Mission accomplished? Easier said than done, Mr President

Mission accomplished? Easier said than done, Mr President

Donald Trump finally had something positive to say on Twitter. After nearly a week of dithering, the president made a decision and announced it, to a fair amount of surprise, on national television on Friday night: The United States, in concert with the United Kingdom and France, would launch targeted strikes on Syrian chemical weapons facilities, in response to a heartbreaking attack a week earlier in a Damascus suburb that killed dozens of civilians, including children. “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 on Saturday morning. Those last two words gave many pause. Is Trump unable to use his favourite medium without being a little controversial, without needling the Establishment just a bit? Or is the president unaware of one of the worst presidential PR moments of recent history? In May 2003, George W. Bush famously—infamously might be the better word—gave a televised speech from an aircraft carrier that had just returned from the Persian Gulf. Saddam Hussein had been pushed out of power and the president declared the end of major combat operations in Iraq underneath a banner reading “Mission Accomplished.” The image came back to haunt him months later, when an anti-American insurgency started in the country that tied up U.S. forces for years. After Trump tweeted, former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer took the opportunity to try to set the record straight about that moment. “It was the crew’s message from start to finish,” he tweeted. “After our advance crew boarded the ship in Hawaii days prior to Bush’s landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln, the Navy crew told us they were returning from the longest deployment of any ship in Naval history. They were proud of what they had done.” And they asked the White House for permission to display a “Mission Accomplished” banner, which remained on the carrier until it returned to its home port in Washington state. “In his remarks, Bush stated the danger was not over and that difficult missions lay ahead, particularly in the Sunni triangle. The nuance of his remarks, however, couldn’t compete with the message of this banner.” Fleischer noted that the press didn’t criticize the pennant at the time. “By the Fall, the shot of Bush with the banner became a symbol of what went wrong.”