In 1992 Bush was defeated by the Democratic Governor of Arkansas, B. Clinton, who had brought his party back to a centrist program. Clinton did not repudiate Bush’s foreign policy, but gave precedence to regaining the country’s competitiveness in a global economy. In 1994 he faced the New Right of the Republican N. Gingrich who, while making health reform fail and winning the legislative elections with the ‘Contract with America’, did not put Clinton in difficulty in the race for the White House in 1996, which exploited the economic growth of the country. In his second presidential term, Clinton abandoned any welfarist vision of the state for a policy of individual fiscal and social incentives for the development of ‘human resources’. On the international level, he promoted the enlargement of NATO to some Eastern European countries and undertook to expand the American sphere of influence in Central Africa. The financial crisis of the ‘Asian tigers’ in the second half of 1997 forced the US to undertake costly support interventions, which in 1998 had to expand to Russia. In addition, Clinton proceeded unilaterally in trouble spots such as in Iraq with the bombing of military installations in December 1998, carried out with the help of Great Britain alone. On the inside, Clinton was in trouble over scandals and investigations, such as the Whitewater deal on illicit funding, and most of all for lying under oath about his dealings with a White House ‘intern’. The latter case paved the way for the constitutional procedure of impeachment against Clinton, but the Senate did not pronounce the sentence, also due to the pressure of public opinion. The progress of the economy between 1998 and 1999 rewarded Clinton’s political action, a ‘third way’ between progressivism and conservatism, aimed at favoring flexibility and inventiveness, and to provide tools in favor of individuals in a society permeated by the information revolution and globalization. Also in foreign policy, unilateral initiatives in the context of NATO on individual regional areas (intervention in Kosovo of March 1999 against the ethnic cleansing of Yugoslavia) were based on the premise that globalization should lead to a spontaneous convergence of national policies and therefore to an international acceptance of interventions against those operating in the name of cultural or political interests foreign to it. But both economic policy and foreign policy were not without uncertainties, and the fluctuating results of Clinton’s last phase (diplomatic success with China, mediations in Northern Ireland and in the Middle East, counterbalanced by the failure of the Seattle summit with the development of the anti-globalization movement) made uncertain the electoral battle of 2000 between Vice President A. Gore and the Republican candidate GW Bush, son of the former president and governor of Texas, who he hoped for a reduction in taxes and the limitation of welfare, together with a moral appeal with a strong religious imprint based on the family.
Bush prevailed after a contested vote that required the intervention of the Supreme Court for the attribution (in favor of Bush) of the electoral votes of Florida. Its first moves (tax cuts, disengagement from the Kyoto environmental agreements) went in the direction of a defense of American interests, but the terrorist attacks carried out by the al-Qā‛ida organization on 11 September 2001 (four line hijacked and launched against targets such as the Twins Towers and the Pentagon with thousands of civilian deaths) made the fight against terrorism a priority. In October, a US-led military coalition started a war (called Enduring freedom) against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which resulted in the fall of the Taliban regime, but did not achieve the overriding goal of capturing the leader of al-Qā‛ida, Osama Bin Laden. Internally, extraordinary security measures were taken that resulted in restrictions on civil liberties and the controversial treatment of Taliban and al-Qa’ida prisoners held at the Guantánamo base in Cuba. The President’s trips to Japan, South Korea and China ( February 2002) and the approach to Russia (May 2002) sought to consolidate a difficult network of international agreements and alliances, to which military reinforcement measures were added. Internally, the administration was involved in the scandal of the multinational energy company Enron (which had financed the presidential campaign), whose bankruptcy in December 2001, followed by that of other important companies, caused very strong social pressure. The first months of 2003 were marked by preparations for the invasion of Iraq; American foreign policy found itself at the center of violent controversy. Between March and April the Anglo-American troops easily overcame the Iraqi resistance; in the following months, however, it was clearly seen that Iraq would have to be occupied for a long time militarily. In the USA, the run-up to the presidential elections was heavily conditioned by the debate on foreign policy and Iraqi post-war management, as well as by the disastrous management of relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina, in the summer of 2005 which struck the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico., with particularly serious consequences for the city of New Orleans. However, Bush was re-elected by a large majority. During 2006, the special laws against terrorism were renewed. Mid-term elections in November saw Democrats prevail in both houses of Parliament; the Republican defeat resulted in the resignation of Defense Secretary D. Rumsfeld.