George H. W. Bush / George H. W. Bush - Key Events

George H. W. Bush - Key Events

Bush Inaugurated

George H. W. Bush is inaugurated as the forty-first President. 

Bank Bail-Out Plan Introduced

President Bush, at a White House press conference, introduces his bail-out plan for troubled savings and loans banks. It provides for the sale of $50 billion in government bonds to finance the bail-out and gives the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) regulatory oversight over S&Ls.

Semi-Automatic Rifle Ban

The Bush administration, at the urging of federal drug czar, William Bennett, announces a temporary ban on the importation of semi-automatic rifles, a reversal of President Bush's earlier statements indicating that no restriction on these firearms would be enacted.  

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

In the worst oil spill on American territory, the Exxon Valdez supertanker runs aground in southeastern Alaska. The tanker dumps 240,000 barrels of oil into the surrounding waters and causes extensive environmental damage. 

Bush Offers Poland Assistance

President Bush offers a program of special assistance for Poland, whose Communist government has agreed to negotiations with the opposition Solidarity party which produce a plan for free elections. Elections are held in August, 1989, which lead to the end of single-party rule in Poland. 

Tiananmen Square Massacre

The People's Liberation Army, the military arm of the Chinese government, uses tanks and armored cars to suppress a burgeoning pro-democracy movement that had encamped in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Estimates on the number of demonstrators killed vary between 700 and 2,700. 

Bush Condemns China’s Actions

In the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacres, President Bush announces a number of condemnatory actions, including the suspension of the sale of American weapons to China. 

Bail-Out Plan Revised

President Bush signs into law the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989, a compromise with Congress on the bail-out of savings and loans. This law differs from Bush's February 6 proposal of financing the bail-out from the Treasury Department through the sale of bonds. It offers $166 billion worth of aid to troubled savings and loans institutions and creates a new government body, the Resolution Trust Company, to oversee the merger or liquidation of troubled banks.

Berlin Wall Falls

The Berlin Wall falls, marking the symbolic end of Communist rule in Eastern Europe. 

On November 9, 1989, East Germany fully opened its borders, including the imposing gate at the Berlin Wall. Thousands of Germans, from both East and West Germany, climbed over the wall and began to dismantle it with shovels and hammers. The jubilant scene illustrated the great changes taking place with the ending of the Cold War.

Since 1961, the Berlin Wall had stood as a symbolic barrier between the East and West, between communism and democracy: its fall reflected changing international relations. This episode, although memorable, was not the first or last in the relatively swift collapse of communism. Earlier in 1989, Hungary and Austria had opened their border. By spring of 1990, liberal political actors had wrested the governments of Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Lithuania, and Romania from the hands of communist leaders.

The Soviet Union itself, for decades the most powerful adversary of the United States, had been undergoing fundamental political changes throughout the 1980s, shaking its communist foundations. Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev had worked to change the Soviet Union through the doctrines of perestoika (restructuring) and glasnost (opening). He had also worked with Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush to thaw the Cold War.

By December 1991, the Soviet Union had dissolved and Gorbachev had resigned; the Commonwealth of Independent States had replaced the Soviet Union. Many conservative commentators have praised Reagan and Bush for substantially contributing to the fall of communism. These observers say that the tremendous military build-up of the 1980s forced the Soviet Union to spend scanty resources to keep up, which ultimately produced the instability that spelled its end. Others claim that internal developments in the Soviet Union-such as its unsuccessful war with Afghanistan and autonomous rebellions from within-are more to blame: high U.S. spending, they claim, only sapped resources from important domestic programs and meaningful diplomatic conversation.

It is unlikely that this debate will soon be resolved, but the basic triumph of democracy seems inarguable. President George H. W. Bush embraced the geopolitical upheaval cautiously, and he was criticized for failing to give the moment adequate meaning and communicating its import to the American public. However, the President responded cautiously to try to avoid a backlash by hard-liners in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, a stance that well-informed observers applauded.

The dismantling of the Berlin Wall was a poignant illustration of the collapse of communism and the end of the Cold War. The world was then faced with restructuring the geopolitical balance that had been in place for more than forty years.

Fair Labor Standards Amendments

President Bush signs the Fair Labor Standards Amendments of 1989, which by April 1991 would raise the minimum wage to $4.25 an hour. The law was a significant victory for Bush over congressional Democrats, who in the spring of 1989 passed a bill, which President Bush vetoed on June 13, that raised the minimum wage to $4.55. 

New Anti-Drug Law

President Bush signs a new anti-drug law that provides more than $3 billion for expanded anti-drug programs, including treatment facilities, federal prison expansion, education, and law enforcement. 

