A New World Order

*In 1988 George H. W. Bush, Reaganís vice-president, was elected president of the United States, defeating the Democratic candidate, Michael Dukakis, 426 to 111 in the Electoral College, becoming the first sitting Vice-President to be elected president since Martin van Buren in 1836.  A decorated naval aviator in World War II, he was the last WWII veteran to serve as president.  He had also been envoy to China (before American could officially send ambassadors) and director of the CIA.  Among his campaign promises was a promise of 'no new taxes.'


*It seemed a hopeful time:  not only was communism collapsing around the world, but Latin American countries were developing more democratic governments (although in Panama this only happened after Bush sent 12,000 troops to overthrow the drug-smuggling dictator Manuel Noriega in 1989, he had been supported by the United States until his military suspended the constitution in 1987), and South Africa ended its policy of Apartheid, allowing black South Africans to vote (in 1994 they elected Nelson Mandela, the nationís first black president).


*Even a major crisis seemed hopeful, as both Western and Eastern European countries (including Russia) allied with middle-eastern countries (both Moslem countries and Israel) in a US led coalition to defend Kuwait.


*Kuwait had once been part of the Ottoman province of Basra (one of the provinces that formed Iraq), and Iraq wanted the oil-rich kingdom back.  Furthermore, Iraq's dictator, Saddam Hussein, accused Kuwait of slant-drilling into Iraqi oilfields.  Iraq was also deeply indebted to Kuwait following the war with Iran.  In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait.  America said that if this was ignored, Sadam Hussein would doubtless invade other oil-rich and strategic neighbours such as Saudi Arabia, and sent troops to defend Saudi Arabia in Operation Desert Shield.


*In 1991, a coalition of 34 nations with a UN mandate threw the Iraqi army out of Kuwait and invaded Iraq itself in Operation Desert Storm, but did not overthrow Saddam Hussein.  However, an embargo was imposed, and large portions of Northern and Southern Iraq were declared Ďno-fly zonesí where Iraq could not send planes.  This let the Kurds become fairly independent.


*President Bush said that the unity that came with the Gulf War (in which even the declining Soviet Union supported the coalition, although it did not officially join it) was an opportunity to create a New World Order:  'freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace. An era in which the nations of the world, East and West, North and South, can prosper and live in harmony,' and as the 1990s began, it truly seemed possible, in part because by 1992, the Cold War was over and there was only one superpower left.


*Following the Persian Gulf War, President Bush was popular, with an 89% approval rating.  However, Saddam Hussein continued to threaten to disrupt the Middle East. 


*Racial violence broke out in Los Angeles in April, 1992 when a jury with no black members (10 white, 1 Hispanic, 1 Asian-American) acquitted four white police officers charged with a brutal and unprovoked beating of a black man named Rodney King.  African-Americans and Hispanics set fires and looted and destroyed shops (particularly targeting those owned by Asian-Americans).  53 people died and over 2,000 were injured during the riots, which lasted six days.  The National Guard, Army, and Marines were all called in.  Later a new investigation was held, and two of the officers were found guilty a year later.


*Racial tensions also surrounded the rising popularity of rap music, which first appeared about 1979, but became more popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  Some glorified gang violence and was condemned by much of mainstream society, but because it had originated among African-Americans and most famous rappers were black, some of the mistrust of rap music was racial as well, particularly after the Rodney King Riots.


*There was also a sense of dissatisfaction with the government that was expressed in the ratification of the XXVII Amendment in 1992.  It said that No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.  It had first been proposed by James Madison in 1789 as part of the Bill of Rights, but had only been ratified at the time by 6 states.  Over the years other states had ratified it from time to time as a protest against government pay raises or high taxes, until, after 203 years, it was ratified by 41 states and became part of the US Constitution.


*This desire to limit Congressional pay partly stemmed from the fact that the American economy suffered a recession in the late 1980s and early 1990s, due in part to the Savings and Loan scandal.  Furthermore, Bush tried to reverse Americaís budget deficit, but had to raise taxes in 1990 to do it, breaking one of his 1988 campaign promises (but it actually did reduce, although it did not eliminate, the deficit).  All these things would work against Bush when he ran for re-election in 1992.


