History of the United States (1988-present)

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1988 presidential election

For details see the main article U.S. presidential election, 1988.

Republican President Ronald Reagan's vice-president George H. W. Bush ascended to the presidency, handily defeating Democratic Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis.

The end of the Cold War

In the late 1980s, the regimes of the Eastern European Warsaw Pact were slowly collapsing. The fall of the Berlin Wall was a symbol of the end of Eastern European Communist regimes in 1989. By the early 1990s, the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse. Nationalist agitation in the Baltic States for independence lead to first Lithuania and then the other two states, Estonia and Latvia, declaring independence from the Soviet Union. On December 26, 1991 the USSR was officially disbanded, breaking up into fifteen constituent parts. The Cold War was over.

In a speech delivered to a joint session of Congress on September 11, 1990, President George Bush declared the emergence of "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."

In the post-Cold War environment, the U.S. sought to shape itself a new role in the international community. Old Cold War alliances, particularly NATO, were revamped for new purposes, and would play a crucial role in the Balkans conflict during the mid-90s. As military dictatorships in Latin America no longer could use Communism as justification for their continued rule, a wave of democratization took place in the region, particularly Central America. The U.S. sought to constructively engage these new democracies, and maintained that neoliberal reforms would lift Latin America out of poverty and economic stagnation, while at the same time benefitting U.S. consumers and corporations. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the future Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) were developed based on this worldview.

The U.S. also placed a much heavier emphasis on human rights, pressuring once-friendly dictatorships (such as Indonesia and Zaire) for reform. Under the Clinton administration, the U.S. became involved in humanitarian conflicts in Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Haiti, often with the cooperation of the United Nations. Certain states such as North Korea were classified as "rogue" for undertaking actions the U.S. claimed threatened international security.

The Persian Gulf War

For details see the main article Persian Gulf War.

The dependence of the industrialized world on oil, much of which resided beneath the surface of Middle Eastern countries, became painfully clear to the U.S. first in the aftermath of the 1973 world oil shock and later in the second energy crisis of 1979. Although in real prices oil fell back to pre-1973 levels through the 1980s, resulting in a windfall for the oil-consuming nations (especially North America, Western Europe, and Japan,) the vast reserves of the leading Middle East producers guaranteed the region its strategic importance. By the early 1990s the politics of oil still proved dangerous for all concerned as it did in the early 1970s.

Conflict in the Middle East triggered yet another international crisis on August 2, 1990, when Iraq invaded and attempted to annex the neighboring oil kingdom of Kuwait as its thirteenth province. Leading up to the invasion, Iraq complained to the United States Department of State about Kuwaiti slant drilling. This had continued for years, but now Iraq needed oil revenues to pay off its debts and avert an economic crisis. Saddam ordered troops to the Iraq-Kuwait border, creating alarm over the prospect of an invasion. April Glaspie, the United States ambassador to Iraq, met with Saddam in an emergency meeting, where the Iraqi president stated his intention to continue talks. Iraq and Kuwait then met for a final negotiation session, which failed. Saddam then sent his troops into Kuwait.

U.S. officials feared that Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was then on the verge of armed conflict with oil-rich Saudi Arabia, a close strategic ally of Washington's since the 1940s. The Western world condemned the invasion as an act of aggression. U.S. president George H.W. Bush compared Saddam to Hitler and declared that if the United States and international community did not act, aggressors elsewhere in the world would run rampant. 2

The U.S. and Britain, two of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, convinced the Security Council to give Iraq a deadline to leave Kuwait. The Western world was determined to not let the Kuwaiti oil supply fall under the control of Saddam, fearing it would have a dire impact on the global economy. Iraq at the time had accumulated a huge foreign debt and was striving to pay off the debts accumulated during the Iran-Iraq War. Perhaps in response, Saddam was pushing oil-exporting countries to raise oil prices and cutback production. Westerners, however, remembered the very destabilizing effects of the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s.

Saddam ignored the deadline, and the Security Concil declared war on Iraq. The war commenced in January 1991, with U.S. troops forming the majority of "Operation Desert Storm," joined by 33 other countries including Canada and Saudi Arabia. By the time Iraqi troops withdrew from Kuwait in late February, Iraq had lost an estimated 20,000 troops, with other sources speaking of as much as 100,000 casualties on the Iraqi side.

1992 presidential election

For details see the main article U.S. presidential election, 1992.

Riding high on the success of the Gulf War, Bush enjoyed very high approval ratings for his job as president. However, economic problems dogged Bush, and with the entry of H. Ross Perot into the race, Bush found himself losing a three-way race between himself, independent candidate Perot, and Democratic nominee Bill Clinton. See U.S. presidential election, 1992 for more.

