Terrorism had emerged as an important national security issue in the Clinton administration, and it became one of the dominant issues of the Bush administration. In the late 1980s, Osama bin Laden had established al-Qaeda, a militant Sunni Islamist multi-national organization that sought to overthrow Western-backed governments in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and Pakistan. In response to Saudi Arabia's decision to begin hosting U.S. soldiers in 1991, al-Qaeda had begun a terrorist campaign against U.S. targets, orchestrating attacks such as the 1998 USS Cole bombing. During Bush's first months in office, U.S. intelligence organizations intercepted communications indicating that al-Qaeda was planning another attack on the United States, but foreign policy officials were unprepared for a major attack on the United States. Bush was briefed on al-Qaeda's activities, but focused on other foreign policy issues during his first months in office.
On September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four airliners and flew two them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, destroying both 110-story skyscrapers. Another plane crashed into Pentagon, and a fourth plane was brought down in Pennsylvania following a struggle between the terrorists and the aircraft's passengers. The attacks had a profound effect on many Americans, who felt vulnerable to international attacks for the first time since the end of the Cold War. Appearing on national television on the night of the attacks, Bush promised to punish those who had aided the attacks, stating, "we will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them." In the following days, Bush urged the public to renounce hate crimes and discrimination against Muslim-Americans and Arab-Americans. He also declared a "War on Terror", instituting new domestic and foreign policies in an effort to prevent future terrorist attacks.
As Bush's top foreign policy advisers were in agreement that merely launching strikes against al-Qaeda bases would not stop future attacks, the administration decided to overthrow Afghanistan's conservative Taliban government, which harbored the leaders of al-Qaeda. Powell took the lead in assembling allied nations in a coalition that would launch attacks on multiple fronts. The Bush administration focused especially on courting Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf, who agreed to join the coalition. On September 14, Congress passed a resolution called the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, authorizing the president to use the military against those responsible for the attacks. On October 7, 2001 Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan.
General Tommy Franks, the commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), drew up a four-phase invasion plan. In the first phase, the U.S. built up forces in the surrounding area and inserted CIA and special forces operatives who linked up with the Northern Alliance, an Afghan resistance group opposed to the Taliban. The second phase consisted of a major air campaign against Taliban and al-Qaeda targets, while the third phase involved the defeat of the remaining Taliban and al-Qaeda forces. The fourth and final phase consisted of the stabilization of Afghanistan, which Franks projected would take three to five years. The war in Afghanistan began on October 7 with several air and missile strikes, and the Northern Alliance began its offensive on October 19. The capital of Kabul was captured on November 13, and Hamid Karzai was inaugurated as the new president of Afghanistan. However, the senior leadership of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, including bin Laden, avoided capture. Karzai would remain in power for the duration of Bush's presidency, but his effective control was limited to the area around Kabul, as various warlords took control of much of the rest of the country. While the Karzai's government struggled to control the countryside, the Taliban regrouped in neighboring Pakistan. As Bush left office, he considered sending additional troops to bolster Afghanistan against the Taliban, but decided to leave the issue for the next administration.
After the September 11 attacks, Bush's approval ratings increased tremendously. Inspired in part by the Truman administration, Bush decided to use his newfound political capital to fundamentally change U.S. foreign policy. He became increasingly focused on the possibility of a hostile country providing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) to terrorist organizations. During his early 2002 State of the Union Address, Bush set forth what has become known as the Bush Doctrine, which held that the United States would implement a policy of preemptive military strikes against nations known to be harboring or aiding a terrorist organization hostile to the United States. Bush outlined what he called the "Axis of Evil," consisting of three nations that, he argued, posed the greatest threat to world peace due to their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and potential to aid terrorists. The axis consisted of Iraq, North Korea and Iran. Bush also began emphasizing the importance of spreading democracy worldwide, stating in 2005 that "the survival of liberty in our land depends on the success of liberty in other land." Pursuant to this newly-interventionist policy, the Bush administration boosted foreign aid and increased defense expenditures. Defense spending rose from $304 billion in fiscal year 2001 to $616 billion in fiscal year 2008.
