxpayer
dollar allocated for healthcare was already siphoned for government office
expenses, the bureaucracy alone under the Clinton plan could not be supported
without rationing medical services. Congress subsequently rejected the Clinton
The president’s political quandaries were further complicated
by personal woes. In May of 1994, a sexual harassment lawsuit was filed against
Bill Clinton by a former Arkansas government employee who accused him of having
made a lewd advance toward her while he was that state’s governor. Although the
case was initially viewed as a political annoyance, its later revelations would
imperil the Clinton presidency.
Meanwhile, a new foreign crisis vexed the White House. In September of 1994,
American shores were flooded with tens of thousands of Haitian refugees, victims
of oppressive US economic sanctions against Haiti, imposed as punishment for the
ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a mentally unstable Marxist who was
nonetheless supported by prominent Democrats in Congress. President Clinton
deported the refugees back to Haiti, then dispatched three thousand US troops to
pressure Haitians to accept Aristide’s rule. Upon his subsequent return to
power, Aristide ordered the deaths of his political rivals.
Already beleaguered by scandal, President Bill Clinton and
wife Hillary became the focus of a federal investigation into money laundering
and bank fraud practices in the Whitewater land development scheme, a failed
Arkansas real estate investment deal. Attorney General Janet Reno appointed
independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr to head the federal probe. In time, several
of the Clintons’ Whitewater business partners were convicted of fraud and
For the 1994 congressional elections, Republican candidates united themselves
against the accelerated expansion of government. The Democrats had enjoyed
majorities in Congress for 60 of the previous 62 years, but under the leadership
of US Representative Newt Gingrich of Georgia, 300 Republican candidates offered
their “Contract with America,” a pledge to introduce legislation to balance the
budget, reform welfare, and make the government abide by the same laws as the
general public. Voters responded enthusiastically, restoring a Republican
majority to Congress for the first time in forty years.
On April 19, 1995, the second anniversary of the burning of the Branch Davidian
compound in Waco, Texas, a federal office building in Oklahoma City was blown
up, killing 160, including a number of children. Of the two Americans charged
with the crime, mastermind Timothy McVeigh received the death penalty and was
later executed by lethal injection.
Another building explosion occurred overseas on June 25, 1995. This time,
Islamic terrorists detonated a truck bomb at the Khobar Towers housing complex
in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing nineteen U.S. servicemen and one Saudi, while
wounding 372 people of various nationalities. Although investigators learned
that the bombing was a joint project of Iran, Lebanon, and Syria, White House
officials refused to confront these hostile nations.
In other foreign affairs concerns, former Yugoslavian provinces, in the wake of
communism’s collapse, struggled to establish their independence. The Serbian
majority in the former Yugoslav empire attempted to retain possession of the
predominantly Islamic province of Bosnia, triggering civil war. As part of the
late-1995 Dayton Accords, President Clinton deployed 20-thousand US troops to
aid Bosnian Muslims.
On the domestic front, the president attempted to maintain a
delicate balance in accomplishing his goals while dealing with the Republican
majority in Congress. Although he had signed seven “Contract with America”
measures into law, he vetoed budget cuts. Without an approved federal budget in
place, a number of government agencies were forced to temporarily close during
the latter months of 1995. The federal crisis was eventually resolved, and the
two branches of government thereafter exhibited a spirit of reconciliation in
anticipation of the 1996 election season.
The American people grew increasingly insecure about public
safety after TWA Flight 800, a passenger plane traveling from New York to Paris,
exploded in midair shortly after takeoff on July 17, 1996. All 230 passengers
were killed, and terrorism was initially suspected. The federal investigation
deteriorated into a politically-charged power struggle between aviation crash
experts and FBI agents. The issue was never entirely resolved, as many experts
disputed the official government explanation that the explosion was caused by an
electrical short in the aircraft’s center fuel tank.
president, meanwhile, focused on his reelection campaign, championing issues
that enhanced his popularity. On August 22, 1996, he signed the Personal
Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, a congressional welfare
reform bill that curbed the amount of government giveaways to citizens capable
of supporting themselves.
