The Bush Legacy: My View - Part 1
I recently did a Google search on "The Bush Legacy", and got 2,300,000 results. It is amusing to read any number of these stories about what some people view to be the legacy of George W. Bush. For those on the Left, he was a fascist dictator who presided over eight years of unmitigated disaster, which will take years or decades to correct. For them, every single problem which occurred anywhere in the world during the last eight years was caused by Bush, while liberals have been the shining beacon of hope for mankind. For those on the Right, Bush was a big-government, free-spending conservative who wasn't able to contain government growth, let alone cut it. For them, his principle crime is that he wasn't Ronald Reagan. In any case, if you are "fortunate" enough to read some of these stories, then it might be advisable to take most of them with a "grain of salt" -- especially the ones that drip with profanity, vitriol, sarcasm and/or ad hominem attacks.
According to a recent poll from the American Research Group, Bush entered his final month in office with a disapproval rating of 67%, matching the highest for any President in history (Harry Truman was the previous record holder). Richard Nixon resigned from office following the Watergate scandal with a disapproval rating of "only" 66%. It is not surprising then to find so many negative articles about "The Bush Legacy", especially considering that the vast majority of reporters and journalists are liberals (the kind of people who like to write such stories). Evidence of this became clear in June 2007 when Bill Dedman, an investigative reporter for MSNBC.com, reported that a study of Federal Election Commission records revealed that out of 144 well-known reporters, 125 gave money to Democrats or liberal causes, while only 17 gave to Republicans or conservative causes. The remaining 2 gave to both parties or causes.
Nevertheless, as you might imagine, one person's "negative" can be another person's "positive". I found myself chuckling over a few of the "disastrous... far-reaching, negative consequences" of the Bush administration listed by Paul Cummins in an article at the Huffington Post which goes back to 2006. Included in his list are things like: tax cuts, de-regulation, "weakening" the separation of church and state, protecting the gun industry from lawsuits, rejection of the U.N. and other international organizations, increased military spending, rejection of minimum wage increases, attempts to privatize Social Security, and so on. As a conservative, most of these are things I would find myself applauding George W. Bush for.
It is clear then, that any discussion of the Bush Legacy will inherently be colored by the political or philosophical views of the author. It is nearly impossible to produce an unbiased view of this, or any President's legacy. And, without the luxury of time to reflect back on what kind of place our nation and our world have become as a result of his policies, we can only attempt to suggest what history might say about him by doing our best to remove our political blinders.
Let us then consider some facts as we know them...
A Decade of Partisanship
The 2000 U.S. presidential election was one of the most divisive in American history. It pitted Texas Governor George W. Bush (Republican) against Vice President Al Gore (Democrat). Bush narrowly won the election, with 271 electoral votes to Al Gore's 266. The election was ultimately decided following a controversy over Florida's 25 electoral votes (and thus the presidency). The vote in Florida went to a recount, which led to charges of counting errors and voters being disenfranchised. "Hanging chads" and "butterfly ballots" became household phrases. Oddly enough, the losing candidate (Al Gore), received more popular votes than the winner (George Bush). It was the closest presidential election since 1876.
The controversy began when television networks started calling the state of Florida for Al Gore at approximately 7:50 PM EST, ten minutes before the polls even closed in the Florida panhandle. However, as the vote continued to come in, the TV networks were forced to change their predictions. At about 10:00 PM EST, they put Florida back in the "Undecided" category. At about 2:30 AM they declared Bush the winner and President-Elect. At around 4:30 AM, Gore reduced Bush's lead in Florida to just over 2,000 votes as final vote tallies came in from the heavily-Democratic counties of Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach. Some of the networks again reversed themselves and called the race to close to call. Although Gore had already secretly conceded the election to Bush, Gore changed his mind, reversed the concession, and demanded a recount.
