American History
The New World Order and the War on Terror

*At the end of the Gulf War, George Bush had a 91% approval rating.  A recession and his decision to raise taxes to try to correct the reverse deficit despite a campaign promise not to do so quickly eroded his public support.

*In 1992 he faced not one, but two challengers in the presidential race. 

*The Democrats nominated the governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, a young (46-year-old) man who had worked his way up from poverty but who (unlike every previous president since Eisenhower) had not served in World War II and who had also dodged the draft during the Vietnam War.  He announced, though, that he was a New Democrat, who would not raise taxes and government spending like the liberals of the 1960s; he claimed he could bring together liberal and conservative ideas.  This attracted some moderate Republicans.

*Other Republicans (and some Democrats) were attracted by Ross Perot, a businessman who ran using his own money and promising to run the country like a business and protect American jobs which were threatened by companies moving jobs to foreign countries.  Although he came in third and won no electoral votes, he got 19% of the popular vote, much of which probably would have gone to Bush instead.

*Bill Clinton won the election with only 43% of the popular vote, but 370 electoral votes, and began working on health care reform along with his wife, Hillary Clinton (whose feminism and career-oriented life had turned off many conservative voters).  Their goal was to provide health care for all Americans, but it was presented as socialism by the health care industry, and many Americans did not trust their government to manage their health care.  The distrust of government that had been building since the 1960s was still part of American culture.

*From the beginning of his presidency, Clinton supported a deal with Mexico and Canada begun by George Bush, and signed into law in 1994.  The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) reduced or removed most tariffs and other trade barriers between the USA, Canada, and Mexico, which has helped the overall economies of all three countries, but led many factories to move jobs to Mexico, where labour is cheaper, leading to the loss of individual Americans’ jobs.


*Gun control was a major issue of Clinton’s presidency, and in 1993 he signed the Brady Bill (named for one of Reagan’s assistants who was shot and paralysed during an assassination attempt on Regan), requiring background checks on people seeking to purchase guns. 

*Terrorism was also a problem in the 1990s, with al-Qaeda setting off a bomb in the World Trade Centre in 1993, killing six people and injuring over 1000 more.

*The worse instance of terrorism was not committed by foreign radicals but by Americans opposed to the government.  In 1995 a bomb was set in a federal office building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring about 800 more.

*Late in Clinton’s presidency, in 1999, the issue of gun control arose again, when two high school students in Columbine High School, Colorado, brought guns to school and killed 12 students and wounded 24 more.

*Violence was not limited to America.  Although the end of Communism was peaceful in most of Eastern Europe, in Yugoslavia it was not.  That country had been formed out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire in the early Twentieth Century and contained many different ethnic and religious groups, most of whom wanted their own countries when Communism came to an end. 

*Some groups, such as the Slovenes and Macedonians, got their independence fairly easily and quickly, but in Bosnia, three different groups fought for control:  the Bosniaks themselves (a Moslem group), the Croats (Catholics), and the Serbs (Orthodox) who had largely run Yugoslavia before its collapse.

*Within Bosnia all these groups struggled for control, partly by a deliberate official process of violence, rape, and even mass murder, a process they called ‘ethnic cleansing.’  Although all groups were involved, the Serbs were the most vicious (although many Croats were nearly as bad), and the Bosniaks suffered the most. 

*In 1995, Clinton helped convince NATO to send a mission to Bosnia to bring an end to the violence, and later that year helped negotiate the Dayton Peace Accords, bringing the violence to an end in Bosnia. 

*In 1998 and 1999, Albanian-Muslim Kosovo tried to win its independence from Serbia and failed, although NATO and the UN did go in to protect the Kosovars.  They again declared their independence in 2008, and many countries (including the USA) have recognised them, although many others have not.

*Some of Clinton’s early policies such as his support of gun control and of health care reform as well as his support for NAFTA and even (for some people) his intervention in Bosnia turned many Americans against him and against a government they saw as growing too big.  The Republican Party, under the leadership of Newt Gingrich, offered a Contract with America that criticised big, wasteful government and emphasised patriotism and traditional morality. 

*In 1994, the Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives, the Senate, and most governorships.  Many of these new Republican leaders were Southern Democrats who switched parties, completing the long trend of growing Republican support in the South.  In protest against Clinton’s proposed budget in 1995, the Republicans shut down the government from November 14 through November 19, 1995 and from December 16, 1995 to January 6, 1996.

*Clinton responded by becoming more conservative, reforming welfare, cutting back on government spending, and getting tougher on crime.  In short, he took many Republican ideas and made them his own--another part of being a New Democrat.  Along with growing prosperity in America (due partly to a ‘peace dividend’ of reduced military spending after the Cold War that allowed the government to focus on other areas and lower taxes), Clinton’s moderation led to his re-election in 1996, and in his second term, the government actually created a budget surplus.

*Many people still distrusted Clinton, though, because an investigation into some investments he had made in the Whitewater Development Corporation had been going on for most of his presidency.  During the investigation, questions about Clinton’s affairs with various women (including some government employees he had harassed while governor of Arkansas) led to Clinton lying under oath about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

*Clinton was impeached in 1998 and tried by the Senate in 1999 on charges of perjury.  Although the majority of Senators voted to convict him, a 2/3 majority is required to remove the president from office, and that number was not reached.  Many people felt that the entire procedure was motivated by politics rather than justice, and that (along with Clinton’s perjury and questionable business practises) disillusioned people even more with the government.

