Rarely in the history of the United States has the nation been so ill-served as during the presidency of George W. Bush.
When Bush took office in 2001, the federal budget ran a surplus, the national debt stood at a generational low of 56 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), and unemployment clocked in at 4 percent— which most economists consider the practical equivalent of full employment. The government’s tax revenue amounted to $ 2.1 trillion annually, of which $ 1 trillion came from personal income taxes and another $ 200 billion from corporate taxes. Military spending totaled $ 350 billion, or 3 percent of GDP—a low not seen since the late 1940s— and not one American had been killed in combat in almost a decade. Each dollar bought 1.06 euros, or 117 yen. Gasoline cost $ 1.50 per gallon. Twelve years after the Berlin Wall came down, the United States stood at the pinnacle of authority: the world’s only superpower, endowed with democratic legitimacy, the credible champion of the rule.
Unprepared for the complexities of governing, with little executive experience and a glaring deficit in his attention span, untutored, untraveled, and unversed in the ways of the world.
The critical turning point came on September 12, 2001. Al Qaeda’s attacks on the United States on 9/ 11 violated the universal norms of civilized society, and the immediate global outpouring of empathy for the U.S. was unparalleled. Accordingly, September 12 was a defining moment in American history: the United States was not only an economic powerhouse and a military superpower but also enjoyed unprecedented moral authority.
Bush could have capitalized on that support but instead he squandered it. He strutted around like a cowboy and then picked a fight with Iraq.
By conflating the events of 9/ 11 and Saddam Hussein, Bush precipitated the deterioration of America’s position abroad, led the United States into a $ 3 trillion war in Iraq that cost more than four thousand American lives and an unwinnable conflict in Afghanistan, promulgated an egregious doctrine of preventive war, alienated America’s allies, weakened its alliances, and inspired young Muslims throughout the world to join the jihad.
George W. Bush had lived in his father’s shadow all of his life: at Andover and Yale, in the oil business, and in politics.
To crush Saddam Hussein, which George Herbert Walker Bush had declined to do, would afford him the rare opportunity to succeed where his father had failed.
George W . Bush’s legacy was a nation impoverished by debt, besieged by doubt, struggling with the aftereffects of the worst recession since the Great Depression, and deeply engaged in military conflicts of our own choosing. His tin ear for traditional conservative values, his sanctimonious religiosity, his support for Guantánamo, CIA “renditions,” and government snooping have eroded public trust in the United States at home and abroad.
The fact is, the threat of terrorism that confronts the United States is in many respects a direct result of Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003.
Not since the days of Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover— the Republican hands-off-the-ship-of-state trinity of the 1920s— had a president been so detached from the detailed , day-to-day determination of policy alternatives. Bush saw issues in terms of black and white. There were no subtleties and no shades of gray.
The Project for the New American Century was founded in 1997. Dedicated to increasing defense spending, challenging “regimes hostile to U.S. interests and values,” and explicitly advocating regime change in Iraq. Had it not been for 9/ 11, their manifesto would have been little more than a footnote in intellectual history. But with the terrorist attack, the administration’s second echelon dusted off their agenda, Bush signed on, and the direction of the administration was defined. When George W. Bush left office in 2009, the U.S. defense budget exceeded the combined defense budgets of every major country in the world and was clearly unsustainable.