A recount took place, which led to questions about counting procedures, and then ultimately to lawsuits. The lawsuits ended up in (2) U.S. Supreme Court decisions. The first decision (7-2) was that the Florida Supreme Court's plan for recounting ballots was unconstitutional. The second decision (5-4) ended the recounts and allowed Florida to certify its vote, in favor of George W. Bush. Democrats made allegations of corruption, suggesting that Florida's Republican Secretary of State (Katherine Harris) conspired with Florida's Rebulican Governor (Jeb Bush) -- George Bush's younger brother -- to "steal" the election from Al Gore. But the allegations were never substantiated.
The bitter partisanship which ensued following the election controversy didn't begin in the year 2000, however. It actually started in 1998 with the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Democrats never forgave the Republicans for pursuing the impeachment proceedings, and now they were even angrier after the 2000 election. They felt like the presidency was robbed from them, despite recount studies which proved that Bush won.
It was into this climate of hard feelings and bitter partisanship then, that George W. Bush entered the presidency. It was an environment in which the Democrats were primed for confrontation. What made things worse, is that the base of the Democratic party was largely liberal, while the Republican party base was largely conservative. It was a fight just waiting to happen, and happen it did. The fireworks of partisanship continued (mostly unabated) from 1998 until the end of Bush's second term in 2008. Only in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 did the bickering subside -- but not for long. Only time will tell if a President Obama can quell the partisan animosity.
The 'Idiot' President
From the very beginning of his presidency, George W. Bush was labeled by his detractors as an 'idiot'. After the election, his first television appearances seem stilted and awkward. He had that "deer-in-the-headlights" look that suggested he was unsuited for office. He seemed to lack confidence and got tripped up over the names of foreign dignitaries. He was clearly not an eloquent speaker and regularly stumbled over his words. The irritation of the 'word-smiths' in the media soon became apparent. Their question of: "How the heck did this idiot get elected?" was often implied if not asked directly. Left-leaning 'bloggers' were far less shy about asking the question.
In a good-natured, self-deprecating manner, President Bush joked that he was "known to mangle a few syl-LAB'-bulls" now and then, but many on the Left were merciless. They didn't like him and, with just a hint of elitism, they created a caricature of Bush as a bumbling idiot who was liable to ruin the country. Before long, it was even being suggested that Vice President Dick Cheney and Bush strategist Karl Rove were actually running the country, while Bush was merely a puppet.
Bush cartoon from 2001.
Even in the 2006 article by Paul Cummins mentioned above, President Bush is painted as a person guilty of: "Furthering anti-intellectualism - a president who admittedly does not read and is embarrassingly inarticulate" [emphasis added]. Nevertheless, Karl Rove has disputed such statements in a recent article at the Wall Street Journal. According to Rove, Bush is a "book lover" who read (95) books in 2005, at least (58) in 2006, (51) in 2007, and (40) in 2008. Besides that, Bush read the Bible cover-to-cover during each of those years along with a daily devotional. Rove said that President Bush enjoys heavy doses of history and biography, along with some novels and books on current events thrown in for a change of pace. Rove further went on to list some of the impressive titles Bush devoured during those years.
There is a myth perpetuated by Bush critics that he would rather burn a book than read one. Like so many caricatures of the past eight years, this one is not only wrong, but also the opposite of the truth and evidence that bitterness can devour a small-minded critic. Mr. Bush loves books, learns from them, and is intellectually engaged by them. --Karl Rove, Bush Is A Book Lover, WSJ.com, December 28 2008
While it is true that Bush might be one of the most inarticulate Presidents we have ever had, it should be remembered that he was a history major at Yale, and graduated from the Harvard Business School with an MBA (no easy feat for an "idiot" who "does not read"). Not only that, but his grades at Yale -- which were only average -- still surpassed those of John Kerry (Bush's opponent in the 2004 election), who also attended Yale during approximately the same time period. Yet, Kerry was considered by many to be the more intellectual of the two. Bush critics have been quick to seize upon his lack of eloquence and turn it into "proof" of his ignorance -- a non sequitur if ever there was one.