*In 2000, Clinton’s vice-president (and the son of a former senator), Al Gore, junior, ran for the presidency against the son of Clinton’s predecessor, George W Bush.  Although Gore was considered the more intelligent of the two, he was often a poor public speaker, was seen as too unlike the average American, and many Americans were tired of the Clinton presidency and felt that he represented it (both its corruption and its prosperity).  George W Bush was also born to wealth and political privilege, but came across much more like the common man, and the election came down to a very few votes.

*In 2000, the election came down to a single state, Florida, where the margin between Bush and Gore's votes was very small, and it was not clear who had won, although Florida declared that Bush had won.  It was suggested that problems with the voting machines had led people to cast votes for someone other than the man they meant to.  A recount was ordered, and it dragged on through November and December. 

*It took so long that it looked like a decision might not be reached in time for the official votes to be cast in the electoral college, and the Republicans challenged the recount in a court in Florida and it soon got to the Supreme Court, which ruled to end the recount and accept Florida's original statement that Bush had won its votes, and thus the election.

*Bush's presidency would be marked by disasters.  On 11 September, 2001, al-Qaeda terrorists attacked the United States, destroying the World Trade Center towers and hitting the Pentagon.  It was quickly determined that al-Qaeda had been supported by the Taliban, Afghanistan's Islamic government (and former mujahideen group).  In October, the US and UK, with the support of much of the rest of the world, invaded and overthrew the Taliban government, and have helped to create a representative republic in that country, although it still has many problems and requires continuing military occupation, and in some parts of the country the Taliban is growing again, and many local warlords (funded by the opium trade) largely ignore the government in Kabul.

*To try to catch other possible terrorists, Congress passed the PATRIOT Act, allowing the government to tap phone lines, go through business records, and otherwise spy on the American people.  Suspected terrorists could also be imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay while awaiting trial, which might take years, or never come.

*In 2003, the US and UK invaded Iraq, under the assumption that Hussein had encouraged terrorism and was hiding weapons of mass destruction (although this has since proven to have been unlikely).  The process of conquest took less than two months (20 March to 1 May) and involved very few American casualties, although Hussein was not captured until 14 December.  However, the occupation since then has been far worse and bloodier (although still not too bad compared to other major wars).

*Iraq has created a new government for itself while trying to balance the needs and desires of the Kurds of the North, who want as much independence as possible and a relatively secular government, the Sunni Arabs around Baghdad, who used to be the most powerful group but now find themselves in the minority and are turning to religious fundamentalism and terrorism they did not always use, and the Shi’a Arabs of the South, who are typically fundamentalist Moslems, but are also the largest group, and currently seem to want to make democracy work for them (at least if it allows them the tyranny of the majority).

*January 2007 saw a surge of new troops sent from the US to Iraq.  Although this led to greater casualties on both sides at first, by the end of 2007 American casualties had dropped to their lowest levels since the start of the war.  This is widely regarded as a successful use of military force, although some suggest that the decline in Iraqi violence was due to the conclusion of long-running ethnic cleansing campaigns among Iraq's various ethnic and religious groups.  Some observers allege that by the time the surge had gotten underway, each area was largely controlled by the majority group within it--the minorities having been killed or forced into exile.

*An agreement reached by the Iraqi and US governments in November 2008 placed some restrictions on US military actions within Iraq and set a timetable for the withdrawal of American forced by 31 December, 2011.

*These wars were expensive, but Bush had promised to cut taxes, so the wars were funded by ever-increasing national debt.

*Although some Americans opposed the wars in the Middle East and the rising debt that went along with them, most felt that they were necessary and supported President Bush in his re-election in 2004.  His second term was beset by problems, too.  In August 2005 Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans and other areas along the Gulf Coast.  Some people criticised Bush for not sending federal help quickly enough or in large enough quantities.

*Late in Bush's presidency, the economy began to fail.  During good economic times, banks had made it easier and easier to get home loans, partly because the government required them to do so for some people with low incomes, but also because banks resold many of the mortgages to investors who then took on the risk.  The same was true for credit card debt and other types of loans.

*Eventually many people were so deep in debt that they could not manage it and began to default.  As they did so, investment banks began to fail, and the economy fell quickly into recession, making it even harder for people to pay off their debts.  To prevent major banks and some other businesses from failing completely, the government bailed them out, giving banks money to cover their bad loans and lending money to GM and Chrysler.

*In the midst of this, America faced another election, choosing the first African-American president, Barack Obama, who promised to change America for the better. 

*One of his major plans was to reform health care, which was largely a failure.  He also planned to remove troops from
Iraq (which slowly took place) and from Afghanistan (which has not yet happened), to end the PATRIOT Act (which he has maintained), and bring the suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay to trial (which mostly did not happen).  He also had to keep bailing out failing banks and businesses to try to prop up an economy that continued to suffer from recession.
 
 

 
This page last updated 1 December, 2011.