The two main candidates in the 2000 presidential election, A. Gore, vice president of B. Clinton, for the Democrats, and GW Bush, governor of Texas and son of former president GHW Bush, for the Republicans, while both experienced and politically strong, they were completely devoid of charisma. Bush, who could count on the resentment of large sections of the population towards both Clinton for the Lewinsky scandal, and the Democrats for their supposed statism and moral relativism, started with a notable advantage, which was soon reduced. Gore, however, failed to take advantage of it, weakened on the left by the intense campaign of a third candidate, consumer leader R. Nader, and unable to conquer the center of the electorate, which deemed him indecisive and hardly credible.
The election results showed a country split in two. Gore obtained the majority in the popular vote (50,999,897 votes, equal to 48, 32 %, against 50,456,002, equal to 47, 89 %, for Bush, while Nader obtained 2,882,955.); but neither of the two candidates clearly prevailed in the electoral college: the US Constitution, in fact, due to its federal nature, does not base the election of the president on the popular vote, but on the electoral college, in which every single state has the right to a number of votes equal to that of the deputies it elects in the House of Representatives, based in turn on its population, plus two. The winning presidential candidate in a state takes all the votes attributed to that state and requires a majority of the electoral college to be elected. The victory came to depend on the result in the state of Florida, awarded to Bush, contested by Gore for a series of errors and irregularities in the vote. The result in Florida was pending for a month, while the contenders turned to state courts and then to the Supreme Court to settle the matter. The latter, with a vote of5 to 4, he awarded Florida to Bush by 537 votes and, since the court was divided on a strictly political basis, the country seemed on the verge of a very serious political crisis, averted because Gore conceded victory to the opponent.
The result showed the weight of the radical right, which referred to R. Reagan, to the theoretical elaborations of conservative study centers such as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and which had found a precious ally in the religious right. Many observers believed, however, that President Bush, like Reagan, would be as radical in his statements as he was cautious in political practice; but Bush showed a well-defined ideological face right from the formation of his cabinet, which was made up of decidedly conservative personalities even if close to different components of the complex galaxy of the right. All major ministers, except Secretary of State C. Powell, were also personally linked to Bush and his family.
Bush’s program was based on the ideas of ‘compassionate conservatism’ in domestic politics and a newfound American ‘humility’ in foreign policy. By the first he meant a net decrease in federal public functions that would restore power and responsibility over their lives to private individuals in order to create an ownership society, a society of autonomous owners. In the first months in the White House, the president moved decisively in this direction and, despite lacking a majority in the Senate, managed to pass a tax cut of 1, 3trillions of dollars in ten years and the Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (FBCI), which allowed religious institutions involved in the social sector to receive public funds even if in their activity the social and religious functions overlapped. The fiscal cut went against classical conservatism, as it was destined to produce a large budget deficit and was based on Reagan’s neoconservatism. Radical and very controversial as it was judged contrary to the State-Church separation established by the Constitution was also the FBCI, which was fully part of the compassionate conservatism, according to which it is private individuals before the State who have to operate in the social sector and faith has an essential role. for the country. Other tense presidential initiatives, e.g., to limit research on embryonic stem cells, they went in the same direction. More complex is the case of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of2002, which cut funds for public schools that did not meet quality standards, which many Democrats agreed on, but soon changed their minds, accusing the president of having favored private schools as he had not granted public ones funding. necessary to retrain.
In the first months of his mandate, the president also made his foreign policy lines clear with a series of denials to international treaties already signed by Clinton, such as the Kyoto Protocol for the reduction of so-called greenhouse gases and the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court.. The first because it was accused of putting a stop to US economic development and the second because it allegedly took US military members accused of war crimes from national courts. Also in the matter of arms control, the new administration made a decisive change, opposing the treaty banning the use of anti-personnel mines and the treaty to strengthen the ban on chemical weapons, while in the nuclear field it declared the treaties with the former Soviet Union outdated and revived the idea of the anti-missile shield. The significance of Bush’s humility in foreign policy therefore consisted in escaping what he believed to be Clinton’s excessive internationalism, to follow a line founded on unilateralism and the primacy of the national interest.