It should also be pointed out that President Bush was a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard where he flew the F-102 'Delta Dagger' (also known as "The Deuce"). The F-102 was a supersonic jet capable of Mach 1.25 (825 mph), altitudes of 53,400 ft, with a Rate of Climb at 13,000 ft/min. For avionics, it employed the MG-10 fire control system. It could be fitted with (24) unguided rockets, or (6) AIM-4 air-to-air missiles, or (3) AIM-4 missiles plus (1) AIM-26 missile with either a conventional or nuclear warhead. The aircraft was an important element of America's Air National Defense from 1960-1973. The initial batch of NASA astronauts, commonly referred to as the "Mercury 7", flew the aircraft to keep up their flight hours. The F-102 was not an aircraft that would be readily entrusted to an "idiot".
F-102A 'Delta Dagger'
Less than 2 months before the 2004 Presidential election, Dan Rather and CBS News publicized six documents that were critical of President Bush and his service in the Texas Air National Guard. Often referred to as Rathergate, a controversy was sparked when the CBS show called '60 Minutes Wednesday' tried to pass off the documents as authentic. The documents were almost immediately called into question by Right-leaning 'bloggers' who said the typeset looked suspiciously computer-generated. You can see a "blink comparison" of one such document below. Charles Johnson, conservative and founder of the blog "Little Green Footballs" created this animated GIF comparison of a purported 1970's era typewritten memo with a 2004-era MS Word document using default settings...
Unfortunately, CBS had failed to authenticate the documents, and subsequently, several typewriter and typography experts concluded that the documents were forgeries. Nevertheless, Dan Rather continued to argue that even though the documents might not be authentic, the underlying story was still true. But without proof, his arguments rang hollow and sounded desperately partisan. No forensic document examiners or typography experts have ever examined the original documents. The provider of the documents, a Lt. Colonel Bill Burkett, claims to have burned the originals after faxing the copies to CBS. CBS News producer Mary Mapes was forced to resign, and CBS News eventually apologized to its viewers. Dan Rather resigned several months later, although he said it had nothing to do with the controversy.
The China-U.S. Spyplane Incident
On April 1st, 2001 a collision occurred between a U.S. Navy EP-3E signals reconnaissance aircraft (the "spyplane"), and a Chinese military fighter jet over the South China Sea. The EP-3 was operating about 70 miles away from the Chinese island of Hainan, which China claimed was its airspace according to the "UN Convention on the Law of the Sea". China was a signatory to that Convention, but the U.S. was not. The U.S. considered that area where the incident took place to be international waters.
The Chinese and the U.S. version of events differs, and each blamed the other for the collision. The Chinese J-8 jet was chopped in half and the pilot, Wang Wei, was forced to eject. He was never found, and was presumed dead. The nosecone and a propellor on the EP-3 were badly damaged, and the plane was forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan island.
Damaged EP-3 Reconnaissance Aircraft on Hainan Island - April 2001.
After landing, the U.S. aircraft crew attempted to destroy sensitive equipment on board the aircraft, but reports indicate the crew was only partially successful. Apparently the Chinese were later able to gather intelligence information from the equipment. The crew of 24 disembarked the plane and were taken into custody by the Chinese who interrogated them. Three U.S. diplomats were sent to Hainan to determine their condition and negotiate their release.
The initial reporting of the incident was somewhat ominous. Oxford Analytica described the significance of the event this way...
The incident will inflame tensions between Washington and Beijing at a time when the two countries are already at odds over US arms sales to Taiwan, China's human rights record and its alleged supply of equipment for military use to Iraq. The way in which the affair is handled will provide important clues to the future of Sino-US relations under the Bush administration. --Oxford Analytica, CHINA/US: Spy Plane Collision, April 2 2001
The Chinese government refused to allow the plane to be repaired and to take off under its own power, resulting in a "stand-off". The incident was increasingly being painted as a "Litmus Test" for President Bush...
