In 2001, the first year of the new millennium, I wrote in this column that America - and possibly the world - could be entering a new Golden Age, "if we can keep it" - to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin. But I tempered my enthusiasm, cautioning that innovation, entrepreneurship and economic advancement should not be taken for granted, and the ability of policymakers to throw a wrench into the proceedings with monetary policy mistakes, excessive taxes, tariffs and regulatory overkill should never be underestimated. We began the first term of the Bush administration with the hope of the next technological wave, tempered by the reality of monetary deflation, the "dot-com bomb" and an economy in recession here, much of Europe and Japan.
Then, on 9/11, jihadist terrorists turned jet planes into suicide missiles striking the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Virginia. Sept. 11 was the defining event of the year and President Bush's first term in office. By the end of 2001 the nation was at war. Thanks to the leadership of the administration and the superb military leadership by Gen. Tommy Franks, we destroyed the Taliban and freed the 29 million people of Afghanistan, which had been turned into a breeding ground for jihadists and terrorism.
Much of the news of 2002 focused on the economy, crippled by an inherited recession, 9/11 and corporate accounting scandals, most notably at Enron and WorldCom. Thus, in the summer of 2002, with little debate and even less deliberation, Congress passed and the president signed into law the most sweeping new regulatory changes in American securities law since the Great Depression. By the end of 2002, the debate had shifted to the doctrine of pre-emptive war, and the war on terror turned its gaze toward Saddam Hussein. A six-month-long debate ensued.
As 2003 began, war in Iraq seemed inevitable. Bush announced in the State of the Union that the "dictator in Iraq is not disarming. To the contrary, he is deceiving." By March 17, we were on the precipice of war in Iraq as the president drew a final line in the sand. He said, "All the decades of deceit and cruelty have now reached an end. Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing. For their own safety, all foreign nationals - including journalists and inspectors - should leave Iraq immediately." While I had expressed concerns about occupying a Muslim country, I ultimately relied on the wisdom and leadership entrusted to this administration.