Taking office in the White House on January 20, 2001, Bush marked the first phase of his presidency with a series of initiatives that mirrored the guidelines of his election campaign. In the name of national interests, economically threatened by the recession, he suspended the implementation of a series of environmental protection measures decided by Clinton shortly before the end of his mandate; in February it presented its first budget, which announced reductions in the tax on individuals; in March it withdrew US support for the ratification of the Kyoto agreements of December 1997 on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The economic situation was dominated by the crisis of the so-called new economy, which denounced a marked structural fragility, aggravated by a strong speculative interest: the result was first a collapse of the specialized stock market (NASDAQ), then the generalized one of the stock exchanges, with heavy repercussions worldwide. To restore momentum to the economy, Bush decided to mobilize significant public financial resources, to allocate them, for the most part, to the fields of military research and armaments, in order to maintain a high level of internal and international confidence, but also to support consumption. In the strictly military sphere, he announced in April that the United States would not participate in international anti-nuclear agreements that had obstructed the missile defense program (initiated by Clinton in 2000). while he worked to obtain a commitment from various governments not to extradite US citizens to the new International Criminal Court, whose jurisdiction it did not recognize. Furthermore, the Bush administration seemed to abandon in this first phase the commitment that had characterized the Clinton presidency to a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian question.
Bush’s policy seemed to be moving in a markedly isolationist direction. But the line adopted took a dramatic turn with the attacks of 11 September 2001, when the Islamic terrorist organization Al Qaeda was responsible for a tragic action on US territory, causing thousands of deaths with the suicide attack on the Twin Towers in New York and against the Pentagon in Washington. Faced with the 9/11 attacks and the country’s shock in what was perceived as the first successful attack on the invulnerability of the United States, the Bush presidency’s primary goal became the fight against terrorism. In October, after obtaining wide international approval, a US-led military coalition started a war, called Enduring freedom., against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, accused of guaranteeing the logistical base of the Al Qaeda terrorists. Internally, the attacks of September 11 led to the adoption by the Bush administration of extraordinary security measures which caused a part of national and international public opinion to be deeply perplexed by the restrictions on civil liberties they entailed.
In January 2002, Bush launched one of the most important measures of his first term regarding the reform of the education system, intended to support the learning of young people: the No child left behind act. it introduced significant changes in the curricula of elementary, middle and high public schools, instituting criteria for measuring student performance and refinancing schools in difficulty. Meanwhile, the administration was embroiled in the scandal of the multinational energy company Enron, which had played a leading role in financing the presidential campaign and whose failure, in December 2001, led to the emergence of a rigged balance sheet system to mislead investors on the target value of the company. That episode was followed, in the following months, by a series of bankruptcies of other important companies and a crisis of investor confidence which was accompanied by very strong social pressure for new regulatory interventions on the financial markets. However,
Strong of the majority in the two branches of parliament, Bush passed in May 2003 a new general reduction of taxes and in particular of the taxation on capital gains.
In his State of the Union address of January 2002, Bush denounced the existence of an ‘axis of evil’, made up of Iraq, Iran and North Korea, countries that with their support for international terrorism and the arms race threatened peace in the world. The theorization of ‘preemptive war’ as a response to possible attacks by ‘rogue states’ became the cornerstone of the so-called Bush doctrine. While the war operations in Afghanistan were ending, Bush attacked Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, accused of possessing and developing weapons of mass destruction in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, as well as of contacts with Al Qaeda; in January 2003, the president denounced the Iraqi government’s attempt to purchase enriched uranium from Nigeria for the purpose of building nuclear weapons. The UN envoys charged with verifying the presence of weapons of mass destruction production sites were withdrawn before their inspections were completed and when the military attack was already about to take place. Without the support of the United Nations, the American government, at the head of a ‘coalition of the willing’ (including Britain, Poland and Spain in the front row; Italy would have joined only after the fall of the Iraqi regime for operations of The UN envoys charged with verifying the presence of weapons of mass destruction production sites were withdrawn before their inspections were completed and when the military attack was already about to take place. Without the support of the United Nations, the American government, at the head of a ‘coalition of the willing’ (including Britain, Poland and Spain in the front row; Italy would have joined only after the fall of the Iraqi regime for operations of The UN envoys charged with verifying the presence of weapons of mass destruction production sites were withdrawn before their inspections were completed and when the military attack was already about to take place. Without the support of the United Nations, the American government, at the head of a ‘coalition of the willing’ (including Britain, Poland and Spain in the front row; Italy would have joined only after the fall of the Iraqi regime for operations of peace keeping), initiated the operation called Iraqi Freedom, with the aim of overthrowing Saddam Hussein and capturing weapons of mass destruction. On March 20, 2003, military operations began; Baghdad fell on April 9; on May 1, the Pentagon declared the end of the main fighting, and the next day Bush, aboard the warship Abraham Lincoln, declared the mission accomplished. In the period following the invasion, while the vain search for weapons of mass destruction dropped the pretext on which the war had been unleashed, the insurgency Iraqi started a more bloody phase of the conflict, which in the following years would have produced thousands of deaths and injuries among the allied troops and an incalculable number of victims among the Iraqi population, provoking a reaction of mistrust in the American public opinion regarding the costs and objectives of the entire operation. At the same time, the Bush administration launched a series of foreign aid initiatives aimed at redeeming poverty and promoting the development of democracy. In his State of the Union address of January 2003, Bush launched an ambitious program of support for African and Caribbean countries ravaged by the plague of AIDS, allocating $ 15 billion over five years, a measure appreciated in the United States even by his critics. In January 2004 it established the Millennium Challenge Corporation which provided aid for the development and economic growth of poor countries, binding them to the commitment to democracy, business freedom and government transparency.