The nearly week-old U.S.-China standoff over the EP-3 dominated editorial pages overseas... Commentators in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan saw the spat as indicative of China's enhanced standing as a world power. From Europe, writers worried that diplomatic efforts could be hindered by internal jockeying for power in both Beijing and Washington, with "hawks" in both capitals "exerting pressure for a 'tough line' without compromise." --GlobalSecurity.org, 'Bush Faces Litmus Test In Spy Plane Crisis', April 6 2001
After preliminary expressions of U.S. regret, the Chinese demanded a formal apology. The U.S. issued the "Letter of Two Sorries", saying that the United States was "very sorry" for the death of Chinese pilot Wang Wei, and "We are very sorry [that] the entering of China's airspace and the landing did not have verbal clearance..."
The crew was released on April 11, 2001 shortly after the letter was delivered, and they returned to the U.S. via Hawaii. The EP-3 was disassembled and sent home in pieces. The plane was officially released from Chinese custody on July 3rd when the last piece arrived in the United States. And President Bush was seen to have handled the situation in a positive manner which reduced tensions between the two powers. Prime Minister Howard of Australia praised Bush for his handling of the situation...
Australian Prime Minister John Howard on Thursday praised U.S. President George W. Bush for his handling of the recent U.S.-China diplomatic standoff. "I think the president has handled the issue with a great deal of patience but also considerable strength," said Howard... Howard said he did not believe Bush could be criticized over his handling of the incident, which tested relations between the two powerful nations. --BNET, Howard Praises Bush Over Handling of Spy Plane Crisis, April 12 2001
Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao shake hands.
Bush's handling of this incident set the tone for U.S.-China relations over the next 7 years. The Sino-American relationship was undoubtedly one of the bright spots of the Bush years. As President Bush prepares to leave office, an article in the Asia Times says...
Chinese leaders may be forgiven for some feelings of nostalgia for the outgoing US president... for the most part, his presidency has been a boon for China, which has continued its relentless rise as a world power under his largely congenial watch... On New Year's Day, Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao exchanged warm, congratulatory messages marking the 30th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the US and China... From a Chinese perspective, Bush has been a good steward of the Sino-American relationship... While other Western leaders such as French President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed reservations about attending the opening ceremony of the Olympics, Bush always was and continued to be a great supporter of China as Olympic host... On the sticky political issue of Taiwan, Bush officials have also been notably accommodating to Beijing... the Chinese, using their huge chest of foreign currency reserves, chose to underwrite America's enormous debt with the purchase of $653 billion in US Treasury securities, making China by far the world's largest holder of these securities... In the diplomatic arena, Bush officials received lots of help from the Chinese in the six-party nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea... Now, however, the world's most important bilateral relationship is threatened by the global recession, and an Obama presidency creates additional uncertainty. --Kent Ewing, In China, Bush Nostalgia, Asia Times, January 6 2009
Aftermath of 9/11
Less than eight months into his first year as President, George W. Bush would be tested again with the tragic events of September 11, 2001. It was the worst attack on American soil in U.S. history. More people died in one day than perished at Pearl Harbor. The events of 9/11 would change America and the world forever, in part because President Bush himself changed dramatically. He became focused and resolute. He became determined that another major attack like 9/11 would not happen again on his "watch". With very few days remaining in his second term as President, it appears that he will have made good on that promise.
The actions taken by President Bush in response to the events of 9/11 were wide-ranging and significant. He declared a "Global War on Terror". He did so because he realized that al-Qaeda had cells and affiliated organizations around the world, and it was important to address them all...
This group and its leader - a person named Osama bin Laden - are linked to many other organizations in different countries, including the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. There are thousands of these terrorists in more than 60 countries. They are recruited from their own nations and neighborhoods and brought to camps in places like Afghanistan, where they are trained in the tactics of terror. They are sent back to their homes or sent to hide in countries around the world to plot evil and destruction... Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated. --President George W. Bush, Address to Congress, September 20 2001
He also knew that some rogue nations would be willing to harbor terrorists. Therefore, he issued an ultimatum...