The Bush administration had been informed by the outgoing administration of the threat posed by Islamic terrorism; but the issue was not considered a priority by the White House, convinced that the main danger for the US came from the rogue States, the ‘rogue states’, such as ̔Irāq, Syria, Libya and North Korea, willing to use terrorism and weapons of mass destruction to blackmail the US and the West. The first high-level meeting on al-Qaeda’s terrorist plans was held only in August 2001, a few weeks before the 11September in Washington and the Twin Towers in New York, the two skyscrapers symbolizing US economic power. The attack, wanted by U. ibn Lādin, was the work of a cell of nineteen Arab suicide terrorists who entered the US without difficulty, where they could take flying lessons, then managed to hijack four airliners, causing two to crash into the Twin Towers, which collapsed, a third against the Pentagon, while the last, on which the passengers had rebelled against the hijackers, crashed in rural Pennsylvania. The dead were almost three thousand, the great majority of them in New York. The president, after a brief moment of confusion, took the situation firmly in hand, refused to talk about a simple act of terrorism and declared that the country was at war,
The 11 September defined once and for all the mission of the Bush presidency. Although always, indeed, increasingly unilateralist, the administration abandoned the isolationist traits of its first months of life to embrace a global line of intervention. In this we recognized the ideological influence of Vice President RB Cheney and the so-called Vulcans, the small group led by National Security Advisor C. Rice, Deputy Defense Minister P. Wolfowitz and R. Perle, for whom the security of the Country depended on eradicating rogue states and exporting democracy to the Middle East. So quickly the decision was reached to attack the Afghānistān ruled by the T ā lib ā n, the Islamic fundamentalists who gave refuge to Ibn Lādin. The strategy was right, because the T ā lib ā n were strongly disliked by the international community, which had shown a moving solidarity with the United States. Bush, however, despite being able to count on international support and obtaining the endorsement of the UN, acted in a completely autonomous way and, with the military support of Great Britain, attacked Afghānistān in October, also making use of the guerrillas of the Alliance of the North, ancient enemies of the T ā lib ā n. The Afghan regime collapsed quickly and by December the war was over. The operation pushed the president’s popularity to very high levels; but it was a partial success because Ibn Lādin escaped capture. Furthermore, due to the choice of the republicans in favor of a primarily military solution to the conflict and contrary to nation building, i.e. a long-term policy aimed at helping the political and material reconstruction of the country, the new Afghan government, lacking sufficient support military and financial, remained extremely weak.
The 2002 was the year in which the administration, with the document on National security strategy, theorized the right to preventive war to defend the country, and when he had to deal with three major foreign policy dossier: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, radicalizzatosi with the second intif ā ḍ a (see israel and palestine), North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, and the situation in ̔Irāq. Bush at the beginning of the year inserted Irāq, with Irān and North Korea, in what he called the axis of evil ; but his attention focused mainly on the former, accused of pursuing the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear and chemical, and of collusion with terrorists. At the same time, the president proposed the theory according to which the change of regime in ̔Irāq would have opened a virtuous process of democratization of the whole Middle East, which would have constituted the most solid guarantee for security. The latter, however, also had an internal dimension to which Bush first turned his attention with the USA Patriot Act of the end of 2001., which expanded the powers of investigation and arrest in an anti-terrorist function by weakening the personal guarantees of individuals, then with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, which brought together twenty federal intelligence and police institutes in a single body.
The 2002 also saw growing unemployment and, despite the return to positive economic trend, grew well the feeling of insecurity among the population following the increase in relocations abroad that took away jobs at home, and scandals following the bankruptcy of two large companies, Enron in 2001 and WorldCom in 2002, whose top executives were charged and subsequently convicted of fraud and insider trading. The president responded to all this with new tax cuts and retraining programs for those who had lost their jobs. In ‘normal’ years such a situation would have led to serious political consequences: not so in 2002. Using his image as a steadfast and determined war president, Bush led the Republican Party to victory and conquest of the Senate in the mid-term elections.
The invasion of Irāq had always been high on the administration’s agenda, even as Powell sought prior UN clearance. However, the Security Council did not intend to go beyond a resolution establishing UN inspections for weapons of mass destruction. The continuous resistances of Ṣ. Ḥusayn at the inspections allowed Bush, convinced of the political need to overthrow the Iraqi regime, to push for war, despite the opposition of some of his major allies. In what was the most deliberate expression of the administration’s unilateralism, Bush formed a coalition of the willing, made up of countries willing to follow the US decision, including Great Britain, Spain, Italy and Poland, while France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium called out. This led to a serious political crisis between the US and Europe and within Europe itself which caused fear of the end of the Atlantic Alliance.
