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This article covers the history of the United States from 1991 to present, beginning at the end of the Cold War with the fall of the Soviet Unionmarker and the start of the United States' military involvement in the Middle East.

Globalization and the new economy

Clinton's terms in office will be remembered for the nation's domestic focus during this period. The six years span of 1994 through 2000 witnessed the emergence of what many commentators called a technology-driven "new economy," and relatively high increases in real output, low inflation rates, and a drop in unemployment to below five percent. The Internet and related technologies made their first broad penetrations into the economy, prompting a Wall Streetmarker technology-driven bubble, which Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan described in 1996 as "irrational exuberance".

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States was the world's dominant military power and Japanmarker, sometimes seen as the largest economic rival to the U.S., was caught in a period of stagnation. Chinamarker was emerging as the U.S.'s foremost trading competitor in more and more areas. Localized conflicts such as those in Haitimarker and the Balkans prompted President Clinton to send in U.S. troops as peacekeepers, reviving the Cold-War-era controversy about whether policing the rest of the world was a proper U.S. role. Islamic radicals overseas loudly threatened assaults against the U.S. for its ongoing military presence in the Middle East, and even staged the first World Trade Centermarker attack, a truck bombing in New York's twin towers, in 1993, as well as a number of deadly attacks on U.S. interests abroad.

Immigration, most of it from Latin America and Asia, swelled during the 1990s, laying the groundwork for great changes in the demographic makeup of the U.S. population in coming decades, such as Hispanics replacing African-Americans as the largest minority.


First Iraq War

The considerable dependence of the industrialized world on oil, with much of the proved oil reserves situated in Middle Eastern countries, became evident to the U.S., first in the aftermath of the 1973 world oil shock and later in the second energy crisis of 1979. Although in real terms oil prices fell back to pre-1973 levels through the 1980s, resulting in a windfall for the oil-consuming nations (especially North America, Western Europe, and Japan), the vast reserves of the leading Middle East producers guaranteed the region its strategic importance. By the early 1990s the politics of oil still proved as hazardous as it did in the early 1970s.

Conflict in the Middle East triggered yet another international crisis on August 2, 1990, when Iraqmarker invaded and attempted to annex neighboring Kuwaitmarker, as its nineteenth province. Leading up to the invasion, Iraq complained to the United States Department of Statemarker about Kuwaiti slant drilling. This had been ongoing for years, but now Iraq needed oil revenues to pay off its debts from the Iran–Iraq War and avert an economic crisis. Saddam Hussein ordered troops to the Kuwaiti border, creating alarm over the prospect of an invasion. April Glaspie, the United States ambassador to Iraq, met with Saddam in an emergency meeting, where the Iraqi president stated his intention to continue talks. Iraq and Kuwait then met for a final negotiation session, which failed. Saddam then sent his troops into Kuwait.

U.S. officials feared that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was then on the verge of armed conflict with oil-rich Saudi Arabiamarker, a close ally of Washington's since the 1940s. The Western world condemned the invasion as an act of aggression; U.S. President George H.W. Bush compared Saddam to Adolf Hitler and declared that if the United States and international community did not act, aggression would be encouraged elsewhere in the world.

The U.S. and Britain, two of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, persuaded the Security Council to give Iraq a deadline to leave Kuwait. The Western world was determined to not let the Kuwaiti oil supply fall under the control of Saddam, fearing it would have a dire impact on the global economy. Saddam was pushing oil exporting countries to raise prices and cut back production. Westerners, however, remembered the destabilizing effects of the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s.

Saddam ignored the deadline and the Security Council declared war on Iraq. The war began in January 1991, with U.S. troops forming the majority of the coalition which participated in Operation Desert Storm. By the time Iraqi troops withdrew from Kuwait in late February, Iraq had lost approximately 20,000 troops, with some sources citing as many as 100,000 casualties on the Iraqi side.

Dot-com bubble

Early 2000 to 2001 saw the dramatic bursting of the dot-com bubble. Excitement over the prospects of Internet stocks had led to huge increases in the major indexes. On March 10, 2000 the NASDAQ peaked at 5,048.62 (intra-day peak 5,132.52), more than double its value just a year before.

