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The Collapse of Fortress Bush

The Crisis of Authority in American Government

Alasdair Roberts

Publication Year: 2008

When the Bush presidency began to collapse, pundits were quick to tell a tale of the "imperial presidency" gone awry, a story of secretive, power-hungry ideologues who guided an arrogant president down the road to ruin. But the inside story of the failures of the Bush administration is both much more complex and alarming, says leading policy analyst Alasdair Roberts. In the most comprehensive, balanced view of the Bush presidency to date, Roberts portrays a surprisingly weak president, hamstrung by bureaucratic, constitutional, cultural and economic barriers and strikingly unable to wield authority even within his own executive branch.

The Collapse of Fortress Bush shows how the president fought—and lost—key battles with the defense and intelligence communities. From Homeland Security to Katrina, Bush could not coordinate agencies to meet domestic threats or disasters. Either the Bush administration refused to exercise authority, was thwarted in the attempt to exercise authority, or wielded authority but could not meet the test of legitimacy needed to enact their goals. Ultimately, the vaunted White House discipline gave way to public recriminations among key advisers. Condemned for secretiveness, the Bush administration became one of the most closely scrutinized presidencies in the modern era.

Roberts links the collapse of the Bush presidency to deeper currents in American politics and culture, especially a new militarism and the supremacy of the Reagan-era consensus on low taxes, limited government, and free markets. Only in this setting was it possible to have a "total war on terrorism" in which taxes were reduced, private consumption was encouraged, and businesses were lightly regulated.

A balanced, incisive account by a skilled observer of U.S. government, The Collapse of Fortress Bush turns the spotlight from the powerful cabal that launched the war in Iraq to tell a much more disturbing story about American power and the failure of executive leadership.

Published by: NYU Press


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xi

The aim of this book is to ask why the U.S. government reacted to the 9/11 crisis and its aftermath as it did. This is obviously an important question—for Americans who want assurance that the nation will be defended against future attacks, for allied countries that share similar risks, which may be aggravated or diminished by U.S. policy, and for...

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1. A Crisis of Authority

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pp. 1-23

EACH OF US remembers when the 9/11 crisis began: on the crisp autumn morning in 2001 when two airliners were hijacked and smashed into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center, causing mass death and panic in the world’s financial hub. A third airliner crashed...

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2. Citizens and Aliens

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pp. 24-57

IN SOME RESPECTS, the 9/11 crisis seemed very familiar to Americans. It was the sixth security crisis to grip the nation in a century. The first was triggered by the entry of the United States into the First World War in 1917; this was followed by the Great Red Scare of 1919–...

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3. Home Alone

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pp. 58-83

THERE WAS A fundamental inconsistency in criticism of the Bush administration in the five years after the September 11 attacks. We were often told that the Bush administration was determined to expand the power of the executive branch of the federal government. We were...

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4. Soothing the Market

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pp. 84-105

THE U.S. GOVERNMENT wrestled with at least three challenges in governance in the aftermath of 9/11: first, how to manage the tension between extension of law-enforcement powers and sensitivity on civil liberties; second, how to put its bureaucracy in order, through reor-...

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5. Cakewalk

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pp. 106-134

“IT WAS ONLY natural,” the Washington Post said in 2006, “that the military would take the lead in fighting terrorism after September 11.”2 This is a simple sentence that is fraught with assumptions about the dynamics of postmillennial American government. ...

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6. The Collapse of Fortress Bush

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pp. 135-163

APPREHENSIONS ABOUT THE concentration of power within the executive branch during the Bush administration were encouraged by the White House’s own campaign to convey an impression of firmness and determination. The immediate comparison was with the Clinton...

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7. Beyond the Imperial Presidency

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pp. 164-175

CRITICAL COMMENT ON the George W. Bush administration has been preoccupied, understandably, with the ways in which it has sought to expand presidential authority. Supporters of the Bush administration’s policies have characterized it as an attempt to “reinvigorate” the presidency.3 ...


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pp. 177-250


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pp. 251-265

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About the Author

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p. 266

ALASDAIR ROBERTS is Professor of Public Administration in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. He is also a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration and an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the School of Public...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814777336
E-ISBN-10: 0814777333
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814776063
Print-ISBN-10: 081477606X

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 244096678
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Collapse of Fortress Bush

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • War on Terrorism, 2001-2009.
  • Bush, George W. (George Walker), 1946-.
  • Bush, George W. (George Walker), 1946- -- Friends and associates.
  • Authority.
  • United States -- Social conditions -- 1980-.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 2001-2009.
  • Political leadership -- United States.
  • September 11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001.
  • Executive power -- United States.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- 2001-.
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