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Review of 2001 Wednesday, 2 January, 2002, 09:21 GMT
Bush: Man with a mission
President George Bush visits Ground Zero
Attacks: Only one chance for Bush to get it right
Tom Carver

What a year it has been for George Walker Bush, former baseball team owner turned president.

During his presidential campaign, the home boy from Texas could not remember the name of the president of Pakistan.

One year on, he and Mr Musharraf have been thrown together in a way no-one could have foreseen - fate's idea of a little joke no doubt.

Supporters of Al Gore protest on recount
Controversial start: Bush's win was contested
Meanwhile Mr Bush's presidential rival (remember him?) who would have named any head of state you wanted, languishes in the political wilderness, working for a West Coast financial company.

Any sensible script writer would surely have put it the other way round, with the foreign policy expert Al Gore leading America through this crisis and Mr Bush enjoying a life of financial ease in the sun.

Confident start

What a difference a few hundred votes can make.

George Bush began his presidency with the shadow of the disputed 2000 election hanging over him.

The first surprise was that he did not let it bother him.

To the dismay of the Washington press corps, policies were presented in a 'take it or leave it' manner.

Aides were under strict orders not to leak or even to talk on background.

Alarm abroad

Abroad, he was greeted with alarm. He seemed to confirm his caricature as a Texan oilman when he ordered drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Reserve.

Jiang Zemin
Tricky negotiations: China plane crisis
Europeans muttered about his 'dangerous' enthusiasm for a missile shield and laughed at his diplomatic faux pas when he visited the Pope in Rome.

The first sign that he might be more even-keeled than many supposed came with the China spy plane incident, during which he managed to avoid turning a drama into a crisis without making any significant concessions to Beijing.

In fact, his greatest faux pas were made at home. He and his team failed to appreciate the importance of reaching out to Congress - until too late.

Floor crossing

In June, Jim Jeffords, a moderate Republican from Vermont, switched sides and threw the Senate to the Democrats.

Jim Jeffords
Jim Jeffords switched sides
It made George Bush's claims to be a healer not a divider sound hollow, and at one stroke made his legislative programme 10 times harder to achieve.

It is likely to prove the costliest political mistake of his presidency.

Furthermore, economic storm clouds were gathering.

The dot.com boom came tumbling down. Mr Bush refused to give up his election promise of tax cuts and as a result, the federal budget, after years of fat surpluses, is now likely to be in deficit for the remainder of his presidency.

So much for the Republicans being the party of fiscal responsibility.

Big mission

But one sunny morning, all this was suddenly shoved to the backburner of history.

Colin Powell, George Bush, Dick Cheney
Bush's team - almost perfect for the crisis
On 11 September, the Bush presidency acquired in a couple of hours what Bill Clinton had spent eight years looking for - a mission.

Perhaps it is in the nature of America, but whilst many countries would have been consumed by the scale of the disaster that had befallen them, the Bush White House quickly started talking about the opportunities it presented: to wipe out terrorism, to curtail repressive regimes and even to resolve the Middle East issue.

As it turned out, Mr Bush had assembled the almost perfect team for this crisis, more by luck than planning.

Donald Rumsfeld, who was struggling to stay afloat as Secretary of Defence, has made an inspirational 'Secretary of War'.

Plane hits World Trade Center
Mr Bush did not retaliate immediately
Dick Cheney and Colin Powell have provided essential counterweights of experience from the Gulf War.

Mr Bush avoided the first temptation - to retaliate at once.

It would not have been difficult, as the Clinton presidency had left a long list of al-Qaeda targets and suspects. But instead President Bush, guided by the ever-cautious Colin Powell, concentrated on building a coalition and getting his forces in place.

Crisis management

His straightforward approach paid dividends. Mr Bush was able to forge a surprising bond with President Putin and he avoided creating diplomatic confusion by drawing a line in the sand and telling nations that they had to decide which side they were on.

He knew that the world, especially the Middle East, would give him only one chance and he had to get it right.

In hindsight it might be easy to say that the Taleban was on the verge of collapse and that America could hardly have failed to beat them.

Bush greets US troops
Bush has avoided high US casualty figures
But wars have a nasty habit of coming apart at the seams. It would only have needed another terrorist attack or a sizeable number of American casualties or serious unrest in Pakistan and the whole plan could have gone awry.

The reason it has not is due in large part to the careful and thorough planning of the Bush administration.

Like his father, George junior is not big on vision. But quite enough vision has been provided by the gaping hole in the Pentagon and downtown New York.

What is needed is the careful application of a sensible plan - someone who can steer a path through this crisis without tripping over his own dreams of grandeur.

Much remains to be done and much could still go wrong, but so far, in George W Bush, America appears to have found her man.

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