Four Years After 'Mission Accomplished'

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, May 1, 2007; 1:14 PM

There may be no more vivid illustration of the collapse of President Bush's public image than the changing perceptions of his "Mission Accomplished" moment.

Four years ago today, Bush flew aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier in "Top Gun" style, stood under a banner proclaiming "Mission Accomplished," and proudly declared: "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed."

The event was initially hailed as a brilliant act of White House stagecraft, showcasing Bush as a powerful and resolute leader.

But as time passed, the "mission" was exposed as a delusion. There were no Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. And there is little sense of accomplishment.

When Bush spoke under that banner four years ago, 138 American troops had died in Iraq. Since then, more than 3,000 have perished and over 24,000 more have been wounded.

In a bit of Democratic stagecraft, Congressional leaders have waited until today to send Bush the bill passed last week that sets timetables for a troop withdrawal. Bush has promised to veto it.

With the public decidedly against him and his seemingly never-ending war, Bush is a long way from the flight deck of the Abraham Lincoln.

Here is the text and video of that May 1, 2003 speech. Here's the definitive photo, by Larry Downing of Reuters.

Denying the Obvious

This may be a small thing, but I think it's telling that the White House still won't cop to its role in commissioning the banner -- or admit that Bush's words betrayed a profound cluelessness about what was to come.

As recently as Jan. 9 of this year, press secretary Tony Snow tried to make it sound like the White House had nothing to do with the sign. "You know that the 'Mission Accomplished' banner was put up by members of the USS Abraham Lincoln," he said.

That is indeed what Bush himself said at an October 28, 2003 press conference: "The 'Mission Accomplished' sign, of course, was put up by the members of the USS Abraham Lincoln, saying that their mission was accomplished," he said. "I know it was attributed somehow to some ingenious advance man from my staff -- they weren't that ingenious, by the way."

But as Dana Milbank and Mike Allen wrote in the October 29, 2003, Washington Post, White House staffers were indeed that ingenious: "White House press secretary Scott McClellan later acknowledged that the sign was produced by the White House. He said the warship's crew, at sea for 10 months, had requested it."

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