During the presidency of George H. W. Bush, the United States had launched the Gulf War against Iraq after the latter invaded Kuwait. Though the U.S. forced Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait, it left Saddam Hussein's administration in place, partly to serve as a counterweight to Iran. After the war, the Project for the New American Century, consisting of influential neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz and Cheney, advocated for the overthrow of Hussein. Iraq had developed nuclear and chemical weapons prior to the Gulf War; after the war, it had submitted to WMD inspections conducted by the United Nations Special Commission until 1998, when Hussein demanded that all UN inspectors leave Iraq. The administration believed that, by 2001, Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction, and could possibly provide those weapons to terrorists. Some within the administration also believed that Iraq shared some responsibility for the September 11 attacks, and hoped that the fall of Hussein's regime would help spread democracy in the Middle East, deter the recruitment of terrorists, and increase the security of Israel.
In the days following the September 11 attacks, hawks in the Bush administration such as Wolfowitz argued for immediate military action against Iraq, but the issue was temporarily set aside in favor of planning the invasion of Afghanistan. Beginning in September 2002, the Bush administration mounted a campaign designed to win popular and congressional support for the invasion of Iraq. In October 2002, Congress approved the Iraq Resolution, authorizing the use of force against Iraq. While congressional Republicans almost unanimously supported the measure, congressional Democrats were split in roughly equal numbers between support and opposition to the resolution. Bowing to domestic and foreign pressure, Bush sought to win the approval of the United Nations before launching an attack on Iraq. Led by Powell, the administration won the November 2002 passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441, which called on Iraq to dismantle its WMD program. Meanwhile, senior administration officials became increasingly convinced that Iraq did indeed possess WMDs and was likely to furnish those WMDs to al-Qaeda; CIA Director George Tenet assured Bush that it was a "slam dunk" that Iraq possessed a stockpile of WMDs.
After a U.N. weapons inspections team led by Hans Blix, as well as another team led by Mohamed ElBaradei, failed to find evidence of an ongoing Iraqi WMD program, Bush's proposed regime change in Iraq faced mounting international opposition. Germany, China, France, and Russia all expressed skepticism about the need for regime change, and the latter three countries each possessed veto power on the United Nations Security Council. At the behest of British prime minister Tony Blair, who supported Bush but hoped for more international cooperation, Bush dispatched Powell to the U.N. to make the case to the Security Council that Iraq maintained an active WMD program. Though Powell's presentation preceded a shift in U.S. public opinion towards support of the war, it failed to convince the French, Russians, or Germans. Contrary to the findings of Blix and ElBaradei, Bush asserted in a March 17 public address that there was "no doubt" that the Iraqi regime possessed weapons of mass destruction. Two days later, Bush authorized Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the Iraq War began on March 20, 2003.
U.S.-led coalition forces, led by General Franks, launched a simultaneous air and land attack on Iraq on March 20, 2003, in what the American media called "shock and awe." With 145,000 soldiers, the ground force quickly overcomes most Iraqi resistance, and thousands of Iraqi soldiers deserted. The U.S. captured the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on April 7, but Hussein escaped and went into hiding. While the U.S. and its allies quickly achieved military success, the invasion was strongly criticized by many countries; UN secretary-general Kofi Annan argued that the invasion was a violation of international law and the U.N. Charter.
On May 1, 2003, Bush delivered the "Mission Accomplished speech," in which he declared the end of "major combat operations" in Iraq. Despite the failure to find evidence of an ongoing WMD program or an operational relationship between Hussein and al-Qaeda, Bush declared that the toppling of Hussein "removed an ally of al-Qaeda" and ended the threat that Iraq would supply weapons of mass destruction to terrorist organizations. Believing that only a minimal residual American force would be required after the success of the invasion, Bush and Franks planned for a drawdown to 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq by August 2003. Meanwhile, Iraqis began looting their own capital, presenting one of the first of many challenges the U.S. would face in keeping the peace in Iraq.
