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Profile: George W. Bush

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George W. Bush

National Guard
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George Walker Bush was born in Connecticut on July 6, 1946, the eldest of six children born to Barbara and George Herbert Walker Bush. One child, a girl, died leukemia at the age of three. The family moved to Texas when George was still young and he grew up in Midland and Houston.

When he was 15, George followed in his father's footsteps by entering Phillips Academy, a prestigious New England prep school. He was a solid athlete rather than a star player and finished with a mediocre academic record. The intellectual rigour and competitiveness of the school were reportedly a shock to an exuberant young man who loved to have a good time.

In his senior year he applied to the University of Texas and Yale.

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Some observers said that George W. Bush was surprised to have been accepted at Yale, his father's alma mater and the school of his grandfather and uncles.

He seems to have made little impression on his teachers but was elected president of the fraternity known as the hardest drinking jock house on campus. He was also inducted into Yale's most elite secret society, given one of the "legacy" slots at Skull and Bones because his father had been a member.

At the age of 20 he surprised his friends after a Christmas in Texas by announcing an engagement to a woman attending university in Houston. They made plans for a summer wedding which was delayed and then called off. It is unclear who ended the relationship.

Seemingly oblivious to the swelling anti-war feeling on U.S. campuses, including Yale, Mr. Bush told an interviewer in the late 1990s that he had been unaware of any such sentiment at his school.

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National Guard

Shortly before he was to graduate from Yale -- only 12 days before he would lose his draft deferment as a student - Mr. Bush signed up with the Texas Air National Guard at an airfield outside Houston.

He was sworn in as an airman the same day he applied, earning a coveted slot in a unit that had no chance of being ordered overseas. In later interviews Mr. Bush denied receiving special treatment. He acknowledges that infantry service had no appeal to him but maintained that the primary reason he joined the Guard was because he wanted to fly, not to avoid service in Vietnam.

Mr. Bush requested transfer to an Alabama Air National Guard base in 1972, which would allow him to assist a political campaign. There have been persistent allegations that he failed to perform any duties while in Alabama.

With more education in mind, Mr. Bush was granted early exit from his six-year Guard commitment to enter the Harvard Business School. He started Harvard in 1973 and was awarded a Master of Business Administration two years later. He is the first U.S. president to hold an MBA.

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A classic case of opposites attract, the marriage of George W. Bush and Laura Welch surprised many of their friends. He was known to be the life of the party, a man who craved attention, while she was a self-contained only child, a shy librarian who enjoyed reading quietly. They were married in November, 1977, but had to delay their honeymoon.

Mr. Bush had his eye on a seat in the federal House of Representatives and the new couple hit the campaign trail in immediately. He managed to eke out victory in the bitter fight for Republican nomination but lost the overall race. In both campaigns he had to counter accusations that, with his East-coast roots, he was not a proper Texan.

The couple had two children, fraternal twins, in 1981. They were named Jenna and Barbara in honour of their grandmothers. The two girls were kept out of the public eye until recently, when they began to campaign on behalf of their father.

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Business career

The windfall that Mr. Bush was looking for to establish his financial security was two decades in the making and came after near-failure on several occasions.

Left reeling by the drop in oil prices in the mid-1980s, his exploration company began looking for a buyer willing to assume its mounting debt. They were saved by Harken Energy, which had a reputation for liking famous names on its letterhead. Mr. Bush got a seat on the board and stock then worth about $300,000 (U.S.).

It was around this time that Mr. Bush, known as a heavy social drinker, decided to give up alcohol entirely. The decision was in keeping with his new spirituality, which saw him became a born-again and convert to his wife's Methodism.

In another change, the money he received from Harken was used as collateral for his initial stake in the Texas Rangers. His investment in the team was minimal but he also put the purchase deal together and served as the public face of the team's owners. The team fortune's improved, in part because of a new ballpark largely financed by taxpayers.