The massive initial batch of sell orders processed on Monday, March 13 triggered a chain reaction of selling that fed on itself as investors, funds, and institutions liquidated positions. In just six days, the NASDAQ had lost nearly nine percent, falling from roughly 5,050 on March 10 to 4,580 on March 15.

The poor results of Internet retailers following the 1999 Christmas season may have been first unequivocal and public evidence that the "Get Rich Quick" Internet strategy was flawed for most companies. These retailers' results were made public in March when annual and quarterly reports of public firms were released. Then the "Get Rich Quick" strategy was a flaw for many companies.

By 2001, the bubble was deflating at full speed. A majority of the dot-coms ceased trading after burning through their venture capital, many having never made a net profit. Investors often jokingly referred to these failed dot-coms as either "dot-bombs" or "dot-compost".

September 2001 terrorist attacks

On the morning of September 11, 2001, four airliners were hijacked; two of them were flown into the World Trade Centermarker towers in New York Citymarker and another into the Pentagonmarker in Arlingtonmarker, Virginiamarker, destroying both towers and taking just under 3,000 lives. The fourth plane crashed in southern Pennsylvaniamarker after some passengers fought back and are believed to have caused the piloting hijackers to crash. The immense shock, grief and anger brought on by the attacks profoundly altered the national mood; it was found that Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network sponsored the attacks and President Bush announced a "war on terror."

Congress approved several measures to protect against future attacks, including creating the Department of Homeland Securitymarker and passing the USA PATRIOT Act, which was criticized by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union. The administration's military response was to invade Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, targeting al Qaeda and the Taliban government that supported and sheltered them. The U.S. was joined by a coalition which included forces from more than a dozen countries, and was successful in removing the Taliban from power, although fighting continues between the coalition and Afghans of various factions.

In 2002, the GDP growth rate rose to 2.8%. A major short-term problem in the first half of 2002 was a sharp decline in the stock market, fueled in part by the exposure of dubious accounting practices in some major corporations. Another was unemployment, which experienced the longest period of monthly increase since the Great Depression. The robustness of the market, combined with the unemployment rate, led some economists and politicians to refer to the situation as a "jobless recovery." Nevertheless, the United States between 2003 and 2005 made a significant economic recovery from the post 9/11 recession.

Second Iraq War

In his State of the Union address in January 2002, President George W. Bush called Iranmarker, Iraqmarker, and North Koreamarker an "axis of evil," accusing them of supporting terrorism and seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration began making a public case for an invasion of Iraq, since Saddam Hussein supported terrorism, had violated the 1991 U.N.-imposed ceasefire, and possessed biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, among other charges.

Some important allies of the U.S., including Indiamarker, Japanmarker, Turkeymarker, New Zealandmarker, Francemarker, Germanymarker, and Canadamarker, did not believe that the evidence for the President's accusations was well-founded enough to justify a full-scale invasion, especially as military personnel were still needed in Afghanistan. The United Nations Security Council did not approve of the invasion, and the U.S. therefore provided most of the forces in the invasion of Iraq. With the support of a coalition whose major partners included the United Kingdommarker, Australia, Polandmarker, Spainmarker, and Italymarker, Iraq was invaded on March 20, 2003.

After six weeks of combat between the coalition and the Iraqi army, the invading forces had secured control of many key regions; Saddam had fled his palace, his regime clearly over; on May 1, Bush declared, under a sign reading "mission accomplished," that major ground operations were at an end. Saddam Hussein's sons Qusay and Uday were killed by U.S. forces; Saddam himself was captured in December 2003 and taken into custody. Nevertheless, fighting with the Iraqi insurgency continued and escalated through the 2004 U.S. national elections and beyond.

With casualties increasing and the cost of the invasion and reconstruction of Iraq estimated at over $200 billion, the war has lost about one-third of its supporters in the U.S. since the end of major operations was announced. Recent polls suggest that international displeasure with the United States is at an all-time high, with a majority of people in Europe believing that the country is too powerful and acts mainly in self-interest, and a vast majority in predominantly Muslim nations believing that the United States is arrogant, belligerent, or hateful to Islam.