The invasion began on March 20, 2003, with an operational force of approximately 150,000 US troops, 12,000 British and some small contingents from other countries. The enormous American technological superiority and the lack of resistance encountered allowed the president to declare operations closed on the 1stMay. The difficulties began, however, immediately afterwards, when a bloody guerrilla organized mainly by the Arabs of the Sunni rite, a minority in the country, but who with Ḥusayn had had the monopoly of power; guerrilla warfare that did not even stop when, in December, Ḥusayn was captured. Thus came to light the poor political preparation of the whole operation, based on the two assumptions of fighting a high-tech war with relatively few men and a spontaneous alignment of the population alongside the Americans. The second assumption, based on a lack of knowledge of the Iraqi reality, did not materialize and the dual task of fighting the guerrilla and establishing a democratic Iraqi government proved difficult, despite the fact that there was an endorsement of the democratization of the country that came from ‘3000 men. The guerrilla, accompanied by a wave of suicide attacks, strengthened throughout 2004 and 2005: it was linked to the ethnic-religious clashes between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, and between Arabs and Kurds, to the nationalist revolt against the presence of troops foreigners led above all by members of the old al-Ba ̔ ṯ party of Ḥusayn and the penetration into the country of radical Qaedist Islamism, with which, despite the accusations of the US government, it became clear that Ḥusayn had nothing to do. Despite the late 2005 elections, which showed the Iraqis’ desire for political participation, but also the deep fractures that divided them, the guerrillas did not stop and the political-military situation during 2006 only worsened, while the new Iraqi government proved weak and divided inside.
The invasion of Irāq weakened the international position occupied by the US, marked by scandals such as that of the torture and humiliation inflicted on Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghrayb camp, which added to the accusations leveled against them for the hundreds of t ā lib ā prisoners. n and not, detained without charge and without trial in the Guantanamo base in Cuba since 2001. The difficulty of the situation had consequences within the country, where opposition to the war was growing and the president’s popularity was gradually decreasing, also because of increasingly consistent evidence and the work of the Intelligence Committee of the Senate and the 2004 Independent Commission of Inquiry.they indicated that the administration had moved by leveraging erroneous information about Ḥusayn’s military potential.
Concentrated on Irāq, the US government was struggling to manage other international dossiers, in particular that relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The road map launched at the end of April 2003 by the US, the UN, Russia, the European Union was not pursued with determination and the following year ended up stalling. The main result was to give a decisive push to the ambiguous and increasingly uncertain leadership of Y. ‘Arafāt, with however unpredictable consequences in the Palestinian field, and, paradoxically, to convince A. Sharon that Israel had to take the initiative for a unilateral withdrawal within defensible borders.
In domestic politics, the president continued in his line of tax cuts, adding a third in 2003 to the two approved in 2001 and 2002 and obtaining their permanent status. Taxes thus returned to the level of 1959, when however the worrying budget deficit did not arise, which in 2004 reached 412 billion dollars. The economic situation, however, did not deteriorate and in 2004 growth remained buoyant, allowing Bush to support the goodness of his recipe. At the same time he reacted to the criticisms of the Democrats by endorsing the end of 2003a reform of the public health care system, Medicare, which included drugs among the benefits insured for the elderly; it also increased the funds earmarked for public schools as part of the No child left behind act.
Very tough battles which however did not give the results desired by the president occurred in environmental matters, for example, on the concession of mining and forestry exploitation in protected areas and on the extraction of oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge of Alaska where he was favorable. The clashes also continued on ethically connoted issues, such as research on embryonic stem cells, which remained severely limited, and on same-sex marriages, which the president, in the face of some state and local initiatives aimed at allowing them, opposed declaring himself in favor of a constitutional amendment. to ban them, while instead supporting the regulation – by the states – of civil unions.
The 2004 was also a year of presidential elections, and Bush obtained a candidacy for a second term from the Republican Party. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, appointed Senator J. Kerry of Massachusetts, who seemed to have a good chance of success due to the decline in popularity of the president caused by the Iraqi situation. Kerry failed, however, to overcome the traditional resistance of US voters to vote against the incumbent president in wartime. It was also easy for republicans to portray him as uncertain and indecisive, in the face of the president’s determination, as he criticized the war in ̔Irāq after voting in favor of it in the Senate. The elections, which saw popular participation in growth, rewarded Bush, who obtained a clear majority in both the popular vote (62,040,000 versus 59,028,000 for Kerry), and in the Electoral College (286 to 252). For a moment the situation in 2000 seemed to repeat itself, with Democrats refusing to acknowledge the pro-Bush vote in Ohio; but the affair was resolved quickly. Analysis of the vote showed that an important factor in the incumbent president’s victory had been the issue of moral values, which had massively led both the religious right and the more moderate voters to vote, but worried that the country’s moral decay would endanger. the ability to fight terrorism.
