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The American Testimony, a concise history of the United States Book 8:
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 store.)

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.

Richard M. Nixon with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.    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.

President Nixon releases White House recordings for the Watergate investigation.    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 day.

Gerald R. Ford (1913 - 2006), 38th President of the United States, 1974-77.     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.

    Patriotism ebbed 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

James Earl Carter, Jr. (b-1924), 39th President of the United States, 1977-81.     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.

The Panama Canal, relinquished by President Carter.    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 Camp David Accords: Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, US President Carter, and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin celebrate their Middle East peace agreement.    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 Nicaragua.

    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.
The Boat People: Vietnamese refugees
    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 Americans.

    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.

The Iran Hostage Crisis     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.

Iranian soldiers at the US military crash site.    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”Ronald Wilson Reagan (1911 - 2004), 40th President of the United States, 1981-89.

     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 assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, March 30, 1981.Amidst 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.

President Reagan and House Majority Leader "Tip" O'Neill.    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.

 Terrorists bombed the US Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, on April 18, 1983.   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.
The terrorist bombing of US Marine barracks in Beirut, Oct. 1983.
    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.

US Paratroopers land on the island of Grenada in November 1983.    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 responsible lifestyles.

    Former Vice President Walter Mondale ran for the presidency against Ronald Reagan in 1988.At 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.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union.    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. Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was nicknamed Star Wars. 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 communist empire.

THWARTING COMMUNISM AND ISLAMIC TERRORISM

The hijacking of TWA Flight 847, June 1985.     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 terrorism.

The Achille Lauro    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.

April 12, 1981: Launching of Columbia, the first space shuttle in flight.     At the time, the attention of the American people was diverted to a national tragedy involving the space program. January 28, 1986: Explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.Since 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.)

    During 1986, 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 year 1991.

Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi (Gaddafi), leader of Libya.    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.

Reagan and Gorbachev at the Reykjavik summit in October 1986.    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 Gorbachev empty-handed.

    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. Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North turns the tables on his accusers.The 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 freedom fighters.

    Emerging somewhat embarrassed, but largely untainted by the controversy, Ronald Reagan at the Brandenburg Gate, West Berlin.President 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 complete text.) 

    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

George Herbert Walker Bush (b. 1924), 41st President of the United States, 1989-93.    Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, Democratic presidential candidate, 1988.The 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. Fall of the Berlin Wall, November 9, 1989.Hungary 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.

Panamanian President Manuel Noriega    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. Boris Yeltsin, President of the Russian Federation.In 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 and Bulgaria.

    Operation Desert StormAmerican euphoria over the demise of European communism was briefly derailed by sobering news from the Arabian-Persian Gulf region. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.On 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. The flag of the Russian Federation is unfurled.The 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.

William Jefferson Blythe Clinton (b. 1946), 42nd President of the United States, 1993 - 2001.     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. Henry Ross Perot, Texas billionaire and third-party presidential candidate. 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

The 1993 World Trade Center attack: ruins of the parking garage.     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.

Attorney General Janet Reno    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. Government tanks launch incendiary devices, setting the Branch Davidian compound ablaze.Her 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. A Black Hawk helicopter over Mogadishu, Somalia.During 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.

    Political 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 healthcare plan.

    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.

Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide with President Clinton.    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 conspiracy.

Newt Gingrich and Republican congressional candidates offer their "Contract with America" in 1994.     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.

Bombed Federal Building in Oklahoma City    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.

Bombing of the Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.    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.

An American tank in Bosnia.    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 Clinton signs the Welfare Reform Act.
    The 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

Sen. Bob Dole (Kansas), Republican presidential candidate in 1996.    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. Jiang Zemin, President of the People's Republic of China, greets President Clinton. 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 communist China.

    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.

Osama (some spellings: Usama) bin-Laden    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.”
Senate trial following President Clinton's impeachment.
    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

The damaged hull of the USS Cole.     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.

George Walker Bush (b. 1946), 43rd President of the United States, beginning in 2001.     The Republican candidate for the 2000 election was George W. Bush, Governor of Texas and son of the 41st president. 2000 Democratic presidential candidate Albert Gore, Jr., former Vice President and US senator from Tennessee. 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 eleven days.

    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

The September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City.     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.  The September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the Pentagon.Both 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 complete text.)

American Marines in Afghanistan.     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 evil.”

    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 measures.

Democratically elected Afghan President Hamid Karzai.    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.

    Intelligence 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 sanctions.)

Breakup of the space shuttle Columbia as it reentered Earth's atmosphere.     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.

Shock and Awe bombing of Baghdad. American forces enter Baghdad during April of 2003.   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 four days. A statue of Saddam Hussein is toppled by US troops.Top 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.
The capture of Saddam Hussein, December 13, 2003.
    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.

Satellite photo of Hurricane Katrina over New Orleans, Louisiana.     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 1,800.

    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 MOVEMENT

Anti-Bush demonstrators    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.

President Bush with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.    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 programs.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.    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.

Saddam Hussein, moments before his Dec. 30, 2006 hanging.    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.

Maligned, vilified, and held in contempt by political opponents.    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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