The first fourteen years of the twenty-first century was a lost time. The world experienced a gasp of freedom and prosperity in the prior two decades before recessions, terrorism, and a resurgent Russia spoiled the progress. However, new technologies revolutionized society and how people interact with one another. The following are the top ten people of the 21st century's first decade. They are arranged alphabetically.
1. Osama bin Laden: Osama bin Laden founded the al-Queda terror network and launched a number of attacks on western targets in the 1990s and 2000s. His goal was "to lift the word of God, to make his religion victorious." He declared war on "Jews and Crusaders" in 1998, but few paid attention. Bin Laden's group orchestrated the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon, and Washington D.C. El-Queda's efforts killed 3,000 people, led to the war on terror, and a massive manhunt that culminated in bin Laden's death.
2. Tony Blair: Tony Blair entered Parliament in 1983, ascended to Labour Party Party Leader in 1994, and finally British Prime Minister in 1997. He followed Bill Clinton's example by steering a middle course after the disastrous policies of previous progressive governments turned voters away from Labour the way Americans steered away from the Democrats. Blair served ten years at Downing Street and tallied a number of important domestic victories including the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 with Northern Ireland. He led Britain into Afghanistan and Iraq following the 911 attacks and intelligence regarding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Blair is the only person to lead Labour to more than two consecutive election victories and served longer as Prime Minister than any other member of his party.
3. George W. Bush: George W. Bush wanted to change American policy away from nation building and concentrate on restoring and strengthening the economy. That changed with the September 11 terrorist attacks. In response, he launched the War on Terror, invaded Afghanistan, and later initiated the Iraq War. U.S. forces routed and overthrew the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. The administration also established the infrastructure to fight terrorism. Some argued many of the moves, such as the Patriot Act, were unconstitutional attacks on civil liberties. However, those same people did not voice concerns when the policies were vastly expanded by Barack Obama. On the domestic front, the Bush tax cuts were credited with helping the economy through the Clinton recession and 911 attacks. Additionally, the Bush Administration ushered in No Child Left Behind education reform, a Medicare prescription drug benefit that came in under budget, and the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act.
Bush enjoyed a successful first term and won re-election. However, the second term proved extremely challenging. The administration was criticized for its handling of Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War. A myth developed that the administration lied about weapons of mass destruction to scare people into supporting the Iraq War. Political war planners failed to send enough troops to secure Iraq after Hussein fell and the country fell into chaos. Bush later remedied this mistake with a troop surge that stabilized Iraq. Later, Obama pulled the troops and allowed Iraq to spiral out of control. In December 2007, the U.S. entered into a recession. People did not really recognize the downturn until September 2008. The housing bubble created by policies over a decade before, but left unchecked, nearly caused a great depression. The administration managed to stabilize the economy and the country pulled out of the recession. However, Bush's successor initiated policies that handcuffed the economy and led to anemic growth and little, if any, job growth.
4. Dick Cheney: Dick Cheney enjoyed a long and distinguished career in public service before the vice presidency. He worked as White House Chief of Staff under Gerald Ford, served ten years in the House of Representatives, became Secretary of Defense in 1989, and then finally Vice President of the United States. Cheney might have been the most powerful vice president in history. He helped lead the response to the 911 attacks and formulate policies regarding wiretaps and enhanced interrogation. Many pundits portrayed Cheney as a Machiavellian operator behind the scenes at the White House. As a result, he became the target of criticism.
5. Bill Gates: Bill Gates helped usher in the computer revolution of the late 20th century. He founded Microsoft in 1975 and served as the primary decision maker for the company through 2006. In the company's early days, Gates helped develop software. By the 21st century, Microsoft systems basically help run the world. Gates remains an active philanthropist, maintains one of the most open charities in the world, and works with Bono for third world debt relief.
6. Saddam Hussein: Saddam Hussein ran afoul of the United States in 1990. Iraq invaded Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia. The world could not allow one nation's unchecked aggression against another and George H.W. Bush led a coalition to evict Hussein from his conquest. The Iraqi dictator agreed to surrender his weapons of mass destruction (WMD), give up his weapons programs, and allow U.N. inspections. In 1998, President Bill Clinton determined Hussein had continued developing weapons of mass destruction and led a three day bombing campaign against Iraq. By 2002, international intelligence sources reported that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. This jibbed with U.S. intelligence and Hussein's actions. The dictator ended weapons inspections and made every effort to appear that he possessed WMD. In the end, Hussein violated the Gulf War Cease Fire agreement and several U.N. resolutions. Hussein's obstinacy combined with the intelligence reports led the U.S. to invade. Hussein was deposed and later executed. In the end, WMD were never found. Hussein told interrogators that he wanted the "Persians" (Iranians) to believe Iraq possessed the weapons in order to deter to Mullahs. Had Hussein complied with the cease fire and U.N. resolutions, the invasion would never have happened.
7. Steve Jobs: Steve Jobs pioneered the computer revolution. Then, he re-engineered Apple Computers after the company nearly folded. Apple became the most valuable public company in 2011. His real impact came when he revolutionized society through the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. His genius helped destroy the music industry and severely crippled the publishing industry. The iPhone, along with other cell phones, made life less personal. As a result, the question becomes whether or not Jobs made a positive or negative impact.
8. Anthony Kennedy: Ronald Reagan nominated Anthony Kennedy to the Supreme Court in 1988. Although Kennedy has a consistent conservative voting record, he has become the swing vote on the court on many key issues. For example, the justice voted with the majority over 90% of the time and was in the majority in 16 of 23 cases decided 5-4 in 2008-09. His vote helped end the 2000 Presidential Election debacle.
9. Vladimir Putin: Russia had become a third world country with nuclear weapons. Russian plutocrats and mobsters controlled the nation. Then, Vladimir Putin assumed control. He brought the billionaires and mobsters to heel and reasserted government control. Additionally, Putin managed to restore the collapsed Russian economy. Under his stewardship, wages rose dramatically, unemployment dropped, and quality of life increased significantly. Putin attracted foreign investment, realigned energy policy, and reformed security services. By 2009, he made Russia a world power again after a two decade absence.
10. Mark Zuckerberg: Mark Zuckerberg and four Harvard classmates invented Facebook from their dorm in 2004. The social network expanded dramatically and Zuckerberg was a billionaire by 2007. Five years later, Facebook boasts over 1 billion people users. The site allows people to communicate with friends, keep track of their interests, and post their thoughts or comments. Facebook interconnects the world, but ironically some critics have claimed that the network also decreases the ability to socialize.