Bush appointed Paul Bremer to lead the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which was charged with overseeing the transition to self-government in Iraq. In his first major order, Bremer announced a policy of de-Ba'athification, which denied government and military jobs to members of Hussein's Ba'ath Party. This policy angered many of Iraq's Sunnis, many of whom had joined the Ba'ath Party merely as a career move. Bremer's second major order disbanded the Iraqi military and police services, leaving over 600,000 Iraqi soldiers and government employees without jobs. Bremer also insisted that the CPA remain in control of Iraq until the country held elections, reversing an earlier plan to set up a transition government led by Iraqis. These decisions contributed to the beginning of the Iraqi insurgency opposed to the continuing U.S. presence. Fearing the further deterioration of Iraq's security situation, General John Abizaid ordered the end of the planned drawdown of soldiers, leaving over 130,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq. The U.S. captured Hussein in December 2003, but the occupation force continued to suffer casualties. Between the start of the invasion and the end of 2003, 580 U.S. soldiers died, with two thirds of those casualties occurring after Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech.
After 2003, more and more Iraqis began to see the U.S. as an occupying force. The fierce fighting of the First Battle of Fallujah alienated many in Iraq, while cleric Muqtada al-Sadr encouraged Shia Muslims to oppose the CPA. Sunni and Shia insurgents engaged in a campaign of guerrilla warfare against the United States, blunting the technological and organizational advantages of the U.S. military. While fighting in Iraq continued, Americans increasingly came to disapprove of Bush's handling of the Iraq War, contributing to a decline in Bush's approval ratings.
Bremer left Iraq in June 2004, transferring power to the Iraqi Interim Government, which was led by Ayad Allawi. In January 2005, the Iraqi people voted on representatives for the Iraqi National Assembly, and the Shia United Iraqi Alliance formed a governing coalition led by Ibrahim al-Jaafari. In October 2005, the Iraqis ratified a new constitution that created a decentralized governmental structure dividing Iraq into communities of Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs, and Kurds. After a December 2005 election, Jafari was succeeded as prime minister by another Shia, Nouri al-Maliki. The elections failed to quell the insurgency, and hundreds of U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq died during 2005 and 2006. Sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shias also intensified following the 2006 al-Askari mosque bombing. In a December 2006 report, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group described the situation in Iraq as "grave and deteriorating," and the report called for the U.S. to gradually withdraw soldiers from Iraq.
As the violence mounted in 2006, Rumsfeld and military leaders such as Abizaid and George Casey, the commander of the coalition forces in Iraq, called for a drawdown of forces in Iraq, but many within in the administration argued that the U.S. should maintain its troop levels. Still intent on establishing a democratic government in Iraq, the Bush administration rejected a drawdown and began planning for a change in strategy and leadership following the 2006 elections. After the elections, Bush replaced Rumsfeld with Gates, while David Petraeus replaced Casey and William J. Fallon replaced Abizaid. Bush and his National Security Council formed a plan to "double down" in Iraq, increasing the number of U.S. soldiers in hopes of establishing a stable democracy. After Maliki indicated his support for an increase of U.S. soldiers, Bush announced in January 2007 that the U.S. would send an additional 20,000 soldiers to Iraq as part of a "surge" of forces. Though Senator McCain and a few other hawks supported Bush's new strategy, many other members of Congress from both parties expressed doubt or outright opposition to it.
In April 2007, Congress, now controlled by Democrats, passed a bill that called for a total withdrawal of all U.S. troops by April 2008, but Bush vetoed the bill. Without the votes to override the veto, Congress passed a bill that continued to fund the war but also included the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007, which increased the federal minimum wage. U.S. and Iraqi casualties continuously declined after May 2007, and Bush declared that the surge had been a success in September 2007. He subsequently ordered a drawdown of troops, and the number of U.S. soldiers in Iraq declined from 168,000 in September 2007 to 145,000 when Bush left office. The decline in casualties following the surge coincided with several other favorable trends, including the Anbar Awakening and Muqtada al-Sadr's decision to order his followers to cooperate with the Iraqi government. In 2008, at the insistence of Maliki, Bush signed the U.S.–Iraq Status of Forces Agreement, which promised complete withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of 2011. The U.S. would withdraw its forces from Iraq in December 2011, though it later re-deployed soldiers to Iraq to assist government forces in the Iraqi Civil War.