Bush made two significant changes, in his second cabinet, to the Secretariat of State, in which Powell, increasingly distant from the president, was replaced by National Security Advisor Rice, and to Justice, in which J. Ashcroft was succeeded by AR Gonzales. With an even more compact and faithful toilet, in the first part of 2005 the president put a lot of energy into pushing through a proposed reform of the public pension system, which many analysts feared would go into deficit within a few years. Among the various proposals, there was that of privatizing it in part, allowing young workers to invest a percentage of what was taken from their wages for retirement purposes in funds that operated on the market, thus allowing individuals to better control money that belonged to them and higher earnings. The resistance to the project, however, was enormous due to the generalized fear that market crises would make future pensions fade, and the president was forced to postpone it.
The 2005 was not a good year for Bush. The dragging of the war in Irāq, as well as the inefficiency shown by federal agencies when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and a large area of the Gulf coast in August, causing over 1,000 deaths and about a million refugees, caused the collapse of the 40% its popularity. The economic situation remained good, but this did not improve the administration’s image, which was also clouded by the many corruption scandals that hit prominent Republican politicians such as Th.D. DeLay, House Majority Leader, who was forced to resign, as well as the perjury trial of I. Lewis Libby Jr, one of Vice President Cheney’s principal advisers, which would result in the defendant being sentenced in early 2007. Bush, however, continued an active foreign policy, devoting increasing attention to relations with the new great Asian power, the People’s Republic of China, and supporting both Sharon’s policy of disengagement and the new Palestinian leader Ābu Māzin. At the same time he had the opportunity to replace two Supreme Court judges. With the appointment of J. Roberts and, in early 2006, SA Alito, the court took a clear conservative stance and the president could assume that he had completed the right-shift work of the federal judiciary initiated by Reagan. In addition, during 2005, the debate on about 11 had acquired increasing importance in the country millions of illegal immigrants who lived in the US and on the continuous entry of illegal immigrants from the border with Mexico. The president tried to follow a path of compromise, declaring himself willing to provisionally regularize those who had jobs without, however, offering any guarantee of definitive legalization and naturalization. In the spring of 2006, massive demonstrations by immigrants asking to be regularized took place in many cities and the problem they represented became the main issue of internal politics, also in view of the mid-term elections in the autumn.
When it came to the latter, in November 2006, the situation for the Republicans appeared compromised due above all to three main issues: the international situation, the inefficiency – but for many, the ill will – shown by the administration in dealing with the consequences of Hurricane Katrina and the scandals involving some republican political figures. The results confirmed the expectations and the Democrats obtained an advantage (31 seats in the House and 7 in the Senate) enough to win back a majority in both branches of Congress. The republicans were also defeated in the individual states, where the relationship between the governors of the two parties was reversed in favor of the Democrats for 28 to 22. The November results seemed at first to push the president into a more conciliatory attitude. Defense Secretary R. Rumsfeld was in fact replaced by former CIA director R. Gates and the controversial J. Bolton, appointed ambassador to the United Nations, but not yet confirmed in this position by the Senate, resigned. In a short time, however, the president showed that he was unwilling to change policy, disregarding the opinion of the Iraq Study Group, appointed by Congress before the elections and led by former Secretary of State J. Baker and LH Hamilton, who suggested opening talks with ̔Irāq and Syria, and announcing an increase, albeit momentary, of American troops in ̔Irāq in an attempt to achieve positive military results by 2007. At the same time, the conflict with Irān worsened, which did not accept to suspend research in the atomic field, while, thanks to the joint effort with China, an agreement was reached, at least provisional, on the basis of which North Korea suspended the own atomic program.
The Republican defeat in the mid-term elections and the collapse of the president’s popularity, which dropped to just over 30 % in early 2007, sparked Democrats’ hopes for the 2008 presidential elections and launched the electoral campaign in advance, in which both H. Clinton, a New York senator, and young black Illinois senator B. Obama established themselves as the top potential candidates among the Democrats.