The presidency of George.W. Bush has been one of the most criticized and controversial of all American presidencies. Although he is known widely for his misadventures in the war against terror, Bush enacted some important domestic and international policies that has had wide reaching impacts on the foreign policy and the economy of the country. An assessment of his policies on war, education, healthcare, immigration and humanitarian efforts portray of picture of a president who took tough decisions during difficult times. Some of his decisions were criticized heavily and led to a dip in his popularity ratings and some are still analyzed for their far reaching effects on the country.
George. W. Bush was the 43rd president of the United States of America and served in office for two consecutive terms. He was first elected as president on January 20, 2001 and stayed in office till 20th January 2009. Bush’s presidential term has been controversial and he exited the office with one of the lowest approval ratings in spite of having garnered popular support during his first term. Although his policies on the war against terrorism, tax cuts and same-sex marriage led to the decline in his popularity and his personal gaffes led some to question his ability to govern a nation like the United States, an assessment of his presidency shows that not everything about his presidency was bad. Some of his international as well as domestic policies such as the war on terror, AIDS relief and educational reform have had far reaching long term impacts that was not immediately evident during his presidency and soon after. Thus Bush was a president who was mostly vilified during his second term of presidency, but a careful assessment of his presidency reveals that a lot of his decisions were based on the existing circumstances and that in hindsight could be called as the normal thing to do. Bush’s presidency can thus be termed as one that has evoked much mixed feelings. It can neither be called as a success nor a complete failure. A fair assessment of his ascension into presidency from the governorship of Texas shows that his policies had both strengths and weaknesses that determined his rating as a president. His domestic policies played an important role as his foreign policies in determining the focus of his presidency.
Bush’s political foray into politics started with his entry into the Texas gubernatorial race in the year 1994. Although a relative novice in politics ( in spite of his father George.w.Bush being a former president), Bush gained popular support to beat the democratic favorite Ann Richards and served as the governor of Texas for two consecutive terms and resigned from his post only after his election as the 43rd president of the country. As Texas governor Bush brought about reforms in the educational sector, criminal justice system, tort reforms and also made the state of Texas the leading producer of wind based electricity in the country. Bush’s win as the governor of Texas was largely aided by his political advisers such as Karen Hughes (who served as his communications advisor), Joe Allbaugh (his campaign advisor) and finally his close friend and political activist Karl Rove (Moore & Slater 2004). Although Ann Richards started out as the popular choice as candidate, Bush performed well on debates and focused on the liberal decisions taken by Richards, her previous political appointments and law enforcement records. His brought in a fresh perspective of moral and personal responsibility and leadership to his election campaign and ended up winning the gubernatorial race.
As governor of Texas, Bush brought in major changes to the state. His policy on capital punishment was extreme and as governor of Texas he signed on a total of 152 executions, a number which was surpassed only by his successor Rick perry who followed him into office in 2000 (Dawkins 291). Bush also brought in sweeping tax reforms as a governor. He aimed to bring down the tax burden on homeowners and also increase spending on education by increasing the taxes on businesses but faced strong opposition from not only big businesses but also from his own party as well. However he went ahead with his tax reforms by not increasing the taxes on businesses but by using the state’s surplus cash for tax cuts. He also asked for a federal grant and permission to privatize the texas social services to fund his tax cut initiative. Bush also made the promotion of alternative and clean source of energy his priority under his governorship and brought in a rule under which businesses had to buy a certain amount of power from renewable energy sources (Sibley et al, 1999). Bush also promoted faith based welfare programs in the state (Suskind 2004). Although critics argued that he was violating the first amendment of establishment by supporting and funding religious organizations that worked in areas of domestic abuse, alcohol and drug abuse and education, he won over the religious and social conservatives in the state. Bush also made education reforms in the state and brought in increased local control of the schools, improved the standard in education and rated schools based on the performance of the students.Bush also spoke Spanish and appointed african-American candidates to key positions in the state. His popularity with the Latino community as well as the Black community together with the support from the social and religious conservatives in the state made him a popular governor and increased his odds at winning as the presidential nominee for the Republican Party in the presidential election of 2000.
Although there were other Republican contenders for the presidential post, Bush got elected as the Republican nominee and chose Dick Cheney as his running mate in the election. The presidential race was closely contested with Al Gore giving Bush a tough run for the post. The result of the presidential election finally came down to the state of Florida and dependent on a recount to elect the winner. the issue went till the Supreme Court of the country and after the court ordered against a recount ( a controversial decision at that time), Bush was elected as the 43rd president of the United States of America. It was also one of the few times in American history where a candidate became elected as the president without winning the plurality of the votes. “The 2000 presidential election was the first in 112 years in which a president lost the popular vote but captured enough states to win the electoral vote (The Disputed Election).” Although Gore won almost half a million votes more than Bush, he lost as Bush won more votes in the electoral college as a result of the Florida election. Bush’s presidency coincided with the recession brought about by the dot com bust. Although it was an inopportune moment to become a president, Bush’s popularity rating shot up soon after the war on terror.