SCANDAL AND IMPEACHMENT
For the 1996 presidential election, Republicans failed to offer a candidate who
sufficiently displayed Bill Clinton’s level of youthful vigor and charisma. The
president was reelected, defeating World War II veteran Robert Dole, the US
Senator from Kansas. Shortly thereafter, Clinton found himself embroiled in a
series of new scandals, the first of which involved campaign finance.
The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee discovered that
millions of dollars in contributions had been channeled to the Clinton campaign,
as well as the Democratic National Committee, by a network of front
organizations linked to communist China. After contributing 3.4-million dollars
to the Democratic National Committee, Asian banking official John Huang was
appointed to the Clinton Commerce Department in 1994.
The president then reassigned classified intelligence on China to the Commerce
Department, where it was available for viewing by Huang. All the while, Johnny
Chung, contributor of 366-thousand dollars to the Democrats, was also granted a
Commerce Department post; and after Clinton issued an executive order
transferring documents on US missile defense technology from the National
Security Agency to Commerce, Chung gained access to the top secret information.
He later admitted that much of his campaign donations originated from China’s
military defense agency. It was also revealed that Chinese immigrant Charlie
Trie, who gave 460-thousand dollars to the Clinton Legal Defense fund, routinely
communicated with China’s communist government and influenced the president’s
decision to minimize US support for Taiwan. Over the course of time, the Justice
department secured 22 convictions on various campaign finance, fraud, and tax
violations. Nevertheless, there was not sufficient evidence to support charges
of espionage and treason. However, it was abundantly clear that strategic
American nuclear missile defense technology, aerospace machine tool equipment,
satellite guidance data, super-computers, and encryption codes were delivered to
The American press, meanwhile, focused on a more lurid
presidential scandal. In fighting the sexual harassment lawsuit instigated by
former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones, Bill Clinton, under oath, denied
allegations that he had engaged in extramarital sexual encounters with a
21-year-old White House intern. Subsequent evidence, however, proved his
statements to be untruthful, and the president found himself facing a charge of
perjury, an impeachable offense.
While the White House focused on defending the president, a new menace emerged
overseas. Osama bin Laden, son of a wealthy Saudi construction magnate, used his
share of the family fortune for terror schemes against the United States. As a
founder of al-Qaeda, a militant Islamic organization, bin Laden plotted the
simultaneous bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on August 7,
1998. In the Kenyan attack, 224 people were killed, including 12 Americans, with
another 4,000 injured. The Tanzanian bombing killed 11 and wounded 85. In
response, the president appeared on national television to announce Operation
Infinite Reach, a plan to launch cruise missiles on suspected terrorist targets
in Sudan and Afghanistan. By revealing the mission ahead of time, terrorists
were able to avoid the missile assault.
The next target of US air strikes was the former Yugoslavian
province of Kosovo. Because it was inhabited primarily by ethnic Albanians,
Kosovo was targeted for annexation by neighboring Albania. Serbia, in October of
1998, launched an offensive to keep Kosovo separate, prompting President Clinton
to deploy US troops to aid the Albanians. In response, Yugoslav Serbians drove
approximately 250-thousand ethnic Albanians out of Kosovo.
Meanwhile, the prospect of impeachment became an increasing
reality for President Bill Clinton. As the House of Representatives reviewed
evidence of perjury and obstruction of justice, the president, on December 16,
1998, ordered the bombing of Iraq. Though many believed this action was an
attempt to divert public attention away from his moral failings, Clinton, in a
televised address, provided this explanation: “Saddam Hussein must not be
allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or
biological weapons….Other countries possess weapons of mass destruction and
ballistic missiles. With Saddam, there is one big difference: He has used them.
Not once, but repeatedly.”