And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime. --President George W. Bush, Address to Congress, September 20 2001
He initiated 'Operation Enduring Freedom' in Afghanistan with the stated goals of destroying the terrorist training camps there, and the capture of al-Qaeda leaders. The result was the liberation of Afghanistan. He deployed Special Operations forces to the Philippines to assist in the uprooting of terrorists there, including members of al-Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf, and Jemaah Islamiyah. He pushed for and signed into law the USA Patriot Act of 2001. He froze the assets of various front groups within the U.S. that were known to be funneling money to overseas terror groups. He worked with our allies around the world to freeze the assets of individuals and organizations with ties to terror. He created the Department of Homeland Security, and began the process of breaking down the "wall of separation" between the CIA and the FBI (which was at least partly to blame for our failure to prevent 9/11). He initiated various covert operations to improve U.S. intelligence gathering about potential threats, some of which later became highly controversial when they came to light.
Most of the steps which President Bush took during this period and/or the programs which he started, are still in effect. Some have been modified to address concerns about the civil liberties of Americans, but for all practical purposes those policies and programs are largely unchanged. And Americans are safer today as a result of those measures established by George W. Bush following 9/11. Terrorists and terrorist leaders worldwide have been captured or killed. Terrorist plots have been thwarted. Hundreds, if not thousands, of lives have been saved.
In an article dated November 13th 2007, at the Heritage Foundation, James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. describes (19) terrorist attacks on American soil that were thwarted since 9/11. While few of these attacks would likely have been as catastrophic as the events of 9/11, these thwarted plots "could have resulted in significant loss of life and property if they had been conducted successfully." All of the thwarted plots mentioned were those available through public information at the time the article was written. Other plots may have been made public since then of which I am unaware, and there may be others that have not been made public because they remain classified information.
We also know that at least a few of the terrorist plots that have been thwarted overseas were due to the efforts of, or in cooperation with, American intelligence services. In fact, it has recently been reported that the U.S. warned India of an impending water-borne attack on Mumbai, but nothing was done with the information. As a result, at least 173 people were killed, and over 300 more were wounded in a series of ten coordinated terrorist attacks throughout the city.
And, in the face of opposition from civil liberties proponents, President Bush has managed to vigorously defend his anti-terror policies...
Bush has succeeded in beating back nearly all legal challenges -- including those to some of his most controversial policies. Among them are a domestic surveillance program to intercept international phone calls, the rounding up of Muslim men for questioning after the Sept. 11 attacks, the holding of suspects in military custody in this country without filing charges, harsh interrogations -- some have called it torture -- of suspects arrested abroad, and the detention of foreign captives at a military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Because of the administration's successful defense of such policies, they not only will be a part of Bush's legacy but will be around for his successors. Even if Barack Obama rejects or sharply modifies Bush's positions, the precedents will remain for future chief executives...
Bush's anti-terrorism policies have not been blocked by the courts or Congress. When the Supreme Court struck down Bush's use of special military trials at Guantanamo on grounds that he had no legal basis for creating them, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act to authorize the trials.
When critics claimed the National Security Agency was violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by intercepting calls without a warrant, Congress passed a law to authorize such wiretapping. The same measure also granted legal immunity to telephone companies that had cooperated with the administration.
--L.A. Times, Bush Has Successfully Defended Anti-terrorism Policies, December 30 2008
The Liberation of Afghanistan
The liberation of Afghanistan started in early October 2001, marking the beginning of the U.S. "Global War on Terror". The Afghan Northern Alliance provided the majority of fighting forces, while the U.S. and a coalition of other countries provided support. The coalition countries included: the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Australia, Pakistan and New Zealand. The U.S. military name of the conflict was Operation Enduring Freedom. During the prosecution of Operation Enduring Freedom, the brutal Islamist regime of the Taliban was deposed, al-Qaeda terrorist training camps were destroyed, and the al-Qaeda leadership was forced to flee the country.