Although Bush would be known for a long time as the president who started the war on terror ( a tag that has earned him hatred and adoration around the world), there are also many policies, international and domestic that became strong points of his presidency One of the most telling of his foreign policy initiative was his humanitarian aid to Africa, especially towards the AIDS treatment and eradication program. Under Bush’s presidency, American aid towards Africa was around 15 billion US dollars and this aid enabled advanced medical help to many impoverished citizens of the continent. Bush also came out as a strong and capable decision maker on the wake of the terrorist attacks on the mainland. This was the first time in American history that there was a terrorist attack on the mainland and Bush’s fast decision making and rallying of support both within and outside of the country proved to be quite impressive and pushed up his popularity ratings in the country. Many were secretly pleased to have such a strong decision making president at the office during such trying times for the country. Bush, even while being the governor of Texas was known for his educational reform. His policy on education as the president did not change much and he brought about the ‘No Child Left Behind’ program into effect. The program aimed to bridge the educational gap between the white and the minority children and the compulsory and new testing methods introduced through this system has resulted in a marked improvement in the educational levels of the American students (No Child Left Behind, 2011). Bush also created three marine national parks in the pacific ocean that guarantees protection of around 195, 280 sq miles of aquatic life. This makes him the only American president so far to have brought into effect an Act that could have far reaching effects on marine life protection and diversity. In spite of him getting a bad rap for bringing in the United States and other countries into a quagmire that was the war on terror, bush should be applauded for bringing to an end the regime of the taliban. Bush through his war on Iraq and Afghanistan also inadvertently ushered in a wave of democracy in a region that was long characterised by military, dictatorial and autocratic rule. He could also be credited indirectly with the onset of the Arab Spring as a democratic wave would not have been possible in the region without the threat to the established power structure brought on by the war against terror.
The international and domestic policies on terror has also ensured that there have been no terrorist attacks on American soil since 9/11. His policy of attack on terrorist cells outside of the country and monitoring of possible terrorists within the country has ensured that there has been no deadly attacks in the country. Bush always believed that the security of the citizen and the country was paramount to the leader and he stayed true to his beliefs during his tenure as the president. Bush’s policy towards Iran and North Korea also showed a lot of restraint. Although there was a fear that his war mongering would result or at least lead to disastrous effects with North Korea and Iran, nothing of that sort happened and there was not increased tension with these two countries during his presidency. This proved to beneficial to the country in the longer term.
Bush was also involved with the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007. Although this bill was never voted upon, Bush supported it. The bill if it had passed would have given legal status to many illegal residents of the country while at the same time making border control more stringent.The bill was controversial and was criticized by both the right and the left leaning politicians. The right claimed that it looked like an amnesty bill giving illegal immigrants the right to stay in the country as well as give them an opportunity to become citizens in a few years. The left however said that parts of the bill ensured that the illegal immigrants were penalized for being in the country and made the process of bringing in their families quite difficult. Bush’s support for this bill showed that his views on immigration were moderate and was not anti-immigration. Another strength of the Bush administration and a policy that won him some support was his decision to bring in prescription drug benefits for senior citizens. this program under medicare proved to be quite expensive to the exchequer but ultimately brought down the health care benefits for senior citizens and made expensive medicines affordable for them (Greene 2009). On the macroeconomic front, Bush is also known for his backing of TARP (The Troubled Asset Relief Program) and the signing of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. Under these programs the federal government brought out the assets of the financial institutions and saved them from bankruptcy. The bailout also included lending to auto industry, insurance providers and homeowners to avoid foreclosure. Under these two programs the federal government spent billions of dollars to bring about macroeconomic stability after the 2008 housing bubble crisis (TARP Programs).
In spite of the many international and domestic humanitarian and economic policies that Bush ushered in during his tenure, he is widely known and criticized for his role in the war against terror. Soon after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 which saw major financial institutions and the pentagon take a hit, bush launched his war on terror and famously proclaimed, “Either you are with us or against us”. Although this move was extreme and swift, it was initially supported and applauded by almost everyone in the country, even politicians in the opposing camp. His stance united a country in grief and provided them with answers to this unexpected and dastardly attack. Bush however overestimated American support from his allies as well as the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. What was initially promised to be an intervention that would last a couple of years with a few billion dollars spent ended up turning into a war that saw no end throughout his tenure. The billion dollar bill not only tuned out into a trillion dollar expense but it also cost a lot of civilian lives as well as American troops. The initial surge in popularity for Bush when he started the war began to wane as the collateral damage increased and as the number of dead soldiers arriving back home increased. Bush also claimed that the major reason for going into war against Iraq was the presence of WMD (Weapons of mass Destruction). Subsequent searches by the United nations and other agencies however reveled that there were no such weapons found in Iraq and that the whole war was based on wrong assumptions. The war on terror proved to be a major turning point in the American foreign policy decision making. In the initial years there was widespread support for the American decision to wage a war against terrorists in Afghanistan and later against Saddam in Iraq. The UK, European countries and other countries like India provided troops and tactical support for the war but soon the tide turned as the war became a quagmire for everyone involved.