On December 19, 1998, President William Jefferson Clinton was
impeached by the House of Representatives on charges of perjury and obstruction
of justice. He was the second president to be impeached, but similar to the case
of the first impeached president, Andrew Johnson, a Senate acquittal, issued
February 12, 1999, enabled Clinton to stay in office for the remaining 23 months
of his term.
GEORGE W. BUSH, THE 43RD PRESIDENT
On October 12, 2000, less than a month before the presidential election, Islamic
suicide bombers detonated a small boatload of explosives beside the hull of the
US naval destroyer Cole as it was refueling at the port of Aden in Yemen.
Seventeen sailors were killed and 39 others were wounded. The attack had been
ordered by al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden. To avoid making a controversial
decision in the final months of his presidency, Bill Clinton merely ordered the
withdrawal of American ships from the region. Terrorism was a matter to be
addressed by the next president.
The Republican candidate for the 2000 election was George W. Bush, Governor of
Texas and son of the 41st president.
The Democratic candidate was Vice President Albert Gore. Support from highly
populated regions gave Gore a slight advantage in the popular vote, while Bush
accumulated more electoral points by winning five-sixths of all counties in the
nation. On election night, a dispute arose over the crucial vote count in one
Florida precinct. Although Bush had won by a slight margin on the first tally,
vote counters in the largely Democratic area insisted on crediting Gore with
ballots that had been punched for both candidates, as well as those with no
clear selection. The outcome remained undetermined for more than a month, as
attorneys for both candidates argued rules of procedure for counting votes. When
the US Supreme Court ruled that the Florida precinct had no authority to go back
and change voting regulations after the election had taken place, George W. Bush
was declared the winner. Thereafter, many disgruntled Gore supporters accused
Bush of stealing the election.
For only the second time in history, the son of a former
president was elected to the same office. It had not happened since the 1824
election of John Quincy Adams, son of President John Adams. The 2000 election
also marked the first time a president’s wife was elected to Congress. Outgoing
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton won a seat in the United States Senate,
representing the state of New York.
From the onset of taking the presidential oath, George W.
Bush faced a number of surmounting problems, beginning with a plunging economy.
The delay in election results, as well as opposition from congressional
Democrats, vastly lengthened the process of making appointments to the
presidential cabinet. Congress also resisted Bush’s February 2001 requests for
increased military pay raises and new weapons development. An international
crisis arose in April when a US Naval surveillance plane collided with a Chinese
fighter jet off the coast of China. The crippled American aircraft was forced to
land on the island of Hainan, where Chinese officials held the plane’s crew for
To stimulate economic recovery, the new president persuaded
Congress to pass the largest tax reduction in twenty years. The bill, signed in
June of 2001, provided rebates to taxpayers across the nation.
By this time, law enforcement officials indicted fourteen
terrorists involved in the 1995 Khobar Towers attack, identifying Iran as the
sponsor. Nevertheless, progress remained laborious in the collection of data on
terrorist organizations, due to the downgrading of American intelligence
services after the fall of communism. George W. Bush was thereafter confronted
by the horror that would define his presidency.
“911” AND BUSH’S WAR AGAINST TERRORISM
On September 11, 2001, two teams of hijackers overtook the cockpits of United
Airlines flight 175 and American Airlines flight 11, deliberately crashing the
passenger planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York
City. The heat of burning jet fuel melted steel beams, compromising the
structural integrity of each building.
towers collapsed as firefighters and other emergency personnel were attempting
to rescue hundreds of office workers trapped inside. Meanwhile, a third team of
hijackers, onboard American Airlines flight 77, flew into the Pentagon, the
center of US defensive operations in Arlington, Virginia. Hearing of these
attacks through personal calls on their cellular telephones, passengers on
hijacked United Airlines flight 93 courageously stormed the cockpit, giving
their lives to prevent yet another attack. Their plane crashed in a remote field
near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The death toll in the combined attacks fell just
short of 2,800.