Following the attacks of 9/11, investigations began implicating Osama bin Laden as the perpetrator. Even though he initially denied any involvement, Osama bin Laden later admitted his involvement in the attacks through an audiotape he released shortly before the 2004 U.S. presidential election. On May 21st, 2006, bin Laden went so far as to say that he had personally directed the 19 hijackers, in yet another audiotape posted on an al-Qaeda website. It was well-known by intelligence officials that Osama bin Laden was residing in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban, a Sunni Islamist pro-Pashtun movement which ruled most of Afghanistan since 1996 under brutal Sharia Law.
George Bush addresses Congress - Sept 20 2001.
In his Address to Congress on September 20 2001, President George W. Bush delivered an ultimatum to the Taliban, and further stated that these demands were NOT open to negotiation or discussion:
The Taliban at first refused to respond, saying that talking with a non-Muslim political leader would be an insult to Islam. They later responded through their embassy in Pakistan demanding evidence of bin Laden's involvement in the September 11th attacks. They also proposed to try Bush in an Islamic court. Later, when U.S. military action appeared imminent, they offered to extradite bin Laden to a neutral nation. There were also reports that moderates within the Taliban met with American embassy officials in Pakistan to discuss the possibility of turning bin Laden over to the U.S. in order to avoid military intervention. President Bush rejected these offers as insincere, and not in compliance with the demands of the ultimatum.
At approximately 16:30 UTC (12:30 EDT) on Sunday October 7, 2001, American and British forces began an aerial bombing campaign targeting Taliban and al-Qaeda forces. Strikes were reported in the capital, Kabul (where electricity supplies were severed), at the airport, at Kandahar (home of the Taliban's Supreme Leader Mullah Omar), and also in the city of Jalalabad (military/terrorist training camps). The U.S. government said these attacks came as a response to the failure of the Taliban to meet any of the U.S. demands. The Taliban condemned these attacks as an "attack on Islam."
The strikes initially focused on the area in and around the cities of Kabul, Jalalabad, and Kandahar. Within a few days, most al-Qaeda training sites had been severely damaged and the Taliban's air defenses had been destroyed. The campaign then focused on communications and "command & control". The Taliban began losing the ability to coordinate, and their morale began to sink. However, the line of Taliban facing the Northern Alliance held firm, and there were no battlefield successes to report. Two weeks into the campaign, the Northern Alliance demanded that the bombing focus on the front lines. Critics began to suggest that the war would be lost. Civilian casualties began to mount.
The next stage of the campaign began with carrier-based F/A-18 Hornet fighter-bombers, while other U.S. planes began cluster bombing Taliban defenses. Northern Alliance commanders finally began to see the results that they had hoped for. The Taliban were beginning to crumble under the pressure of the strikes. U.S. Special Forces then launched an audacious raid deep into the Taliban's heartland of Kandahar, even striking one of Mullah Omar's compounds. However, the campaign's progress seemed to remain slow. It was now the end of October.
In the next stage of the air campaign the Taliban front lines were bombed with 15,000-pound daisy cutter bombs, and strafed by AC-130 gunships. Poor Taliban tactics increased the effects of the strikes. The fighters had no previous experience with American firepower, and often even stood on top of bare ridgelines where Special Forces could easily spot them and call in close air support. By November 2nd, Taliban frontal positions were decimated. Foreign fighters from al-Qaeda took over security in the Afghan cities from the Taliban regime.
Carpet-bombing in Afghanistan
On November 9th, the battle for Mazar-e-Sharif began. U.S. bombers carpet-bombed Taliban defenders concentrated in the Chesmay-e-Safa gorge that marks the entrance to the city. At 2 PM, Northern Alliance forces then swept in from the south and west, seizing the city's main military base and airport. The forces then mopped up the remnants of the Taliban in the gorge in front of the city, meeting only light resistance. Within 4 hours, the battle was over.
