George W. Bush's "Mission Accomplished speech": The tenth anniversary

What can we learn from that historical speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln? Photo: Public domain (Located at Wikimedia Commons)

FLORIDA, May 1, 2013 — Ten years ago today, George W. Bush stood on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and made a very important speech.

From the sparkling waters of San Diego Harbor, he announced that major combat operations in Iraq had ceased. Behind him was a banner with the words “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED” superimposed over the American flag. Despite what many might believe, President Bush did not literally state that any mission of any kind had been accomplished.

Rather, he told the world that “(i)n the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country.”

He went on to mention how “(i)n this battle, we have fought for the cause of liberty, and for the peace of the world. Our nation and our coalition are proud of this accomplishment — yet, it is you, the members of the United States military, who achieved it. Your courage, your willingness to face danger for your country and for each other, made this day possible. Because of you, our nation is more secure. Because of you, the tyrant has fallen, and Iraq is free.”

In the darkest of all ironies, Iraq would soon revert to tyranny. Longstanding ethnic and religious tensions exploded in some of the most grotesque displays of carnage imaginable. While Saddam Hussein, a nefarious strongman if there ever was one, had indeed been chased from power, civil war was his ultimate replacement.

American troops, expecting a Gulf War-like scenario, found themselves in the middle of a conflict far older than the United States itself.

Before any of this, however, President Bush continued with his speech on that sunny southern California evening: “The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth every effort. Our coalition will stay until our work is done. Then we will leave, and we will leave behind a free Iraq.

“The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11, 2001 — and still goes on. That terrible morning, 19 evil men — the shock troops of a hateful ideology — gave America and the civilized world a glimpse of their ambitions. They imagined, in the words of one terrorist, that September the 11th would be the “beginning of the end of America.” By seeking to turn our cities into killing fields, terrorists and their allies believed that they could destroy this nation’s resolve, and force our retreat from the world. They have failed.”

Even during times of tremendous hardship, few can doubt the American public’s resolve. In the wake of 9/11, there was an unprecedented wave of patriotism and national unity. From the early 2000s until the Great Recession, economic productivity reached almost unbelievable levels. Objectively speaking, the savagery of terrorism was no match for sheer American greatness.

In my opinion, the country’s current economic woes and social gloom have little to do with foreign-originated crises. It is more the result of a consumerist culture bent on having the biggest slice of cake and eating it too; the same sort of thing which caused the Great Depression.

Nonetheless, President Bush’s popularity ratings sunk after his successful 2004 reelection bid. At first, the reason was the prolonged presence of American troops in Iraq, which by then had become a hotbed of guerilla warfare. The second, of course, was Hurricane Katrina.

The Great Recession made things exponentially worse, and allowed for a transition into the here and now of hyper-partisan politicking.

Looking back, there is much to learn from what became known as the Mission Accomplished speech. President Bush’s enthusiasm for the future, merged with a solemn remembrance of past tragedies, should resonate with even the hardest of hearts. 

We should also recognize that not everything is as it seems. 

A decade ago, President Bush and his team of analysts strongly believed that Iraq would soon form a Western-style democracy. They neglected to take note of the land’s conflict-ridden history; one in which cultures settle their clashes with violence, not gentleman’s agreements.

One can say that American involvement in Iraq has been a grand-scale culture clash. The United States’s ideas of individualism and representative government simply did not, and do not, gel with the sort of militant tribalism native to the Middle East.

If this isn’t reason enough to reject further military ventures in that part of the world, then I don’t know what is.  

Far-left? Far-right? Get realRead more from “The Conscience of a Realist” by Joseph F. Cotto 


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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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