WASHINGTON – President Bush marked the end of his first 365 days in office Sunday, giving the White House cause to reflect on the bright spots of a tragic year.
"It's fair to say that this first year has been a year of results and progress and it's also been a year of challenge and defense of our freedoms, as a result of the attack on our country," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
"One for the history books," said Bush adviser Karen Hughes. "I'm ready to turn the last page on it."
Most memorable, of course, is the president's emergence as the chief executive of a divided nation reeling from a disputed election to the commander-in-chief of a unified nation fighting off unprecedented, large-scale terror attacks on its own soil.
"The war helped him get beyond the controversy of a disputed election and let people accept him emotionally as president," said Democrat Bill Carrick, a political consultant in Los Angeles. "It changed everything about this presidency. He went from an accidental president who was a Saturday Night Live joke to the commander-in-chief."
On foreign affairs, Bush's first months in office rankled allies who accused him of defying world opinion on global warming, missile defense, germ warfare and other international accords. The president was also challenged by the downing of a U.S. military plane by a Chinese jet fighter in international waters, and the White House's subsequent efforts to negotiate for the return of 24 servicemen and women held on China's Hainen Island.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, the president demonstrated the decisive leadership most Americans were hoping to see. Less than a month later, the United States, leading a coalition forged by the Bush administration, sought justice with a bombing campaign in Afghanistan where terrorist Usama bin Laden, his network Al Qaeda, and their sponsors, the Taliban regime, resided.
The daily grind wore on the president, but it made him a forceful, if not exhausted, leader.
"Determining who lives and dies, putting soldiers at risk, has an impact," said Brad Freeman, a California fund-raiser and Bush pal. "He looks a little older. I don't know what it is, his hair a little grayer or what."
To the White House, though, the president's most important accomplishments have occurred at home, including a 10-year tax cut and the largest education reform bill in nearly four decades, among other things.
"He takes great pride in the fact that, on a bipartisan basis, the Congress and the president together were able to improve education for the country, particularly for students in public school, that taxes have been lowered for all Americans, that the marriage penalty has been reduced, that the death tax has been eliminated, that environmental legislation, which had been sought for 10 years to help clean up abandoned areas in our urban cities, has been finally enacted into law to protect the environment through brownfields legislation," Fleischer said.
"That really is a lot of progress on the legislative front in the first year of a presidency, particularly given the fact that the House is such a small margin, that the Senate switched sides," he added.
Still, much of the president's domestic agenda remains undone.
He wants the Democrat-controlled Senate to pass his energy plan, and give him trade promotion authority to negotiate trade deals with foreign nations without congressional amendment.
The president also wants Senate action on his faith-based initiative, under which religious groups that perform social services could compete for federal contracts.
Bush's trade bill passed the House after aides portrayed the vote as a measure of patriotism. It would let Bush negotiate global trade agreements and submit them to Congress for a yes-or-no vote, no amendments allowed. The Senate, however, has not yet acted.
War and recession eliminated government surpluses, leaving no money to tackle Social Security and Medicare reform.
While the crises forced Bush to alter his legislative and political strategies, he has not changed his agenda, and the war could in fact give Bush the leverage he needs to wrap up several issues.
"The crisis, and the increased political authority given to the president, have been used as leverage to further his original agenda," said Stephen Skowroneck, a professor of political science at Yale.
On top of that, some 80 percent of Americans, according to recent polls, approve of the way the president is handling his duties. This may translate into policy successes for the president, as well as add to his confidence.
But with only one quarter of his term finished, more is expected from the president. He plans to lay out what's next on Jan. 29 during his first State of the Union address.
Fox News' James Rosen and the Associated Press contributed to this report.