As the situation in Iraq became increasingly difficult, policymakers began looking for new options. This led to the formation of the Iraq Study Group, a nonpartisan commission chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton. This produced a variety of proposals; some of the more notable ones were to seek decreased US presence in Iraq, increased engagement with neighboring countries, and greater attention to resolving other local conflicts, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The recommendations were generally ignored and the U.S. direct involvement in the Iraq war continues to this day (July 2009).

The 2005 & 2008 Gulf Coast hurricanes

In August and September 2005, two powerful hurricanes, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, struck the Gulf Coastmarker region. Katrina broke the levees of New Orleans, Louisianamarker and flooded 80% of the low-lying city. Extensive devastation and flooding also occurred from Mobilemarker, Alabamamarker west to Beaumont, Texasmarker, with the Mississippimarker coastline especially hard hit. At least 1,800 lives were lost in the worst domestic calamity since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Port facilities, oil rigs and refineries in the Gulf region were damaged, further increasing already high U.S. fuel prices.

Residents of New Orleans, many of whom were impoverished and unable (or unwilling) to evacuate before the storm, were trapped for days by the flood waters. Tens of Thousands had to be rescued by the U.S. military from their rooftops or from unsanitary and dangerous shelters in public buildings. State and local authorities were overwhelmed by the scale of the events. Their response to the disaster, as well the federal government's, were harshly criticized by legislators and citizens who saw in the confusion a dangerous lack of readiness and inability to preserve public safety. President Bush promised that the federal government would underwrite the rebuilding of New Orleans and other storm-damaged areas, the cost of which was estimated to run as high as $200 billion.

In 2008, after 2 straight years of not being affected by a serious hurricane, Hurricane Gustav, caused 18 billion dollars in damage in Louisianamarker, and a few weeks later, the Galveston, Texasmarker and Houston, Texasmarker areas were devastated by Hurricane Ike with over 31 billion dollars in damage, making Ike the third most destructive hurricane ever to hit the United States behind Hurricane Andrew and Hurricane Katrina. Many were killed in the area and 202 are still missing. The Hurricanes also caused gas prices to spike to around 4 dollars a gallon.


The Clinton administration

President Clinton's First Cabinet, 1993
Riding high on the success of the first Gulf War, George H. W. Bush enjoyed very high approval ratings for his job as president. However, economic recession and a reneged campaign pledge dogged Bush, sinking his formerly high approval ratings from the high 80s to the lower 40s and upper 30s. In the wake of Bush's political problems, Bill Clinton won the 1992 contest with 43% of the vote in a three way race against Bush's 38%. Independent candidate Ross Perot tapped the discontent of the electorate with both parties, drawing roughly evenly from both candidates to receive a record 19% of the popular vote, but no electoral votes. Ross Perot's 19% of the vote qualified his Reform Party to receive Federal Election Commission matching funds for campaign contributions in the 1996 election, thus laying the ground work for another three-way race during the 1996 presidential election.

Clinton entered office as one of the youngest presidents in U.S. history and the first of the Baby Boom generation to reach the White Housemarker. Promising to focus on and resolve some of the United States' many domestic issues, he entered office with high expectations. Immediately, however, he was troubled by controversy over the personal backgrounds of some of his appointees and by political clashes stemming from his announcement that he would permit homosexuals to serve in the U.S. military.

These events in 1993 seemed to set the pattern for a man who would become one of the more divisive U.S. presidents, regarded with great affection by some and abhorrence by others. One early domestic success of the Clinton administration was the enactment of the 1993 assault rifle ban. The ban was widely decried by the Republican Party, who allowed it to lapse in 2003 while they controlled both Congress and the presidency. Bill Clinton's 1994 proposal of a national health care system, championed by his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton, ignited a political firestorm on the right, which vigorously opposed it on the general principle that government size should be reduced not expanded. The proposed system did not survive the debate, leaving American health care in its continuing state.