U.S. history, 1991-2000

1992 presidential election

Main article: U.S. presidential election, 1992

Riding high on the success of the Gulf War, Bush enjoyed very high approval ratings for his job as president. However, economic problems dogged Bush, and with the entry of H. Ross Perot into the race, Bush found himself losing a three-way race between himself, independent candidate Perot, and Democratic nominee Bill Clinton.

The Clinton administration and the Republican Congress

Missing image
The New Deal, the Great Society, and Watergate helped solidify Democratic control of Congress, but the 1980s and early 1990s were a period of fragmentation of their coalition, when the popularity of Democratic incumbents as constituent servants masked growing disenchantment with Congress' governing capacities. Democrats suddenly and surprisingly lost control of the House, along with the Senate, for the first time in four decades in the 1994 midterm elections. Once in power, the Republicans faced the difficulty of learning to govern after forty years as the minority party while simultaneously pursuing their "Contract with America," which they unveiled on the steps of Congress in this September 1994 photo.

Clinton entered office as one of the youngest presidents in U.S. history and the first of the Baby Boom generation to reach the White House. Promising to focus on and resolve some of the United States' many domestic issues, he entered office with high expectations in some quarters, despite his low showing in the 1992 popular vote. Immediately, however, he was dogged by controversies over the personal backgrounds of some of his appointees, and by political clashes stemming from his announcement that he would permit homosexuals to serve openly in the U.S. military.

These events in 1993 seemed to set the pattern for a man who would become one of the United States' more divisive presidents, regarded with great affection by some constituencies, and anything but by others. His 1994 proposal of a national health care system, championed by his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton, ignited a political firestorm on the right, where it was vigorously opposed on the general principle that government was incompetent and should be shrunk, not expanded. The proposed system did not survive the debate.

Year by year, polarization grew in Washington between the president and his adversaries on the right, the Republicans who assumed the majority in the House of Representatives in January 1995 and elected Newt Gingrich their Speaker. Talk-show commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, Pat Buchanan and other politicized media outlets amplified the ever-louder quarrels, causing some to speak of a new 'culture war' in U.S. politics. The more extreme right-wing voices, who verged into uncompromising hostility toward the government, were somewhat discredited, however, after the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995.

Along with strong backing from traditional Democrats and liberals, Clinton was also supported by many moderates who appreciated his centrist "New Democrat" policies, which steered away from the expansion of government services of the New Deal and Great Society. Clinton signed welfare reform legislation into law in 1996, requiring welfare recipients to work as a condition of benefits and imposes limits on how long individuals may receive payments. Clinton also pursued tough federal "anti-crime" and steared more federal dollars toward the "war on drugs" and called for the hiring of 100,000 new police officers.

Clinton was reelected in 1996, defeating Republican Senator Bob Dole and a weakened and marginal re-run by H. Ross Perot.

Many voters in 1992 and 1996 had been willing to overlook long-standing rumors of extramarital affairs by Clinton, deeming them irrelevant. These matters came to a head, however, in February 1998 when reports surfaced of ongoing sexual relations between Clinton and a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Clinton initially and vigrously denied the relationship, but was forced to retract that assertion in August after the Lewinsky matter came under investigation by independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who had been looking into various allegations of past misdeeds by Clinton for several years. Since Clinton's denials had extended to a deposition before Starr's office, impeachment proceedings began in the House against the President on charges of perjury.

Clinton was impeached in the House of Representatives, but not convicted at his trial by the U.S. Senate, and a scandal-weary and embarrassed U.S. public seemed largely satisfied to have the matter closed.

"Globalization" and the "new economy"

Clinton's terms in office will be remembered in some quarters for the nation's largely domestic focus during the period. Very large numbers of Americans were mostly ignoring politics in favor of business and personal affairs. The years 1994-2000 witnessed the emergence of what many commentators called a technology-driven "new economy," and relatively high increases in real output, low inflation rates, and a drop in unemployment to below five percent. The Internet and related technologies made their first broad penetrations into the economy at large, prompting a Wall Street technology-stock bubble, which Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan described as "irrational exuberance."

After the demise of the Soviet Union the United States was militarily dominant, and Japan, sometimes seen as the largest economic rival to the U.S., was caught in a period of stagnation. China was emerging as a foremost trading partner in more and more fields. Localized conflicts such as those in Haiti and the Balkans prompted President Clinton to send in U.S. troops as peacekeepers, which did generate controversy about whether policing the rest of the world was a proper U.S. role. Islamic radicals overseas loudly threatened assaults against the U.S. for its ongoing military presence in the Middle East, and even staged the first World Trade Center bombing in New York in 1993, as well as a number of deadly attacks on U.S. interests abroad.

Immigration, most of it from Latin America and Asia swelled during the 1990s, laying the groundwork for great changes in the demographic makeup of the U.S. population in coming decades.

