Study Guide

The War on Terror People

  • George W. Bush

    George W. Bush (1946–) was the 43rd President of the United States. He was president during the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 and launched America's war in Afghanistan and Iraq in response. 

    Bush was born in Connecticut into a political family—his grandfather was a United States Senator and his father was the 41st President of the United States. He attended Yale University and Harvard Business School, and during the Vietnam War, he served in the Texas Air National Guard.

    After an unsuccessful run for Congress in 1978, Bush spent the next ten years building an oil and gas company. In 1989, he sold his company and joined a group of investors who purchased the Texas Rangers baseball team. In 1994, he was elected Governor of Texas, and in 1998, he was elected to a second term.

    In 2000, Bush won the Republican nomination for president. In the general election, he defeated the incumbent vice president, Democrat Al Gore, in one of the closest elections in American history. Gore actually received 540,000 more popular votes, but Bush won in the Electoral College, 271 to 266, after the Supreme Court awarded Florida's disputed votes to the Republican.

    Bush's presidency was dominated by the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon on September 11th, 2001. Promising to retaliate against the terrorists and nations that harbored and supported them, he invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 and Iraq in March 2003. Bush's war message concerning Iraq also included accusations that Iraq's government was developing biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons in violation of the cease-fire negotiated at the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

    While the initial phases of both wars were concluded quickly, American forces were unable to establish full control in either Afghanistan or Iraq through the end of Bush's second term. The architect of the September 11th attacks, Osama Bin Laden, remained at large and the Taliban, the Islamic fundamentalists that harbored him in Afghanistan, although driven from power, regrouped and waged guerrilla war against American forces and the moderate government set up by the United States. In Iraq, violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims undermined the nation-building process sponsored by the United States and forced an increase, rather than removal, of American troops during the last years of Bush's presidency.

    The growing unpopularity of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush's poor handling of Hurricane Katrina, and the financial crisis of 2008 contributed to the electoral success of Democrats in the 2008 elections. Bush left office in 2009 with lower approval ratings than any of his predecessors in the White House except Richard Nixon.

  • Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi

    Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (1919–1980) was the Shah of Iran from 1941 to 1979. He was born in Tehran, sent to school in Switzerland as a child, and he completed his education at a Tehran military school. He was married three times, the first time to Dilawar Princess Fawzia, a daughter of Faroq I, King of Egypt.

    In 1941, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi ascended to the throne after his father, Reza Shah, was forced to abdicate by Great Britain and Russia, who feared that the elder Shah was too close to the Germans. Pahlavi proved a reliable ally during the war and continued his pro-Western policies after the end of the war. He was temporarily driven from power in 1953 by reformers led by Prime Minster Mohammed Mosaddeq, but he was restored to power in a coup orchestrated by British and American intelligence agencies. 

    As Shah, Mohammad Reza pursued a program of modernization. He granted women the right to vote and he mounted a literacy campaign. But, according to his critics, he spent too much on defense and he built an internal security force (SAVAK) that brutally crushed his political opponents.

    In 1979, he was driven from power by Islamic fudamentalists led by the Ayatollah Khomeini. These Shiite Muslims believed that the Shah's reforms threatened traditional religious values. Moderates, disgusted by the Shah's opulent lifestyle and the brutality of SAVAK, also joined in ousting the Shah. 

    Dying of cancer, he was granted temporary medical asylum in the United States before moving to Egypt where he died in 1979.

  • Ayatollah Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini

    Ayatollah Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini (1902–1989) was the religious leader of the 1979 Iranian revolution. He was born into a family of religious scholars and didn't engage in any political activities until well into his 40s. By the 1960s, he'd emerged as one of the leading clerical opponents of the Shah of Iran and his modernization campaign.

    He argued that the "white revolution" threatened the moral and religious integrity of Iran and he condemned the Shah's friendship with the United States and conciliatory policies toward Israel.

    In 1964, the Ayatollah was arrested and sent into exile. He spent the next 15 years in Turkey, Iraq, and France. While in exile, he continued to criticize the Shah and as popular opposition to the Shah increased during the late 1970s, he called for massive demonstrations and labor strikes.

    Shortly after the Shah was forced to flee in January 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran and assumed leadership of the revolutionary movement. He was designated the "Supreme Leader" in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

  • Saddam Hussein

    Saddam Hussein (1937–2006) was the President of Iraq from 1979 to 2006. He was born to a peasant family near Tikrit in north-central Iraq but was educated in Baghdad. At age 20, he joined the Ba'ath Party, a secular Pan-Arab political movement committed to liberating Arab countries from Western domination. He was imprisoned from 1964 for his political activities, and after escaping in 1967, he participated in the coup that brought the Ba'ath Party to power. He served as deputy to the president, Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr, before succeeding him to office upon Bakr's resignation in 1979.

    As president, Hussein attacked Iran in 1980, shortly after Shiite clerics successfully overthrew the Shah. Hussein opposed the radical Islamic government of his neighbor and hoped to exploit the country's political turmoil to seize control of its rich oil fields. But in 1988, the war ended in a stalemate, leaving more than a million dead and Iraq's national debt vastly increased.

    To improve his nation's finances, Hussein invaded oil-rich Kuwait in 1990 triggering the first Persian Gulf War. American President George H.W. Bush built a coalition that included Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, as well as Great Britain, France, and Canada.  Beginning with massive air strikes on January 16th, 1991, the coalition drove Iraq from Kuwait and occupied much of southern Iraq before President Bush declared a cease-fire on February 28th.

    Over the decade following the war, Hussein provided uneven cooperation with United Nations arms inspectors charged with enforcing the cease-fire requirement that he dismantle all weapons programs. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, President George W. Bush argued that Hussein's uneven record of cooperation was one of the reasons that he should be removed from power. 

    Following the American invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Hussein fled the capital and remained in hiding until captured in December 2003. He was tried before an Iraqi court for crimes against humanity that included the massacre of 148 Shiite citizens of Al-Dujayl. He was convicted on November 5th and hanged December 30th, 2006.

  • Osama Bin Laden

    Osama Bin Laden (1957–2011) was the leader of Al Qaeda and the mastermind behind the terrorist bombings of September 11th, 2001. Born into a wealthy family in Saudi Arabia, he studied engineering before leaving Saudi Arabia to join the resistance to Soviet occupation in Afghanistan in 1979. While in Afghanistan, he formed his own militia—Al Qaeda—to fight the Soviets. Upon his return from Afghanistan, he joined a number of Islamic traditionalists who criticized the moderation of the Saudi government and what they perceived as the increasing secularization of Saudi society. 

    During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Bin Laden condemned the Saudi government for permitting American troops to use Saudi territory to stage their attack against Iraq, a fellow Muslim country. He subsequently declared a fatwa, or declaration of war, against the United States for corrupting holy Muslim lands. 

    Beginning in 1992, Bin Laden's Al Qaeda made several terrorist attacks against the United States, including the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. First operating out of Sudan, Bin Laden moved his training camps to Afghanistan in 1996 where he plotted the 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon. 

    After September 11th,, Bin Laden remained in hiding in Afghanistan and Pakistan for nearly a decade, issued several communications claiming responsibility for the attacks, and defended their place within a broader ambition of expelling the United States and Western culture from Muslim territories.

    On May 2nd, 2011, Bin Laden was killed by American Special Forces in a surprise raid against his secret compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

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