The Republican Congress

Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House
The New Deal, the Great Society, and Watergate helped solidify Democratic control of Congress, but the 1980s and early 1990s were a period of fragmentation of their coalition, when the popularity of Democratic incumbents as constituent servants masked growing disenchantment with Congress' governing capacities. Democrats suddenly lost control of the House and the Senate for the first time in four decades in the 1994 midterm elections. Once in power, House Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich (left), faced the difficulty of learning to govern after forty years as the minority party while simultaneously pursuing their "Contract with America" which they unveiled on the steps of Congress on September 27, 1994.

Year by year, polarization grew in Washington between the president and his adversaries on the right, the Republicans, which assumed the majority in the House of Representatives in January 1995 and elected Newt Gingrich Speaker of the House. There was a surge in the market of new media outlets that gave more voice to the right. Rush Limbaugh's radio talk show was a spectacular success and a major influence in the GOP legislative victory. The Weekly Standard was formed in 1995 and after the election of George W. Bush would advertise itself as the most read publication in the White House. These new media amplified the ever-louder quarrels, causing some to speak of a new 'culture war' in U.S. politics. The more extreme right-wing voices, which veered into uncompromising hostility toward the Federal government—particularly after the botched Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) raid on the Branch Davidians in Wacomarker, Texasmarker, were somewhat discredited, however, after the Oklahoma City bombingmarker, in April 1995, by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.

Along with strong backing from traditional Democrats and liberals, Clinton was able to garner the support of moderates who appreciated his centrist "New Democrat" policies, which steered away from the expansion of government services of the New Deal and Great Society and allowed him to "triangulate", taking away many of the Republicans' top issues. One example of such compromises was welfare reform legislation signed into law in 1996. The new law required welfare recipients to work as a condition of benefits and imposed limits on how long individuals may receive payments, but did allow states to exempt 20% of their caseloads from the time limits. Clinton also pursued tough federal anti-crime measures, steering more federal dollars toward the war on drugs, and calling for the hiring of 100,000 new police officers. By the end of his administration, the federal government had experienced the country's longest economic expansion and produced a budget surplus. The first year of the budget surplus was also the first year since 1969 in which the federal government did not borrow from the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds.

Clinton was reelected in 1996, defeating Republican Senator Bob Dole and Ross Perot who had become the 1996 Reform Party nominee.

Many voters in 1992 and 1996 had been willing to overlook long-standing rumors of extramarital affairs by Clinton, deeming them irrelevant. These matters came to a head, however, in February 1998 when reports surfaced of ongoing sexual relations between Clinton and a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Clinton initially and vigorously denied the relationship; "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." His wife Hillary described the allegations as fraudulent smears dredged up by a "vast right-wing conspiracy." Clinton was forced to retract his assertions in August 1998 after the Lewinsky matter came under investigation by independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who had been looking into various allegations of past misdeeds by Clinton for several years. Since Clinton's denials had extended to a deposition before Starr's office, impeachment proceedings began in the House against the President on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

The matter climaxed as Clinton was impeached in the United States House of Representatives, but not convicted at his trial by the U.S. Senate. A public backlash occasioned Newt Gingrich to resign after a poor showing in the 1998 midterm elections. His heir apparent, Speaker-elect Bob Livingston, was forced to resign from Congress before impeachment proceedings began due to a confirmed report of his extramarital affairs. After the impeachment trial, a scandal-weary and embarrassed U.S. public seemed largely satisfied to have the matter resolved.

The George W. Bush administration

Though his 2000 election had been the focus of intense controversy which led eventually to a U.S.marker Supreme Courtmarker ruling in Bush v. Gore where the court ruled 5-4 in the former's favor by siding with the State of Florida's official vote count, George W. Bush was sworn in as President on January 20, 2001. This made the 2000 election the third presidential election in which the electoral vote winner did not receive at least a plurality of the popular vote. The first eight months of his term in office were relatively uneventful; however, it had become clear by that time that the economic boom of the late 1990s was at an end. The year 2001 was plagued by a nine-month recession, witnessing the end of the boom psychology and performance, with output increasing only 0.3% and unemployment and business failures rising substantially. President Bush approved a large federal tax cut with the intent of revitalizing the economy.