The George W. Bush administration

Though his election had been the focus of intense controversy, George W. Bush was sworn in as President on January 20, 2001 after the U.S. Supreme Court decided the electoral legal issues in his favor. The first eight months of his term in office were relatively uneventful; however, it had become clear by that time that the economic boom of the 1990s was at an end. The year 2001 was plagued by a nine-month recession, witnessing the end of the boom psychology and performance, with output increasing only 0.3% and unemployment and business failures rising substantially. President Bush approved a large federal tax cut with the intent of revitalizing the economy.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked four airliners and flew two of them into the World Trade Center towers in New York City and another into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, destroying both towers and taking just under 3000 lives. The fourth plane crashed in southern Pennsylvania, evidently after the passengers fought back and forced the terrorists to crash the plane. The immense shock, grief and anger brought on by the attacks profoundly altered the national mood; President Bush declared that Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network were the culprits and announced a "war on terror."

Congress approved several measures to protect against future attacks, including creating the Department of Homeland Security and passing the USA PATRIOT Act, criticized by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union. The immediate military response was an invasion of Afghanistan, targeting al Qaeda and the Taliban government that supported and sheltered them. The U.S. was joined by a coalition which included forces from more than a dozen countries, and was successful in removing the Taliban from power, although fighting continues between the coalition and Afghans of various factions.

In 2002 the GDP growth rate rose to 2.8%. A major short-term problem in the first half of 2002 was a sharp decline in the stock market, fueled in part by the exposure of dubious accounting practices in some major corporations. Another economic problem that continues to the present time is unemployment, which has experienced the longest period of monthly increase since the Great Depression. The robustness of the market, combined with the unemployment rate, led economists to refer to the situation as a "jobless recovery."

War in Iraq

In his State of the Union address in January 2002, President Bush called Iran, Iraq, and North Korea an "axis of evil," accusing them of supporting terrorism and seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction. As the year went on, it became clear that the Bush administration was planning on an invasion of Iraq, on the grounds that Saddam Hussein supported terrorism, had violated the 1991 U.N.-imposed ceasefire, and possessed biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, among other charges.[1] (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/10/20021002-2.html)

Many longtime allies of the U.S., including France, Germany, and Canada, as well as millions of people within the U.S. and around the world, did not believe that the evidence for the President's accusations was well-founded enough to justify a full-scale invasion, especially as military personnel were still needed in Afghanistan. The United Nations Security Council did not approve of the invasion, and the U.S. therefore provided most of the forces in the invasion of Iraq. With the support of a coalition whose major partners included the United Kingdom, Spain, and Italy, Iraq was invaded on March 20, 2003.

After six weeks of combat between the coalition and the Iraqi army, the invading forces had secured control of many key regions; Saddam had fled his palace, his regime clearly over; and on May 1, Bush declared, under a sign reading "mission accomplished," that major ground operations were at an end.

Nevertheless, the fighting continued and escalated through the 2004 U.S. national elections. At first, it was not clear whether the Iraqi insurgency was made up primarily of al-Qaida sympathizers and former members of Saddam's military who remained loyal to him, or whether the invasion had ignited "anti-Americanism" and inspired movements opposed to being occupied by an invading force. It now appears that most of the insurgency is from the latter group. Saddam Hussein's sons Qusay and Uday were killed by U.S. forces; Saddam himself was captured in December 2003 and taken into custody.

With casualties increasing and the cost of the invasion and reconstruction of Iraq estimated at over $200 billion, the war has lost about one-third of its supporters in the U.S. since the end of major operations was announced. Recent polls suggest that international displeasure with the United States is at an all-time high, with a majority of people in Europe believing that the country is too powerful and acts mainly in self-interest, and a vast majority in predominantly Muslim nations believing that the United States is arrogant, belligerent, or hateful to Islam. [2] (http://people-press.org/commentary/display.php3?AnalysisID=46)

George W. Bush was re-elected in November 2004, winning over Democratic contender John Kerry in an electoral vote. Bush achieved 51% of the popular vote.


1 Samuel Huntington. 'The Lonely Superpower," Foreign Affairs, March/April 1999, 37-8.
2 The origins of conflict between Kuwait and Iraq, however, were far more complex and lay in the Iran-Iraq War. Iraq had been left bankrupt by the war against Iran, which Saddam felt had positioned Iraq as a bulwark against the expansion of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution. Faced with rebuilding its infrastructure destroyed in the war, Iraq needed money. Although Iraq had borrowed a tremendous amount of money from other Arab states, including Kuwait, during the 1980s to fight its war with Iran, no country would lend it money except the United States, which left Saddam's regime a virtual client state of the U.S. Saddam felt that the war had been fought for the benefit of the other Gulf Arab states and even the United States and argued that all debts should be forgiven. Kuwait, however, did not forgive its debt and further provoked Iraq by slant drilling oil out of wells that Iraq considered within its disputed border with Kuwait.

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