image image

Syrian conflict

Donald Trump’s ‘Mission Accomplished’ tweet about Syria may come back to haunt him … just like George W. Bush’s premature declaration

Over the last 15 years, George W. Bush’s premature words have been mocked as political arrogance

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 April, 2018, 10:05am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 April, 2018, 8:24pm

If there was a new employee handbook for people who’d just obtained the position of “leader of the free world,” there would be some surefire entries in the section about presidential phrases to avoid:

“I am not a crook,” would be an easy add, for reasons both obvious and historical. So would “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

New hires would be discouraged from summing up economic policy stances with the phrase: “Read my lips. No new taxes.”

And then there is “Mission Accomplished”, the historically loaded phrase US President Donald Trump tweeted Saturday after US-led airstrikes in coordination with British and French forces that struck the “heart” of Syria’s chemical weapons network.

“A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!” Trump tweeted.

“Mission Accomplished” took on new meaning on a spring day in 2003, six weeks after the invasion of Iraq. Then-president George W. Bush, riding shotgun in a S-3B Viking fighter jet, streaked onto the USS Abraham Lincoln to announce that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended.”

They hadn’t.

The vast majority of the combat deaths in Operation Iraqi Freedom occurred after Bush made that speech in front of the “Mission Accomplished” banner. The war would outlast Bush’s presidency and consume a significant chunk of his successor’s.

The phrase also endured, becoming a code word for any mission that was not particularly accomplished, despite a politician’s claims to the contrary.

Over the last 15 years, Bush’s premature words after taking off the flight suit have been mocked as political arrogance.

“Operation Iraqi Freedom was carried out with a combination of precision, and speed, and boldness the enemy did not expect, and the world had not seen before,” Bush said in his speech.

“From distant bases or ships at sea, we sent planes and missiles that could destroy an enemy division, or strike a single bunker. Marines and soldiers charged to Baghdad across 350 miles of hostile ground, in one of the swiftest advances of heavy arms in history. You have shown the world the skill and the might of the American Armed Forces.”

Bush had arrived by fighter jet, even though the Abraham Lincoln was well in range of the presidential helicopter. A Wall Street Journal reporter said he looked “virile, sexy and powerful” decked out in his flight suit.

But history would remember him differently, as not fully understanding the quagmire that the United States was embroiled in.

A little over a year after that speech on the USS Abraham Lincoln, the number of US troops killed in Iraq reached 1,000. In total more than 4,400 Americans were killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and nearly 32,000 were wounded, according to the Department of defence.

The difference between Bush’s boisterous words and the deadly reality of the decade-long war was not lost on the masses.

“Mission Accomplished” has a detailed Wikipedia entry, and a potty-mouthed entry in Urban dictionary too.

A flight-suit wearing Will Ferrell milked the phrase for nearly eight minutes of comedy in his one-man play about Bush.

And so, when Trump put the words in front of an exclamation point Saturday, there was a clear reaction.

To be sure, Trump and Bush had different missions to accomplish. Bush was announcing a significant landmark in the worldwide war on terror.

Trump’s airstrikes were intended to send a message about using chemical weapons on civilians.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Saturday that the mission here was to take out three chemical weapons sites in Syria.

And in a briefing, Pentagon press secretary Dana White said: “Last night’s operations were very successful. We met our objectives. We hit the sites, the heart of the (chemical) weapons programme. So it was mission accomplished.”

Some of the comments were from people asserting that “Mission Accomplished” wasn’t the act of blind political hubris that it’s been made out to be. Bush never uttered the words “Mission Accomplished” in his remarks. And he acknowledged that the United States still had “difficult work to do in Iraq.”

Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer has been defending the decision to hang the banner on Twitter since Trump made his comments. The idea, he said, came from the crew of the USS Abraham Lincoln.

“They were returning from the longest deployment of any ship in Naval history,” Fleischer told his followers, adding that the White House thought the banner would send a dual message.

“They were proud of what they had done.

“The nuance of his remarks, however, couldn’t compete with the message of this banner.”

Bush, in October 2003, disavowed any connection with the “Mission Accomplished” message. He said the White House had nothing to do with the banner; a spokesman later said the ship’s crew asked for the sign and the White House staff had it made by a private vendor.

But in the intervening years, even Bush has expressed regret at the tone of the speech and its backdrop.

“They had a sign that said ‘Mission Accomplished,’ he told CNN in 2008.

“It was a sign aimed at the sailors on the ship, but it conveyed a broader knowledge. To some it said, well, Bush thinks the war in Iraq is over, when I didn’t think that. But nonetheless, it conveyed the wrong message.”