During and after the invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. captured numerous members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Rather than bringing the prisoners before domestic or international courts, Bush decided to set up a new system of military tribunals to try the prisoners. In order to avoid the restrictions of the United States Constitution, Bush held the prisoners at secret CIA prisons in various countries as well as at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. Because the Guantanamo Bay camp is on territory that the U.S. technically leases from Cuba, individuals within the camp are not accorded the same constitutional protections that they would have on U.S. territory. Bush also decided that these "enemy combatants" were not entitled to all of the protections of the Geneva Conventions as they were not affiliated with sovereign states. In hopes of obtaining information from the prisoners, Bush allowed the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as waterboarding. The treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, a U.S. prison in Iraq, elicited widespread outrage after photos of prisoner abuse were made public.
In 2005, Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act, which purported to ban torture, but in his signing statement Bush asserted that his executive power gave him the authority to waive the restrictions put in place by the bill. Bush's policies suffered a major rebuke from the Supreme Court in the 2006 case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, in which the court rejected Bush's use of military commissions without congressional approval and held that all detainees were protected by the Geneva Conventions. Following the ruling, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which effectively overturned Hamdan. The Supreme Court overturned a portion of that act in the 2008 case of Boumediene v. Bush, but the Guantanamo detention camp remained open at the end of Bush's presidency.
The Israeli–Palestinian conflict, ongoing since the middle of the 20th century, continued under Bush. After President Clinton's 2000 Camp David Summit had ended without an agreement, the Second Intifada had begun in September 2000. While previous administrations had tried to act as a neutral authority between the Israelis and Palestinians, the Bush administration placed the blame for the violence on the Palestinians, angering Arab states such as Saudi Arabia. However, Bush's support for a two-state solution helped smooth over a potential diplomatic split with the Saudis. In hopes of establishing peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, the Bush administration proposed the road map for peace, but his plan was not implemented and tensions were heightened following the victory of Hamas in the 2006 Palestinian elections.
Believing that protectionism hampered economic growth, Bush concluded free trade agreements with numerous countries. When Bush took office, the United States had free trade agreements with just three countries: Israel, Canada, and Mexico. Bush signed the Chile–United States Free Trade Agreement and the Singapore–United States Free Trade Agreement in 2003, and he concluded the Morocco-United States Free Trade Agreement and the Australia–United States Free Trade Agreement the following year. He also concluded the Bahrain–United States Free Trade Agreement, the Oman–United States Free Trade Agreement, the Peru–United States Trade Promotion Agreement, and the Dominican Republic–Central America Free Trade Agreement. Additionally, Bush reached free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama, though agreements with these countries were not ratified until 2011.
Bush emphasized creating a personal relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin in order to ensure harmonious relations between the U.S. and Russia. After meeting with Putin in June 2001, both presidents expressed optimism regarding cooperation between the two former Cold War rivals. After the 9/11 attacks, Putin allowed the U.S. to use Russian airspace, and Putin encouraged Central Asian states to grant basing rights to the U.S. In May 2002, the U.S. and Russia signed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, which sought to dramatically reduce the nuclear stockpiles of both countries. Relations between Bush and Putin cooled during Bush's second term, as Bush became increasingly critical of Putin's suppression of political opponents in Russia, and they fell to new lows after the outbreak of the Russo-Georgian War in 2008.
In his 2002 State of the Union Address, Bush grouped Iran with Iraq and North Korea as a member of the "Axis of Evil", accusing Iran of aiding terrorist organizations. In 2006, Iran re-opened three of its nuclear facilities, potentially allowing it to begin the process of building a nuclear bomb. After the resumption of the Iranian nuclear program, many within the U.S. military and foreign policy community speculated that Bush might attempt to impose regime change on Iran. In December 2006, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1737, which imposed sanctions on Iran in order to curb its nuclear program.
North Korea had developed weapons of mass destruction for several years prior to Bush's inauguration, and the Clinton administration had sought to trade economic assistance for an end to the North Korean WMD program. Though Secretary of State Powell urged the continuation of the rapprochement, other administration officials, including Vice President Cheney, were more skeptical of the good faith of the North Koreans. Bush instead sought to isolate North Korea in the hope that the regime would eventually collapse.