*In 1992, Bush won the Republican nomination for re-election, despite opposition from conservatives in his own party. 


*The Democrats nominated the nearly unknown governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton.  Clinton's opponents attacked him for his affairs, his opposition to the Vietnam War, his use of political connections to dodge the draft, and for his use of marijuana (which he claimed to have tried, but not inhaled). 


*His wife, Hillary Clinton, was also controversial because she was a career woman, not like the typically demure First Ladies of the past.  In an interview, she said, 'I've done the best I can to lead my life. I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas,' which some people saw as insulting to the women of America who had chosen to stay home.


*A Texas billionaire named Ross Perot ran as an independent, promising to reform government, balance the budget, and protect American jobs.  He was so popular (at one point he was more popular than either Bush or Clinton) that he was allowed to participate in the televised presidential debates, the only time a third-party candidate has been allowed to do so, and many Americans felt he won the first debate.  However, he withdrew from the race, saying he did not want it thrown into the House of Representatives, but later he announced he was running after all.  This indecision ruined his chances, but he took many votes from both parties, although more from Bush than from Clinton.


*Clinton won only 43% of the popular vote, but 370 electoral votes (although he only won majorities in Arkansas and DC). 


*Clinton, and many of his followers, were called New Democrats, and were more interested in pragmatism than ideology.  Clinton promised welfare reform and supported the Republican proposal to form NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) to remove most tariffs and other trade barriers between the US, Canada, and Mexico, allowing all three countries access to cheaper goods, but with many manufacturing jobs moving the Mexico in the 1990s where labour costs were lower.  NAFTA went into force on 1 January, 1994.


*This did not mean that Clinton was not liberal in many areas.  He wanted to end the ban on homosexuals serving in the US military, although Congress modified this to a 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy in 1993--which some liberals criticised for not going far enough and some conservatives criticised for undermining traditional values.  Later, however, conservative pressure led him to sign the Defence of Marriage Act in 1996, defining marriage under federal law as being specifically between a man and a woman.


*Clinton supported the Brady Bill, a gun control law passed in 1993 named after Reagan's press secretary Jim Brady, who was paralysed after being shot during the assassination attempt on Reagan in 1981.


*These actions made the Clintons and the Democrats deeply unpopular, and in 1994 the Republicans promised to fulfil a Contract with America, which promised tax cuts, welfare cuts, business deregulation, increases in military spending, and a balanced budget.  It also promoted term limits, yet when many of the new Republicans had served all the time they had once promised to, they ran for re-election anyway.

*The Republicans took control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 1954 with 54 seats changing parties.  They chose Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House.  Republicans also gained 9 seats in the Senate, taking control of that house for the first time since 1986.  This was the first time since 1952 that Republicans had won a majority in both houses.  Republicans also ended up with the majority of governors.  This great political change was known as the Republican Revolution.  

*So powerful was the rising Republican tide that many conservative Southern Democrats (once known as boll weevils and in the 21st Century as blue dogs) switched parties in 1994. 

*After this, Clinton would abandon many of his liberal policies and become much more moderate and pragmatic, doing whatever he could to take popular Republican ideas and make them his own, partly through very careful use of opinion polls--what he called 'triangulation,' trying to take a position both between and above the right or left wings.  Many liberals and some conservatives criticised him for this, but as a New Democrat, he wanted to do what worked without being tied down by traditional party loyalties, and it worked:  Clinton was the first Democrat since FDR to be re-elected after serving a full term of his own.


*Many people had not predicted this success.  Not only had the Democrats been badly beaten in 1994, but the New World Order was not as orderly as President Bush had hoped.  Bush has sent American troops into Somalia in 1992 to support the UN mission to provide humanitarian aid to people caught in the midst of a civil war.  However, following attacks on American troops in Mogadishu in October, 1993 that shot down two Black Hawk helicopters and killed 18 Americans and 4 allied soldiers, along with many Somali civilians caught in the cross-fire or used as human shields by Somali fighters.  The bodies of dead soldiers were mutilated and dragged through the streets, although all were eventually returned, as was one soldier who was captured alive.  Although some questioned Bush's decision to send troops to support the UN mission, Bill Clinton got most of the blame.