Swift and painstaking investigations connected the hijackers
directly to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization, which had also plotted the
1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, as well as the attack on the USS
Cole in 2000. Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda associates were protected by the
Taliban, the oppressive Islamic government in Afghanistan. Before a joint
session of Congress on September 20, 2001, George W. Bush made this
proclamation: “From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or
support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime….As
long as the United States of America is determined and strong, this will not be
an age of terror; this will be an age of liberty, here and across the world.”
(Click here for
The terrorists had attacked America primarily out of hatred toward Jews and
Christians, and al-Qaeda was but one organization devoted to jihad—a “holy war”
against those did not share their Islamic fundamentalist beliefs. When the
Taliban government in Afghanistan refused to surrender Osama bin Laden and his
al-Qaeda generals, the United States went to war, bombing Taliban military
installations on October 7, 2001. US Marines followed, arriving at the southern
Afghan city of Kandahar on November 25th. By December 9th, the Taliban
government was vanquished. Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Muhammad Omar were
forced into hiding, while an interim government was established in Afghanistan.
At home, the United States Congress passed what came to be
known as the Patriot Act, expanding federal law enforcement powers to more
effectively intercept and obstruct terrorist operations. Critics feared the bill
would encroach on civil liberties. Their reservations, however, were largely
unfounded. The Patriot Act enabled law enforcers to thwart several subsequent
terrorist plots with minimal unjustified eavesdropping.
Meanwhile, Iraqi exiles, seeking regime change in their home
country, appealed to the Bush administration to oust Saddam Hussein, who had
routinely violated the weapons limitation terms of his Gulf War surrender. The
president, in his January 29, 2002 State of the Union address, proclaimed that
North Korea, Iran, Iraq, and their terrorist allies constituted an “axis of
In domestic issues, the American economy, reinvigorated by
the Bush tax cuts, recovered from recession in March of 2002. Nevertheless, the
Republican-dominated Congress embarked on massive spending projects that
increased budget deficits. The president declined to veto the excessive spending
During June of 2002, 1,500 delegates from across Afghanistan gathered in the
city of Kabal to form a new government, electing Hamid Karzai their
president. World attention then turned to Iraq, where Saddam Hussein had, over a
four year period, defied
seventeen United Nations resolutions ordering him to permit United Nations
inspectors to examine his weapons stockpiles.
assessments from fifteen separate countries suggested that Iraq possessed
weapons of mass destruction and was a growing threat to Israel and the western
democracies. In the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, President George W.
Bush enacted an aggressive doctrine to intervene against potential terrorist threats by launching
preemptive attacks on the threatening nation's home soil.
On October 10, 2002, both houses of Congress authorized the
president to use all means necessary to disarm Iraq and overthrow Saddam
Hussein. The United Nations followed with the unanimous passage of Resolution
1441, ordering Iraq to disarm or face “serious consequences.” Though Saddam
announced an acceptance of UN terms on November 13th, he failed to provide any
evidence that those chemical and biological stockpiles uncovered in 1998 had
subsequently been destroyed. One
hundred newly placed inspectors proved inadequate in canvassing a country the
size of California in only two months, and with further noncompliance from the
Iraqis, the Bush administration prepared for war. However, UN member nations
France, Germany, and Russia abandoned their earlier support for Resolution 1441
and began opposing military action against Iraq. (It was later learned that
these nations secretly traded with Saddam Hussein in violation of earlier UN
Public concern over the prospect of war was briefly diverted on February 1,
2003, when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during reentry in the
earth’s atmosphere. All seven astronauts were killed in the incident. A chunk of
foam insulation from the main booster rocket had struck the shuttle’s left wing
during lift-off, creating a hole that allowed intensely heated gases to enter
the craft and cause its break-up during return to earth. More than two years
would pass before the resumption of space shuttle missions.
On March 17, 2003, President George W. Bush issued an ultimatum to
the Iraqi government to deliver Saddam Hussein within 48 hours or face war.