Bush Meets with Gorbachev

President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev hold their first meeting of Bush's presidency in the harbor of Valetta, Malta, to discuss nuclear disarmament and the strengthening of Soviet-American trade relations. Both leaders announce that the Cold War is effectively over. 

Panama Invasion

American armed forces invade Panama to capture Manuel Antonio Noriega, the country's military dictator. Noriega, who had been indicted in the United States on drug trafficking charges, surrendered on January 3, 1990. He was convicted on drug charges on April 9, 1992, and sent to prison.

Arms Reduction Agreement

At a summit meeting in Washington, D.C., President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev sign the broadest arms reduction agreement in two decades. The agreement stipulates that the United States and the Soviet Union scrap 25 percent and 40 percent of their respective nuclear stockpiles.

New Taxes Proposed

President Bush, in a written statement released to the press, reneges on his “no new taxes” pledge from the 1988 presidential campaign by stating that in order to solve the deficit problem, tax increases might be necessary for the 1991 fiscal year.  

Americans with Disabilities Act

President Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act, which affects over 43 million Americans and forbids discrimination in employment, public accommodations, and transportation. 

Iraq Invades Kuwait

Iraq invades Kuwait. President Bush strongly condemns Iraq's actions, setting the stage for an American response. 

German States Reunite

Seven months after East Germans overwhelmingly approve reunification, the two German states are formally reunited. 

Civil Rights Act Vetoed

President Bush vetoes the Civil Rights Act of 1990, stating that the bill would “introduce the destructive force of quotas into our nation's employment system.” 

Budget Law Signed

President Bush signs a budget law intended to reduce the federal budget by almost $500 billion over the next five years. The law includes $140 billion dollars in new taxes.

U.S. Troops in Saudi Arabia

President Bush increases the number of American troops in Saudi Arabia to 400,000.  

Clean Air Act Signed

President Bush signs the Clean Air Act of 1990, which tightens air pollution standards and seeks to reduce urban smog, cut acid rain pollution by one-half, and eliminate industrial emissions of toxic chemicals by the end of the 20th century. 

CFE Treaty

The United States, Canada, and twenty other European nations sign the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE). The CFE limits NATO and Warsaw Pact weapons holdings and caps the American troop presence in Central Europe at 195,000. 

Immigration Act of 1990

President Bush signs the Immigration Act of 1990, the most extensive revision to immigration law in more than a half century. The new law allows for the admission of 700,000 aliens each year.

Persian Gulf War Begins

The Persian Gulf War, code-named Operation Desert Storm, begins with a massive, American-led air attack on Iraq. 

Early on the morning of January 17, 1991, coalition forces led by the United States launched air strikes against Iraq. These strikes signaled the beginning of the military phase of the Persian Gulf War.

In August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, a neighboring country. Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein, had long argued with Kuwait over the rights to certain oil-rich lands. He had been preparing to invade Kuwait for several weeks, but when the attack came-on August 2, 1990-it nevertheless surprised much of the world. Several countries in the Middle East had assured the United States that Hussein was massing his troops only to bluff Kuwait into meeting his demands. When the Iraqi leader sent 140,000 troops storming toward-and quickly taking-the Kuwaiti capital, President George H.W. Bush responded.

The United States quickly intervened for a number of reasons. By invading Kuwait, Saddam Hussein gained control over a vast amount of the world's oil supply, which gave him the potential to wreak havoc with U.S. energy policy and oil prices. Bush also drew vivid parallels between Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler in the 1930s: a decisive, early blow to Saddam's imperialist ambitions, the President believed, would forestall another “Munich,” preventing the outbreak of a more serious crisis later on. Finally, political and military theorists thought that a show of U.S. military resolve would improve America's international credibility-especially in this first major crisis of the post-Cold War era-and boost confidence in a military still trying to throw off the legacy of the Vietnam War.

President Bush and his administrative team were extraordinarily active, and extraordinarily successful, in building an international coalition to counter the Iraqi aggression. Perhaps the most impressive feat of international diplomacy was President Bush's ability either to neutralize or win outright the support of traditionally hostile China and Russia, together with many countries of the Middle East. He also persuaded Israel to stay out of the coalition, which made it possible for Middle Eastern countries to join without seeming to unite with Israel.