North Korea launched missile tests on July 5, 2006, leading to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1695. The country said on October 3, "The U.S. extreme threat of a nuclear war and sanctions and pressure compel the DPRK to conduct a nuclear test", which the Bush administration denied and denounced. Days later, North Korea followed through on its promise to test nuclear weapons. On October 14, the Security Council unanimously passed United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718, sanctioning North Korea for the test. In the waning days of his presidency, Bush attempted to re-open negotiations with North Korea, but North Korea continued to develop its nuclear programs.
Shortly after taking office, Bush pledged $200 million to The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Finding this effort insufficient, Bush assembled a team of experts to find the best way for the U.S. reduce the worldwide damage caused by the AIDS epidemic. The experts, led by Anthony S. Fauci, recommended that the U.S. focus on providing antiretroviral drugs to developing nations in Africa and the Caribbean. In his State of the Union message in January 2003, President Bush outlined a five-year strategy for global emergency AIDS relief, the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief. With the approval of Congress, Bush committed $15 billion to this effort, which represented a huge increase compared to funding under previous administrations. Near the end of his presidency, Bush signed a re-authorization of the program that doubled its funding. By 2012, the PEPFAR program provided antiretroviral drugs for over 4.5 million people.
Bush made 48 international trips to 72 different countries (in addition to visiting the West Bank) during his presidency.
He visited six continents: Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America. On one of his two trips to Sub-Saharan Africa, he visited three of the poorest countries in the world: Liberia, Rwanda, and Benin. He was the first sitting president to visit: Albania, Bahrain, Benin, Estonia, Georgia, Iraq, Lithuania, Mongolia, Qatar, Slovakia, Sweden, and the United Arab Emirates. Bush also made a secret trip to Iraq on Thanksgiving Day 2003 to dine with the troops. His father had made a similar visit to the U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia in 1990. On November 15–20, 2006, Bush made the third round the world presidential flight (after Johnson and Nixon).
The number of visits per country where he travelled are:
In July 2005, Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney's respective chief political advisers, Karl Rove and Lewis "Scooter" Libby, came under fire for revealing the identity of covert Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent Valerie Plame to reporters in the CIA leak scandal. Plame's husband, Joseph C. Wilson, had challenged Bush's assertion that Hussein had sought to obtain uranium from Africa, and a special prosecutor was tasked with determining whether administration officials had leaked Plame's identity in retribution against Wilson. Libby resigned on October 28, hours after his indictment by a grand jury on multiple counts of perjury, false statements, and obstruction in this case. In March 2007, Libby was convicted on four counts, and Cheney pressed Bush to pardon Libby. Rather than pardoning Libby or allowing him to go to jail, Bush commuted Libby's sentence, creating a split with Cheney, who accused Bush of leaving "a soldier on the battlefield."
In December 2006, Bush dismissed eight United States attorneys. Though these attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president, the large-scale mid-term dismissal was without precedent, and Bush faced accusations that he had dismissed the attorneys for purely political reasons. During the 2006 elections, several Republican officials complained that the U.S. attorneys had not sufficiently investigated voter fraud. With the encouragement of Harriet Miers and Karl Rove, Attorney General Gonzales dismissed eight U.S. attorneys who were considered insufficiently supportive of the administration's policies. Though Gonzales argued that the attorneys had been fired for performance reasons, publicly released documents showed that the attorneys were dismissed for political reasons. As a result of the dismissals and the subsequent congressional investigations, Rove and Gonzales both resigned. A 2008 report by the Justice Department inspector general found that the dismissals had been politically motivated, but no one was ever prosecuted in connection to the dismissals.
Bush's approval ratings ran the gamut from high to all-time record low. Bush began his presidency with ratings near fifty percent. In the time of national crisis following the September 11 attacks, polls showed approval ratings of greater than 85%, peaking in one October 2001 poll at 92%, and a steady 80–90% approval for about four months after the attacks. Afterward, his ratings steadily declined as the economy suffered and the Iraq War initiated by his administration continued. By early 2006, his average rating was averaging below 40%, and in July 2008, a poll indicated a near all-time low of 22%. Upon leaving office the final poll recorded his approval rating as 19%, a record low for any U.S. president.