After the deadline passed without response, Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced
with the bombing of Baghdad on March 19th, along with the invasion of Iraq’s
southern border by ground troops stationed in Kuwait. US paratroopers began
landing in northern Iraq on March 26th. American forces concentrated on
government targets alone, simultaneously delivering humanitarian aid to Iraq’s
civilian population. On April 5th, US troops entered Baghdad, taking the city in
level Iraqi officials fled the city as the symbols of Saddam Hussein’s
oppressive rule were demolished. In terms of toppling the regime, the president
fittingly declared “mission accomplished” to US military personnel; however, the
war itself was far from over. The removal of Saddam
left a power void that could not be easily filled, and the nation was set adrift
in chaos, with clashing resistance groups vying for control. Some insurgents were
supporters of the ousted Hussein regime; others were militant Islamic fighters
from Syria and Iran; and still others were al-Qaeda operatives.
Back on American shores, the president, on May 28, 2003,
signed the third largest tax cut in American history, stimulating the fastest
economic boom since the Reagan presidency.
The White House remained vexed by the rise in resistance
fighting in Iraq. Operation Desert Scorpion was launched on June 9th, and in
less than two weeks, Saddam Hussein’s sons, Uday and Qusay—leaders of a
prominent insurgent group—were killed in the city of Mosul. By September, a
cabinet was selected by the interim Iraqi Governing Council to conduct
government operations. George W. Bush entered Baghdad on Thanksgiving Day, 2003,
showing his appreciation to American service personnel. He was the first US
president to ever visit Iraq.
On December 13th, the civilized world celebrated the American
capture of Saddam Hussein, found hiding in an 8-foot hole on a farm near the
city of Tikrit. News of the event prompted Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi to
surrender his nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.
As the year 2004
commenced, a new constitution was drafted for Afghanistan, while in Iraq, an
interim government was established. Although some Iraqi communities began
to experience new freedoms, violent insurgent attacks continued to plague the
Sunni Triangle, a vast region extending from the Iraqi capital of Baghdad to the
cities of Ramadi and Tikrit, encompassing key insurgent strongholds in Fallujah
and Samarra. Eventually, American forces uncovered documents from the
Saddam Hussein regime, indicating that high level United Nations officials were
involved in an oil-for-food arrangement that violated the UN’s own charter.
Among those implicated in the corruption scandal was the son of UN
Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
In the American presidential election of 2004, President
George W. Bush won a second term, narrowly defeating Democrat challenger John
Kerry, the US Senator from Massachusetts.
In September of 2005 a new domestic crisis occurred, as New Orleans and other
cities along the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts were devastated by Hurricane
Katrina. Located below sea level, New Orleans flooded when levees were breached
the day after the hurricane passed. Thousands of the city’s residents failed to
heed evacuation orders, and most local first-responders to the disaster
neglected their assignments. Impatient Americans criticized government
leadership at all levels—from the city mayor to the president—for the slow and
disorganized emergency response. The death toll, encompassing the entire
geographical region affected by the hurricane and subsequent floods, exceeded
Meanwhile overseas, Afghanistan held democratic parliamentary
elections on September 18th. Nearly three months later, seventy percent of
registered voters in Iraq turned out at the polls to elect their first permanent
parliament since the defeat of Saddam Hussein’s government.
ONGOING INSURGENCIES AND THE ANTI-BUSH
In presenting his case for war with Iraq, George W. Bush had mentioned multiple
intelligence claims of Saddam’s continued development of weapons of mass
destruction. However, after the US invasion of Iraq, no significant amounts of
such weapons were found. (It was only later learned that the former Iraqi
leader had bluffed about possessing stockpiles of such deadly weapons, so as to
discourage an invasion by neighboring Iran.) As the 2006 congressional
campaign season began, “Bush lied” became the mantra of antiwar antagonists.