George W. Bush was re-elected in November 2004, defeating Democratic contender John Kerry in the electoral vote, and receiving 50.7% of the popular vote against John Kerry's 48.3%. Republicans also made gains in both houses of Congress, contrary to recent mid-term electoral trends.

Some major acts in the second Bush administration included the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, a $1.3 trillion tax cut, the No Child Left Behind Act, and the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.

The Democratic Congress

Democrats swept to victory in the 2006 elections, making Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, the first female in that position, and electing record numbers of women and minorities. Upon winning the elections, the Democrats drew up a 100-Hour Plan of policy proposals upon assuming power in Congress. Major components of the plan included a pay-as-you-go plan for reducing the deficit; enacting the 9/11 Commission recommendations; increasing the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour; allowing the government to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies to secure lower drug prices for Medicare patients; and ending large tax subsidies for big oil companies to help foster energy independence. After the 100 hours, the 9/11 Commission recommendations were not implemented by Congress.

Many saw the Democratic victory as a referendum on the Iraq war. Nevertheless, the 110th Congress did little to change anything about the war except to pass a non-binding resolution against President Bush's troop surge. In addition, the House passed a $124 billion emergency spending measure for war funding with the stipulation of a phased troop withdrawal. President Bush vetoed the bill because of the proposal of scaling down forces, making this the second veto of his term.

During the months of May–June 2007, Ted Kennedy and other senators co-sponsored Senate Bill 1348 and reform Bill 1639. The purpose of this bill called for immigration reform under the intent of bringing amnesty and citizenship. On June 7 Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid removed this bill from debate. On June 14, 2007 President Bush initiated the supporters of this bill to return it to the Senate floor. On June 26 the Senate voted 64–35 for cloture and for additional debate. On June 27, 2007, 27 amendments were debated with only five considered into Senate Bill 1639. On June 28 a cloture vote considered ending debate was held. The outcome of 53–45 against cloture meant the end to the 2007 Immigration Bill.

The threat of filibusters by the minority Republicans in the Senate lead to a record 72 cloture votes in just the first year of the 110th Congress, breaking the old record of 68 over a typical two year Congressional term. The inability to pass legislation due to obstructionism by the Senate minority gave the appearance of a do nothing Congress, causing the approval rating of Congress to drop significantly. In late 2007, some polls had Congress's approval rating as low as 18%. By January 2008, Congressional approval rating was in the low to mid twenties. The Democrats increased their majority in both houses of Congress during the 2008 elections.

The Obama administration

The nation went into the 2008 election cycle having a Republican president and Democratic congress both with extremely low approval ratings. The presidential elections saw the Republican John McCain, the senior Senator from Arizonamarker, with his running mate Sarah Palin, the Governor of Alaskamarker, run against the Democrat Barack Obama, the junior Senator from Illinoismarker, with Joe Biden, the senior Senator from Delawaremarker. The Republican ticket was largely decided with the results of Super Tuesday, 2008, however the Democratic nomination remained undecided until Hillary Rodham Clinton officially conceded in June. On November 4, 2008, Obama defeated McCain to become the 44th President of the United States, making history in becoming the first African-American to be elected to the highest executive office. Obama and Biden were inaugurated on January 20, 2009.

Obama's policy decisions have addressed a continuing global financial crisis and have included changes in tax policies, foreign policy initiatives and the phasing out of detention of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention campmarker in Cubamarker. While Obama has set down a timeline for a 2011 military withdrawal from Iraq, the War in Afghanistan has escalated with additional U.S. troops being sent to the country early in 2009 and more being requested.


  1. Index Chart
  2. Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq
  3. International Surveys: What We Are Finding
  4. THE 1992 ELECTIONS: DISAPPOINTMENT - NEWS ANALYSIS An Eccentric but No Joke; Perot's Strong Showing Raises Questions On What Might Have Been, and Might Be - New York Times
  5. Clinton, Hillary (1998-01-27). The Today Show. NBC. Interview with Matt Lauer.

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