As he declares the U.S.-led airstrikes against Syria a success, President Donald Trump is adopting a phrase that a previous president came to regret — “mission accomplished.”
On Saturday, Trump tweeted: “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!”
In May 2003, President George W. Bush stood on an aircraft carrier under a giant “Mission Accomplished” banner and declared that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended” — just six weeks after the invasion.
But the war dragged on for many years after that and the banner became a symbol of U.S. misjudgments and mistakes in the long and costly conflict. Bush was heavily criticized for the move.
After shifting explanations, the White House eventually said the “Mission Accomplished” phrase referred to the carrier’s crew completing its 10-month mission, not the military completing its mission in Iraq.
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.
Said former White House press secretary Dana Perino in 2008: “We have certainly paid a price for not being more specific on that banner.”
The Pentagon backed Trump’s assertion in his tweet Saturday, with chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White saying: “We met our objectives. We hit the sites, the heart of the chemical weapons program. So it was mission accomplished.”
She added, “What happens next depends on what the Assad regime decides to do.”
Ari Fleischer, who was White House press secretary at the time of the aircraft carrier speech, tweeted Saturday: “I would have recommended ending this tweet with not those two words.”
Revisiting the situation with Bush, he noted that the crew had asked for the sign and said Bush offered more nuanced remarks. But, he acknowledged, the “shot of Bush with the banner became a symbol of what went wrong.”