Despite the negative press portrayal of the president by an
increasingly partisan and hostile news media, none could dispute the fact that
George W. Bush, at the mid-point of his second term, was presiding over a brief
period of vast economic growth. Further tax cuts in May of 2006—combined with
the lowest short-term interest rates in 45 years—provided additional incentives
for consumer and business spending and investment. The resulting revenues to the
government drastically cut the federal deficit. Unemployment rates also reached
new lows. The period was also characterized by the largest housing boom
since 1890. This growth, however, would not last. In the euphoria
over the expanding real estate market, the federal government forced mortgage lending banks to relax their rules
for qualifying loans. Such government meddling
set the stage for a future economic collapse.
Ignoring the economy, the nation’s people remained troubled over outbreaks of
ongoing sectarian violence in Iraq. Among the militant resistance groups
battling democracy was an al-Qaeda force led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. On June 8,
2006, U.S. bombers killed al-Zarqawi north of Baghdad. Five days later,
President Bush made his second trip to Iraq; this time to support the nation’s
Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki.
Of all the issues dividing American voters in the 2006
congressional elections, the ongoing conflict in Iraq inflamed the deepest
passions. Many feared US forces would be caught in an un-winnable quagmire
similar to the Vietnam War, and yet others remained equally worried that
premature troop withdrawal would only encourage America’s enemies. Indeed,
aggressor nations Iran and North Korea were actively developing nuclear weapons
Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of Defense in the Bush administration, was
initially praised for his role in overseeing the rapid overthrow of Saddam
Hussein's regime. Over time, however, it became increasingly apparent that his
plan for securing peace in post-Saddam-era Iraq was ill-conceived, as it relied
too heavily on weapons technology, overlooking the psychological effectiveness
of broader, more intense warfare. History provided lessons on how wars were won
and lost. The American campaigns of World War II, for all their destructiveness,
compelled the people of vanquished enemy nations to surrender and cooperate.
However, during the post-Saddam insurgency war in Iraq, US forces began to
employ limited warfare tactics reminiscent of the Korean and Vietnam conflicts.
The Iraq situation was but one issue troubling American
voters at the time of the 2006 congressional elections. Equally alarming was the
influx of millions of illegal immigrants from Mexico, overburdening healthcare
and social service providers in border states. Voter anger was also directed
toward the Republican majority in Congress, which abandoned the tenants of its
1994 Contract with America, embarking instead on wayward deficit spending. In a
major setback to the Bush administration, voters restored Democrats to
majorities in both houses of Congress.
On November 8th, the day after the congressional elections,
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld resigned his post. His replacement was former
CIA chief Robert Gates.
By mid-December, insurgent attacks escalated in Iraq. Nevertheless, American
forces unseated an insurgent stronghold in the province of Najaf, turning
control of the region over to the new Iraqi government. For crimes against
humanity, former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was executed by hanging on December
30, 2006. As the year ended, the US death toll in the Iraq war surpassed the
three thousand mark.
On January 10, 2007, George W. Bush unveiled a revised war strategy, proposing
the deployment of 20-thousand additional troops to quell the sectarian fighting
in Iraq. His plan was met with immediate opposition in Congress. The
administration’s greatest concern was that the fledgling Iraqi government was
too weak to maintain national unity. Compounding matters further were
revelations that the neighboring country of Iran was supplying high grade
weaponry to rebel Shiite militias in Iraq.
Although America remained strong up to that point, its people
were fiercely divided over a number of issues, including politics, the war,
environmental concerns, education, and morality. In most cases, the same groups
of people consistently embraced opposing positions regardless of the specific
issue. Whereas one group tended to form opinions based on objective examination
an issue’s potential merits and shortcomings, the opposing group tended to form
opinions largely on the basis of their emotional feelings about the same issue.
Irrevocably polarized by viewpoints and core beliefs, the American people looked
to their own future with apprehension, uncertainty, and frustration. A
growing number of reactionary voters, ignorant of basic economic principles,
would--in almost suicidal fashion--elevate government leaders who would bring
about the demise of the nation's superpower status. The age of American
supremacy was about to come to an end.
Go to Book 9: The
Post-Constitutional Republic Era
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