On November 10th, Northern Alliance forces swept through five northern provinces in a rapid advance. The fall of Mazar-e-Sharif had triggered a complete collapse of Taliban positions. Many local commanders switched sides rather than fight. The regime was beginning to unravel throughout the north. Many of the their front line troops were outflanked and then surrounded in the northern city of Konduz (or Kunduz) as the Nothern Alliance drove past them southwards. Even in the south, their hold on power seemed tenuous at best. The religious police stopped their regular patrols. A complete implosion of the Taliban regime seemed imminent.
On the night of November 12th, Taliban forces fled from the city of Kabul, sneaking away under cover of darkness in a massive retreat. The Northern Alliance forces arrived in the afternoon of November 13th. A small group of perhaps twenty hardline Arab fighters hiding in the city's park were the only remaining defenders. This Taliban group was killed in a brief 15-minute gun battle. Kabul was now in the hands of the Northern Alliance and US/NATO forces.
Northern Alliance captures Kabul - Nov 13 2001
The fall of Kabul marked the beginning of a collapse of Taliban positions across the country. Within 24 hours, all of the Afghan provinces along the Iranian border, including the key city of Herat, had fallen. Local Pashtun commanders and warlords had taken over throughout northeastern Afghanistan, including the key city of Jalalabad. By the end of November, Kandahar was the last remaining Taliban stronghold and was coming under increasing pressure. Nearly 3,000 Afghan tribal fighters, led by Hamid Karzai and Gul Agha Sherzai, put pressure on Taliban forces from the east and cut off the northern Taliban supply lines to Kandahar.
On December 6th, Mullah Omar began to signal that he was ready to surrender Kandahar. His forces were broken by heavy U.S. bombing, and his morale appeared to lag. On December 7th, Mullah Mohammad Omar slipped out of the city of Kandahar with a group of his hardcore loyalists, reneging on his promise to surrender fighters and weapons. Other members of the Taliban leadership fled into Pakistan through the remote passes of Paktia and Paktika provinces. Kandahar was the last Taliban-controlled city. When it fell the majority of the Taliban fighters disbanded. The border town of Spin Boldak surrendered on the same day, marking the end of Taliban control in Afghanistan. The Afghan tribal forces under Gul Agha Sherzai seized the city of Kandahar while the Marines took control of the airport outside and established a U.S. base.
In December 2001, exiled Afghan political leaders - many with no followers inside Afghanistan - gathered in Bonn, Germany to agree on new leadership structures. Under the December 5th Bonn Agreement they formed an interim Transitional Administration and named Hamid Karzai Chairman of a 29-member governing committee. Following a Loya Jirga (or grand council of major Afghan factions, tribal leaders, and former exiles), an interim Afghan government was established in Kabul under Karzai. He was sworn-in as leader on December 22nd, 2001.
The Loya Jirga of June 19, 2002 appointed Hamid Karzai interim holder of the new position as President of the Afghan Transitional Administration and he was appointed shortly afterwards with Hedayat Amin Arsala as one of his vice presidents. Karzai was a candidate in the October 9th, 2004 Presidential Elections. Despite a perceived lack of national support he won 21 of the 34 provinces, defeating his 22 opponents. He became the first democratically elected leader of Afghanistan. The national election commission on November 3rd declared Karzai the winner, without runoff, having received 55.4% of the total 8.1 million votes cast.
Karzai was officially sworn in as President of Afghanistan on December 7th, 2004 at a formal ceremony in Kabul. Many interpreted the ceremony as a symbolically important "new start" for the war torn nation. Notable guests at the inauguration included the country's former King, Zahir Shah, Afghanistan's three living former presidents, and American Vice President Dick Cheney.
In recent months the Taliban have been showing signs of resurgence in Afghanistan, but President George W. Bush must be credited with the liberation of nearly 30 million Afghanis and the establishment of a democratically-elected government there. Where formerly they had been repressed, women are now able to work and young girls are now allowed to receive an education. Health care is more available, and infrastructure is being repaired. There are still problems of course, but life in general is significantly improved since the Taliban were deposed.