Between 2001 and 2009, George W. Bush served as the 43rd president of the United States. A former Republican governor of Texas and son of George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush embodied the strain of post-Cold War triumphalism that emphasized US predominance in the world.
Where his predecessor Bill Clinton had aimed at delivering a “peace dividend” to a nation tired of international campaigns, Bush’s presidency was dominated by the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Bush’s legacy is largely defined by the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington and the wars that succeeded them. He also served as a pilot, changed the makeup of the Supreme Court, and is remembered for his distinctive turns of phrase. Here are 10 facts about George W. Bush.
1. George W. Bush served as a military pilot
George W. Bush flew military aircraft for the Texas and Alabama Air National Guard. In 1968, Bush joined the Texas Air National Guard and participated in two years of training, after which he was assigned to fly Convair F-102s from the Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base.
Bush was honourably discharged from the Air Force Reserve in 1974. He remains the most recent President to serve in the United States military. His military record became a campaign issue in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.
2. Bush was the 46th governor of Texas
After graduating Harvard Business School in 1975, Bush worked in the oil industry and became a co-owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team. In 1994, Bush challenged the Democratic incumbent Ann Richards for the governorship of Texas. He won with 53 percent of the vote, becoming the first child of a US president to be elected a state governor.
Under his governorship, Bush increased state spending on elementary and secondary education, enacted Texas’s largest tax-cut and helped Texas become the leading producer of wind powered electricity in the US. He also increased the number of crimes for which juveniles could be sentenced to prison and authorized more executions than any previous governor in modern American history.
3. Bush’s election hinged on the cancelled Florida recount
George W. Bush was elected President of the United States in 2000, defeating the Democratic Vice President Al Gore. The election was close-run and depended upon the Supreme Court decision Bush v. Gore to stop a recount in Florida.
The fairness of elections in Florida, a state governed by brother Jeb Bush, and particularly the security of the rights of black citizens, was found by the the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to be “largely responsible for the broad array of problems in Florida during the 2000 election.”
Bush was the fourth person to be elected president without winning the popular vote, the previous event being in 1888. Donald Trump also failed to win the popular vote in 2016.
4. Bush signed the controversial Patriot Act in the wake of 9/11
Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Bush signed the Patriot Act. This expanded the surveillance abilities of law enforcement, permitted law enforcement to search homes and businesses without the owner’s consent or knowledge, and authorized indefinite detention without trial of immigrants. Federal courts later ruled that multiple provisions in the act were unconstitutional.
5. Bush declared a war on terrorism following 9/11
In late 2001, the United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan, targeted at removing the Taliban government and justified by the public aim of dismantling al-Qaeda, which was responsible for the attacks in New York and Washington D.C. on 11 September 2001.
This constituted part of a global war on terrorism, announced by Bush in a joint session of Congress on 20 September 2001. This saw the United States and its allies attempt to rearrange the Islamic world by force. The unilateral military action favoured by George W. Bush was termed the Bush Doctrine.
6. George W Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003
Citing claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and was harbouring Al Qaeda, George W. Bush declared the invasion of Iraq in 2003 with broad sympathy from the American public. This began the Iraq War. Among other criticisms of the war’s rationale, a 2004 United States Senate report found the pre-war intelligence on Iraq to be misleading.
Though the initial invasion ended quickly, the decade-long War in Iraq led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and precipitated the 2013-17 War in Iraq. On 1 May 2003, following a jet landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln, President Bush famously asserted the United States’ victory in Iraq in front of a banner stating “Mission Accomplished”.
7. Bush made two successful appointments to the Supreme Court
Bush was re-elected to a second term of the Presidency in 2004, defeating the Democratic senator John Kerry. Bush’s campaign prioritised the war on terrorism, while Kerry criticised the war in Iraq. Bush won with a slim majority. During his second term, Bush made successful appointments to the Supreme Court: John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
These appointments delivered on campaign promises and left a lasting impact on the nine-member Supreme Court, appointments to which have lifetime tenure. Meanwhile, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continued. Partly as a result, by November 2006, the Democrats had won control of both houses of Congress. Bush was president when the Great Recession began in December 2007.
8. Hurricane Katrina turned the tide on Bush’s reputation
Bush was heavily criticised for the government response to Hurricane Katrina, one of the worst natural disasters in US history. Bush remained on vacation before and immediately after the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast on 29 August 2005. Over a thousand people died and hundreds of thousands were displaced.
Bush’s reputation as a crisis manager was undermined and his polling did not recover during his presidency. Early in the crisis, Bush praised an agency that was widely seen as ineffective. In particular, a photograph of Bush looking from the window of a plane onto the destruction caused by Katrina appeared to demonstrate his detachment from the situation.
9. Bush is remembered for his turns of phrase
Bush is as likely to be remembered for his unusual statements and mispronunciations as for his foreign policy. Known as Bushisms, George W. Bush’s statements were notorious for often making the opposite point than was intended. The lines “They misunderestimated me,” and, “Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?” are frequently attributed to Bush.
For example, on 5 August 2004, Bush said that, “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”
10. A post-presidential painter
In more recent history, George W. Bush has revealed himself as a hobbyist painter. His second collected book of portraits, released in 2020, focused on immigrants to the United States. In the introduction, he writes: that immigration “is perhaps the most American of issues, and it should be one that unites us.”
Bush’s legacy on immigration during his presidency is mixed. His bill that would have granted citizenship to undocumented immigrants failed in the Senate, and his administration instituted some of the harsh policing of immigrants. Bush’s previous book focused on combat veterans.