Bush’s environmental record

George W. Bush began his first term by withdrawing the United States from the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, which seeks to respond to manmade global climate change by limiting greenhouse gas emissions.  This set the tone for the Bush era in relationship to climate change.  Bush repeatedly stressed that more study was needed and questioned the science of climate change, enabling climate change deniers and environmental inaction.

Throughout his terms, Bush pushed for increased access and rights for oil companies.  He overturned a 27-year ban (put in place by his father) on new offshore drilling, while pushing for drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and the Green River Basin.

Bush sought to introduce market-based environmental regulations, such as cap-and-trade with his Clear Skies Initiative, to enable energy companies to buy and trade pollution credits.  In 2002, the Bush administration redefined carbon dioxide as ‘not a pollutant,’ and hence not subject to the Clean Air Act.

Environmentalists were pleasantly surprised with the administration’s naming of the Pacific Remote Islands (on this panel) as a national monument—a rare protectionist move from an administration more frequently characterized by working against environmental regulations and protections.

Effects of The Global War on Terror

The Bush Doctrine provided a rationale for invading both Iraq and Afghanistan by advocating for preemptive strikes and against waiting for threats to fully materialize before acting.  There was also an emphasis on unilateralism; if other allies could be found, so much the better, but the United States should not wait for approval or agreement from bodies such as the United Nations.  This approach has caused long-term effects that the US continues to grapple with today, arguably including the destabilization of the Middle East region, the Syrian refugee crisis, and enormous human and financial costs.

The Pentagon estimates that 1.8 million US troops served in Afghanistan and Iraq by 2009.  An estimated 360,000 of those suffered traumatic brain injuries.  One third of returning troops reported mental health issues, with the most frequent being depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz were among the most influential architects of the Bush Doctrine, and forceful advocates for invading Iraq.  Even on September 11, 2001, as the country reeled in shock from the terrorist attacks, Rumsfeld began making his case for invading Iraq, despite the lack of connection between Saddam Hussein’s regime and the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Addressing Congress and the nation the week after 9/11, Bush stated that, “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there.  It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”  This committed the country to an ongoing, nebulous conflict with a cost running into the trillions—a strategy that many have questioned and that continues in a revised form to this day.

Effects of Bush’s tax cuts

The tax cuts that Bush passed in his first year in office were indeed the largest in at least two decades, as this panel states, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the cuts added $1.6 trillion to the federal deficit due to decreased revenue.  The cuts were set to expire in 2010; Obama extended them for two years at that time.  In 2012, Congress made the cuts permanent for families earning less than $450,000/year.

Although all income levels received some tax relief with the cuts, the benefits were concentrated in the wealthiest segment of Americans and contributed to higher rates of income inequality.  The Congressional Research Service found a 74% increase in after-tax income for the top 1% between 1996 and 2006, and a 96% increase in after-tax income for the top .01% during the same period.  The rich are indeed getting richer in the US, in part because of legislation like the Bush tax cuts that had a regressive effect on the tax code.

The tax cuts are one big reason the federal budget shifted from surpluses during the 1990s to deficits in the following decade.

Bush and the war in Iraq

In the lead-up to the war in 2002 and 2003, there were anti-war protests across the country and around the world.  The anti-war movement was the largest seen in this country since the Vietnam War.  Protests were held in more than 500 US cities.  Exact numbers are difficult to determine, but it is clear that many millions of citizens around the world demonstrated against going to war in Iraq.  After worldwide mass protests on February 15, 2003, Bush compared them to a “focus group” that would not have any influence on his decisions.  Protestors argued that the preemptive war was unnecessary, and suspected motives such as financial gain and control of oil, rather than the rationale that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. In a rare admission of a mistake on the part of the Bush Administration, the Bush Library does acknowledge that no weapons of mass destruction were ever found.

According to the US Department of Defense, 4,425 US service members were killed in Iraq between 2003 and 2012, and 32,223 were seriously wounded in action.