The hands-on role allowed Mr. Bush to step out of his father's shadow, get his name into the news and start developing his own reputation.

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Texas governor

By the early 1990s Mr. Bush's role with the Rangers had helped introduce him to the people of Texas and seemed on the verge of providing the independent financial security he had sought. In 1992 his father lost his campaign for re-election and Mr. Bush was finally free to focus on his own political fortunes.

He threw his hat into the race for Texas governor, running against popular Democrat Ann Richards, and successfully kept the focus on hot-button issues like property taxes, frivolous lawsuits, welfare reform and education.

Mr. Bush won, scoring a seven-point lead when the ballots were counted. At that point he put his interest in the Rangers in a trust and withdrew from day-to-day operations. He earned a reputation for bipartisan leadership and was returned to office in 1998, the first governor elected for two consecutive four-year terms in the history of Texas.

As Mr. Bush laid the groundwork for a presidential bid, the owners of the Rangers decided it was time to find a buyer. A Dallas businessman purchased the team for $250-million; for his efforts, Mr. Bush received a cheque for $14.9-million

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2001 inauguration

One of the closest presidential elections in U.S. history was not decided until weeks after the vote was held.

Although former vice-president Al Gore won the popular vote by an extremely small margin, the format of the U.S. political system meant that it was the number of states carried that mattered, not the overall tally. The state-by-state results meant that Florida was crucial -- whoever carried Florida would go to the White House.

But Florida proved a microcosm of the nation, with only a hairsbreadth separating the two candidates. The closeness of the result in Florida and the value of the prize at stake meant repeated recounts which were ultimately stopped by the U.S. Supreme Court. The controversial court decision sent Mr. Bush to the White House and Mr. Gore to political oblivion.

George W. Bush was sworn in as U.S. President on Jan. 20, 2001, pledging to "build a single nation of justice and opportunity."

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The attacks on New York and Washington in September, 2001, shocked the world and put enormous pressure on Mr. Bush to respond. With American emotions running high and talk of massive retaliation in the air, the President offered a measured and yet resolute message.

He visited the still smoking ruins of the World Trade Center days after the attack, standing on the rubble and promising that "the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon."

Mr. Bush said that he held al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden responsible for the thousands of dead and demanded that the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan hand him over for trial. As the theocratic leaders stalled, the White House began building an international coalition and reportedly authorized covert missions into Afghanistan.

The war went far better than pessimists had predicted. A combination of aerial bombing, special forces action and ground fighting by rebel Northern Alliance quickly proved too much for the Taliban. Entire units changed sides and Taliban loyalists were soon reduced to hit-and-run tactics in the south-east of the country. They remain there today.

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Iraq war

Saddam Hussein -- long time leader of Iraq and bÍte noire of the neocons in Washington -- became the focus of increased White House attention through the fall of 2002. A year after the Taliban had been successfully toppled and Osama bin Laden driven into hiding, the threat of Mr. Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction moved to the front of the U.S. agenda.

The Security Council of the United Nations passed resolution 1441 in November, 2002, finding that Mr. Hussein had breached obligations to disarm and was facing "serious consequences." Three months of diplomacy later Mr. Bush said he needed no further legitimacy and gave Mr. Hussein 48 hours to leave Iraq or face massive attack. U.S. planes began bombing Baghdad on March 8, 2003, shortly after the ultimatum expired.

The invading forces -- comprised almost entirely of U.S. troops -- moved quickly through Iraq and Hussein's government soon fell. But the harder task of occupying a foreign country brought mounting casualties, the bulk of them borne by the United States. The number of U.S. dead clicked past 1,000 in early September, 18 months and one day after the war officially began.

The situation in Iraq has become the key campaign issue as Mr. Bush and Senator John Kerry joust for the White House. The two campaign teams have traded vicious barbs over the best way to win in Iraq, with Republicans attacking Mr. Kerry's patriotism and Democrats questioning Mr. Bush's competence.

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