The US and the Bush administration were no longer seen as saviors who brought an end to the tyrannical rule or terrorism but were seen as meddlesome powers who had no idea about the ground realities in the country. Bush was also accused of creating an unstable environment in Iraq and Afghanistan which paved the way for future secessionist groups and terror cells to grow. America's image around the world took a hit and this was one of the major weaknesses in Bush’s foreign policy decision making. The ravages and the disastrous effects of the war are still ring felt in the region as well as within the United States. Another fallout from the war against terror was the increase in surveillance within the country. On October 26 of 2001, soon after the terrorist attacks , Bush signed the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act ( short for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) came out with bipartisan legislation and was widely approved by the congress. Bush hoped that this Act would enable law enforcement agencies within the country to combat terrorism more effectively and prevent any future attacks on American soil. Although it had a lot of support when it came out, it soon came under a barrage of criticism for being too draconian. The Patriot Act in effect allowed law enforcement agencies around the country to come together and share resources that was previously not possible. It also reduced the obstacles these agencies faces in getting hold of personal details of the US citizens. Under this Act, law enforcement agencies had far reaching powers and could look into the financial and medical details of any suspect and also snoop on their online correspondence without a court order. This could have been an effective tool to monitor terrorist activities within the country but it also gave law enforcement agencies unmitigated access to the private details of the citizens. This was considered an invasion of privacy by many, especially civil rights activists who thought it was an hark back to the cold war era where the FBI had draconian powers and penalized anyone it remotely suspected of harboring communist tendencies (George. W. Bush). Bush also came under heavy criticism for his efforts after Hurricane Katrina. The death toll was high and the damages in billions but the federal government was slow to react and when it did the efforts were entrusted to private contractors who had already come under fire for dubious contracts in the Iraq reconstruction. Since the majority of the people affected by hurricane Katrina were black, Bush was accused of being partial and the bad rescue and rebuilding efforts were attributed to his lack of concern for the African-American population (Blake 2013). This also served to bring down his popularity level to new lows. Another blow to his presidency was the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay prison scandals. Videos of the torturing of prisoners in these prisons by the American forces and news of them being held without any charges came out in the open and served as a major embarrassment to the Bush administration. The torture techniques which were given a go ahead by the government to gain information from the prisoners were too barbaric and inhumane and were condemned widely by many in the country as well as outside of it. Bush took the heat for all this. Even the bailout of the financial institutions after the economic crisis of 2008 were seen by many as his endorsement of radical neoliberal policies. Even though it brought about macroeconomic stability, it set a bad precedent for the financial institutions. It was now established that these institutions could get away with bad loans and decisions at the cost of the treasury.
As a result of these various scandals, the Republican party as a whole was trounced in the 2006 midterm elections. For the first time in many years, the Democratic Party had a clear majority in both the houses as well as the congress. Although he was still the president, bush did not enjoy the popular support and backing from the houses as he did in the first term of his presidency. The bipartisan support that he had in the initial years and his good relations with the Congress became a thing of the past during his second term. His foreign and domestic policies came under increased scrutiny during his second term and it reached a point where both his party and the citizens were happy to see him leave the office. Where once the Republican party supported him unanimously for a presidential ticket after his success as a governor of Texas, there were now starting to see him as a liability.
President Bush thus had one of the most controversial terms in the history of the United States. The war on terror was his Achilles heels and it eclipsed his other domestic and international accomplishments. It would not be a stretch to say that Bush’s chequered presidency was a victim of circumstances. He came into the white house after an economic crisis and left in the wake of another huge recession. He was sucked into a war which had far reaching ramifications that he had imagined and ended up paying dearly for it. However a fair assessment of his presidency shows that all was not wrong under his term. His policy on educational and medical reform was commendable and although it is too early to know the actual benefits of his policies, the long term effects look positive. If applied correctly his educational policies would go a long way in improving the standard of the American school education. Bush also gave important positions to the Latino and African-American people in his government and this set a positive precedent for the future. Although he was quick to be condemned for his decisions, many still wonder if there could have been any other response after the terror attacks and the economic recession.
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