Estimates of Iraqis killed during the same time period range from a conservative estimate of 151,000 to a high estimate of more than one million killed as a direct result of the conflict.  The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 1.8 million Iraqis were displaced abroad (with many of them going to neighboring Syria and Jordan), and an additional 1.6 million were displaced internally, forced to move to other areas of Iraq.

Torture of GWOT prisoners

Following the attacks of 9/11, lawyers from the Bush administration decided that detainees from the Global War on Terror (GWOT) were ‘enemy combatants’ who were not subject to the Geneva Conventions, an internationally recognized standard for the treatment of prisoners of war.  They advocated for the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ otherwise described as torture, including the practice of waterboarding prisoners, a technique meant to simulate the experience of drowning by pouring water over a person’s face and mouth.  Other techniques included sleep deprivation, withholding medical care, and binding prisoners in stress positions.

The Central Intelligence Agency, led by George Tenet, led the program of transporting detainees to a network of secret prisons, known as black sites.  It is unknown exactly how many prisoners were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques by US military personnel, and exactly what elements of the program Bush himself knew and when.  What is not in question is that the program altered the country’s reputation and standing on the world stage, and provided a sharp contrast with many of the lofty American ideals extolled in these panels.

In late April 2004, the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, with the release of graphic images of detainees being abused by US soldiers.  Bush officials argued that the soldiers responsible were merely a few bad apples in the bunch. Administration critics contended there was a connection between the sanctioned interrogation techniques and the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and other military prisons.

George W. Bush and the PATRIOT Act

Passed by Congress and signed into law by Bush in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the USA PATRIOT Act gave expanded surveillance powers to intelligence agencies in the hope of preventing future terrorist attacks.  The PATRIOT Act was complex and covered many different areas of intelligence gathering, including those carried out by both domestic and foreign intelligence agencies.  Some parts of the law have expired, or been found unconstitutional in the courts, while some remain and are set to expire in 2019.  The act has ten sections, including anti-money-laundering, border security, and enhanced surveillance procedures.  The passage of the law caused controversy, particularly among advocates for civil liberties and privacy.

As one result of the PATRIOT Act, the National Security Agency (NSA) collected phone records for millions of Americans without their knowledge or consent.  This metadata included the number making the call, the number receiving the call, and the location and the length of the call.  The program was revealed in 2013 through Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing activities.  The metadata collection program has been modified and restrictions have been added to it, but the central debate between security and civil liberties continues.

 

Bush v. Gore, 2000 election

The Electoral College vote has aligned with the popular vote in all presidential elections except for four: 1824, 1876, 1888 and 2000.  Al Gore had over 500,000 more votes than George W. Bush.

The Electoral College results came down to the twenty-five electors from Florida.  (George Bush’s brother Jeb was currently governor of Florida.)  The vote count in Florida was within 2,000 votes between the two candidates, triggering an automatic, state-wide machine recount of the ballots.  This recount led to a further tightening of the gap between the two candidates, and Al Gore requested a hand recount in four counties that had reported voting irregularities.  Secretary of State Katherine Harris became a key figure as she was the chief of elections for the state and able to halt recounts.  Harris had served as the co-chair of Bush’s Florida campaign.

On November 26, Harris certified the election results in Bush’s favor, with the 537-vote margin mentioned on this panel.  The Gore legal team sued the secretary of state, concerned about the illegitimacy of the results, particularly in the case of ballots that did not register a vote for president (dubbed undervotes).  The case was dismissed by a local court, but the Florida Supreme Court ruled in favor of Gore.  Bush then appealed to the US Supreme Court, who found in his favor, ending the legal wrangling and resulting in Bush being inaugurated the next month as president.  The court’s decision was 5-4 and fell along party lines, leading many to question the neutrality of the Supreme Court.

While the subsequent Miami Herald review of the recount did find that Bush would have won with three out of four possible vote-count standards, other, larger reviews produced mixed results.  The election highlighted contradictory state election laws, standards, and voter directions.