*The fall of Communism had been peaceful in most of Europe, but in Yugoslavia it was not.  The end of Communism was also a very bloody affair in Yugoslavia, a land with many ethnic and religious groups.  In 1991 Yugoslavia broke into Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, and Macedonia separated, with some fighting known as the Yugoslav Wars, of which by far the worst was in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 


*In March 1992, Bosnia and Herzegovina declared its independence.  However, Bosnia is an ethnically and religiously diverse place with Croats (Catholic Slavs), Serbs (Orthodox Slavs), and Bosniaks (Moslem Slavs).  There are historic and religious sites that are important to all three groups in the region.  Furthermore, many Serbs believe strongly in Pan-Slavism, which impelled them to seek control of Bosnia (or at least a part of it) with the goal of re-uniting it with Serbia.  Shortly after Bosnia declared its independence from Serbia, Bosnian Serbs declared independence from Bosnia, as did Bosnian Croats.


*The Bosnian Wars that followed involved mass slaughter based on religion and ethnicity called ethnic cleansing.  Croats killed Bosniaks and Serbs, Serbs killed Bosniaks and Croats, and some Bosniaks even killed Serbs and Croats, although the Bosniaks were the main victims of ethnic cleansing and mass rapes.  Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs both had support from Croatia and Serbia.

*It is estimated that between 200,000 and 400,000 (or about one in twelve) Bosnians died during the Bosnian Wars, and a number of Serbian and some Croatian military officers have been accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity as a result.


*The Bosnian Wars lasted until 1995, ending with the Dayton Peace Accords, organised partly by Clinton's Secretary of State at the time, Warren Christopher.  Later, Clinton would appoint Madeline Albright the first woman Secretary of State.


*Thanks in part to Clinton's support of some conservative ideas such as welfare reform, as well as NAFTA and a new trade agreement with China (despite opposition based on China's abuse of human rights) which led to an increase in international trade, and thanks to investment in new technology such as mobile phones and the internet, the economy boomed during most of Clinton's time in office.  This was combined with a willingness to raise some taxes (which led to conflict with Republicans, including a shutdown of the government in December, 1995 and January, 1996) to produce a balanced budget and even a budget surplus by the end of Clinton's presidency--at least on paper.  In fact, the government was able to claim this because it typically covers the deficit primarily by selling bonds to the public, but in the late 1990s was able to sell most of what it needed to the Social Security trust fund instead, which is figured into the budget differently.  If that was still counted, then there was still a deficit, although a very small one, by the year 2000.


*However, Clinton's second term was dominated by the scandals of his personal life.  In 1992 a woman named Gennifer Flowers claimed they had had an affair, but he denied it.  In 1994, a former Arkansas state employee named Paula Jones began a civil suit against Bill Clinton saying that he had tried to pressure her into having a sexual relationship with him in 1991 while he was governor of Arkansas.  Eventually the case reached the Supreme Court, and other women with whom Clinton had allegedly had affairs with were called to testify, including a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky who said she had had sexual relations with President Clinton.  Clinton said under oath that he 'never had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky,' and later said so on national television.  However, a dress stained with DNA evidence to the contrary was introduced into the trial, proving that Clinton had committed perjury--lying under oath.


*Clinton later settled out of court with Paula Jones, paying $850,000, most of which went to her lawyers (and later $91,202 more in fees and fines for contempt of court for giving misleading evidence).


*The House of Representatives chose to impeach Bill Clinton for perjury and for obstruction of justice in 1998, the first president since Andrew Johnson to be impeached.  The Senate acquitted him in 1999 with only 45 voting for impeachment for perjury and 50 for impeachment for obstruction of justice (67 votes, a 2/3 majority, was needed for a conviction).  Although he was not removed from office, the dignity of the presidency, already badly tarnished by Nixon, was diminished even further. 


*As a result, when Clinton's vice-president, Al Gore, junior, former Senator (and son of a former Senator) from Tennessee, won the Democratic nomination for president in 2000, he did not ask Clinton to campaign with him, and Gore's opponent, George W. Bush, son of former President George H. W. Bush, could say he was running to restore dignity and morality to the office of the presidency.

This page last updated 12 December, 2018.
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