In the 2002 mid-term elections, Bush became the first president since the 1930s to see his own party pick up seats in both houses of Congress. Republicans picked up two seats in the Senate elections, allowing them to re-take control of the chamber. Bush delivered speeches in several venues in support of his party, campaigning on his desire to remove the administration of Saddam Hussein. Bush saw the election results as a vindication of his domestic and foreign policies.
Bush and his campaign team seized on the idea of Bush as a "strong wartime leader," though this was undermined by the increasingly-unpopular Iraq War. His conservative policies on tax cuts and several other issues appealed to many on the right, but Bush could also lay claim to some centrist achievements, including No Child Left Behind, Sarbanes-Oxley, and Medicare Part D. Fearing that he might hurt Bush's re-election chances, Cheney offered to step down from the ticket, but Bush refused this offer, and the two were re-nominated without opposition at the 2004 Republican National Convention. On the advice of pollster Matthew Dowd, who perceived a steady decline in the number of swing voters, the 2004 Bush campaign emphasized turning out conservative voters rather than the persuasion of moderates.
In the 2004 Democratic primaries, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts defeated several other candidates, effectively clinching the nomination on March 2. A Vietnam War veteran, Kerry had voted to authorize the Iraq War but had come to oppose it. The Bush campaign sought to define Kerry as a "flip-flopper" due to his vote on a bill funding the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Kerry sought to convince Republican senator John McCain to become his running mate, but chose Senator John Edwards of North Carolina for the position after McCain rejected the offer. The election saw a major jump in turnout; while 105 million people had voted in 2000, 123 million people voted in 2004. Bush won 50.7% percent of the popular vote, making him the first individual to win a majority of the popular vote since 1988 United States presidential election, while Kerry took 48.3% of the popular vote. Bush won 286 electoral votes, winning Iowa, New Mexico, and every state he won in 2000 except for New Hampshire.
Damaged by the unpopularity of the Iraq War and President Bush, the Republicans lost control of both houses of Congress in the 2006 elections. Republicans were also damaged by various scandals, including the Jack Abramoff Indian lobbying scandal and the Mark Foley scandal. The elections confirmed Bush's declining popularity, as many of the candidates he had personally campaigned for were defeated. After the elections, Bush announced the resignation of Rumsfeld and promised to work with the new Democratic majority.
Under the terms of the twenty-second amendment, Bush was ineligible to seek a third term in 2008. Senator John McCain won the 2008 Republican primaries, while Democratic senator Barack Obama of Illinois defeated Senator Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic presidential nomination. Obama's victory in the Democratic primaries was due in large part to his strong opposition to the Iraq War, as Clinton had voted to authorize the Iraq War in 2002. McCain sought to distance himself from the unpopular policies of Bush, and Bush appeared only by satellite at the 2008 Republican National Convention, making him the first sitting president since Lyndon Johnson to not appear at his own party's convention.
McCain briefly took the lead in polls of the race taken after the Republican convention, but Obama quickly re-emerged as the leader in polls. McCain's campaign was badly damaged by the unpopularity of the Bush administration and the Iraq War, and McCain's response to the outbreak of a full-blown financial crisis in September 2008 was widely viewed as erratic. Obama won 365 electoral votes and 52.9% of the popular vote. The election gave Democrats unified control of the legislative and executive branches for the first time since the 1994 elections. After the election, Bush congratulated Obama and invited him to the White House. With the help of the Bush administration, the presidential transition of Barack Obama was widely regarded as successful, particularly for a transition between presidents of different parties. During his inauguration on January 20, 2009, Obama thanked Bush for his service as president and his support of Obama's transition.
A 2009 C-SPAN survey of historians ranked Bush in 36th place among the 42 former presidents. A 2017 C-Span poll of historians ranked Bush as the 33rd greatest president. A 2018 poll of the American Political Science Association's Presidents and Executive Politics section ranked Bush as the 30th greatest president. Historian Melvyn Leffler writes that the Bush administration's achievements in foreign policy "were outweighed by the administration's failure to achieve many of its most important goals."
In summing up evaluations of Bush's presidency, Gary L. Gregg II writes:
Andrew Rudalevige has compiled a list of the 14 most important achievements under the Bush administration:
Reflections on the Bush presidency