The Bush Administration
George Bush, Reagan’s vice president, won
the presidency in 1988. Bush faced a crumbling Soviet Union, extreme
tension in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, and a huge budget deficit.
In addition, a recession began in 1990 and lasted until 1992, sapping
tax income for the government and leading to a cut in social programs.
The End of the Cold War
Under Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader
who assumed power in 1985, the USSR became a less aggressive world
power and more amenable to reform. On November 9, 1989, the Berlin
Wall was torn down amid much euphoria, signifying the end
of the Cold War. In August 1991, Bush and Gorbachev agreed to reduce
their nuclear arsenals by one quarter. With the USSR tottering on
the brink of economic collapse, hard-line Communists attempted to
oust Mikhail Gorbachev to prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Their efforts, however, were blocked by Boris Yeltsin,
the president of the new Russian federation, who led the drive to
dissolve the USSR. Yeltsin and the leaders of the other Soviet republics
soon declared an end to the USSR, forcing Gorbachev to resign.
In November 1989, the Berlin Wall was torn down,
symbolizing an end to the Cold War.
After the fall of the USSR, U.S. foreign relations radically
transformed around the globe as the Bush administration extended
economic support to the former Soviet republics and revoked its
support from governments favored only for their opposition to leftist
forces. China remained staunchly communist, however, and relations
with China soured in 1989 when the Chinese army violently crushed
a pro-democracy protest in Tiananmen Square.
The Gulf War
Led by Saddam Hussein, Iraq invaded its tiny
neighbor, Kuwait, in August 1990. President Bush rallied the U.S.
Congress and people, as well as the United Nations, in support of
a counterattack to force the Iraqis out. In January 1991, the Gulf
War began with an air assault on Iraqi troops, supply lines,
and communications bases in Baghdad. The military campaign, led
by Army General H. Norman Schwartzkopf, was called “Operation Desert Storm.”
The American people watched the attacks on TV in carefully edited
clips. In late February, U.S. ground troops began an attack on Kuwait
City, driving out the Iraqis stationed there in under a week. Victory
was achieved with only 148 American deaths. More than 100,000 Iraqis,
military and civilian, died.
One important area of George Bush’s domestic policy was
the environment. In March 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil
tanker ran aground, spilling over 10 million gallons of crude oil into
the waters of Alaska’s Prince William Sound. The spill galvanized
environmentalists and provoked a worldwide initiative to clean up
the environment. Bush cooperated with the Democratic Congress to
pass the Clean Air Act in 1990. At other times, though, the Bush
administration clashed with environmentalists, advocating fossil-fuel
extraction in Alaska, avoiding international environmental treaties,
and even ridiculing environmentalists.