The United Nations first approved the use of sanctions and a U.S.-led defensive posture, designed to deter Saddam Hussein from advancing any further and to persuade him to pull back from Kuwait. In November, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 678 authorizing member states to use “all necessary means” to remove Iraq from Kuwait if Iraq had not withdraw all of its forces by January 15, 1991. The U.S. plan to forcibly remove Iraqi troops from Kuwait was dubbed Operation Desert Storm and included an effective mixture of air power and overwhelming ground forces, including the use of 500,000 U.S. troops. Once the deadline passed and Iraq had not withdrawn from Kuwait, the U.S.-led coalition quickly overpowered the Iraqi military, and on February 28th, the coalition declared a cease-fire.

When the war ended, President Bush had very high approval ratings for his conduct of the war and his success in coalition building. However, he endured criticism for failing to remove Saddam Hussein from power and destroy the Iraqi military. That stance left Kurds and Shiites who were sympathetic to the United States at the mercy of a vengeful Iraqi government, but President Bush apparently feared the consequences of Saddam Hussein's unknown replacement-and a geopolitically destabilized region-even more than Saddam himself.

Ground Troops Begin Operations

Ground troops, including a large contingent of American soldiers, begin operations in Operation Desert Storm. 

Ground Offensive Called Off

After liberating Kuwait, coalition troops advance rapidly into Iraqi territory, encountering no resistance. President Bush, deciding that the war's objectives had been met, calls off the ground offensive. 

South African Sanctions Removed

President Bush lifts most American sanctions against the Republic of South Africa, saying that the movement to end apartheid is now “irreversible.” 

START-I Signed

President Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev meet in Moscow to sign a nuclear arms reduction treaty (START-I) which calls for both nations to make significant reductions in the number of nuclear warheads in their respective arsenals. 

Senate Confirms Thomas

Clarence Thomas, President Bush's nominee to replace retiring Justice Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court, is confirmed by the Senate in a close 52-48 vote. Thomas' confirmation hearings focus on charges of sexual harassment made by Anita F. Hill, a law professor and former colleague of Thomas.

1991 Civil Rights Act

President Bush signs the Civil Rights Act of 1991, making it easier for employees to sue employers on grounds of discrimination. 

Soviet Union Dissolves

The constituent republics of the Soviet Union dissolve the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. 

Unemployment Rises

The Labor Department announces that the unemployment rose to 7.1 percent in December 1991, the highest mark in over five years. 

Bush Meets With Yeltsin

At the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, President Bush and Russian president Boris Yeltsin meet to discuss U.S.-Russian relations and officially declare the end of the Cold War. 

Bush Wins Primary

President Bush wins the New Hampshire primary but faces a strong challenge from conservative media personality Patrick Buchanan. The conservative wing of the Republican Party supports Buchanan, revealing a division within the party. 

Soviet Union Aid Proposed

President Bush announces an aid plan of $24 billion to spur democratic and a free market reforms in the former Soviet Union. 

Nuclear Arms Reduction Agreements

The United States signs agreements with Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, ensuring the continued participation of these nations in the nuclear arms reduction treaties signed by the U.S.S.R. before its collapse in late 1991. 

Bush Attends Earth Summit

Speaking at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, President Bush announces that the United States will not sign a treaty designed to protect rare and endangered animals and plants, saying that it would retard the development of technology and the protection of ideas. The United States does sign the Framework Convention on Climate Change aimed at preventing further global warming. 

U.S.-Russian Nuclear Agreement

President Bush and President Yeltsin announce an agreement by which the United States and Russia reduce their nuclear warheads to between 3,000 and 3,500 by the year 2003. 

Supplemental Appropriations Act Signed

President Bush signs a supplemental appropriations act that provides aid to inner cities, specifically Los Angeles, which is trying to recover from the Rodney King riots of April 1992. 

Unemployment Compensation Amendments

President Bush signs the Unemployment Compensation Amendments of 1992, extending coverage to the unemployed for 26 weeks, following their initial 26 weeks of benefits. The previous day, the Labor Department announced that the unemployment rate had reached 7.8 percent, its highest level since 1984. 

Republicans Nominate Bush

The Republican Party nominates President George Bush for a second term as President. The party also re-nominates Vice-President Dan Quayle. There is some evidence that the Bush team had considered replacing Quayle on the Republican ticket.  

Clinton Wins Election

Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, a Democrat, is elected President after defeating President Bush and Ross Perot, an independent from Texas. Clinton wins 43 percent of the vote and 370 Electoral College votes, to Bush's 38 percent and 168, and Perot's 19 percent and 0. 

Troops Land in Somalia

American troops land in Somalia as part of the UN-sponsored “Operation Restore Hope.” The humanitarian mission's first goal was to ensure the distribution of food and medical aid and supplies to suffering Somalis. Somalia had been wracked by starvation, drought, and violence. 

Bush Leaves White House

President Bush and his wife Barbara fly home to Houston, Texas.