"Four years later, there is one thing that the American people, bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress, military experts and the Iraq Study Group all agree on," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "We clearly have not accomplished our mission in Iraq, and that the only way to succeed is to change our current course of action. It seems only the president and his small band of advisers think we have accomplished our mission in Iraq."
At the time, however, the president's May 1, 2003, photo op seemed to many an inspired if spectacular bit of political theater to demonstrate the president's national security credentials as he helped fly a jet onto the aircraft carrier, strutted in a flight suit, and declared, while standing in front of a "Mission Accomplished" banner, that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended" and that "in the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed."
"Yes, I flew it," said the president to members of the media. "Yeah, of course, I liked it." Bush, the White House reminded everyone, flew F-102s in the Texas Air National Guard.
But the war continued. Since Bush's speech, 3,212 U.S. troops have been killed and 24,548 troops seriously wounded. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed, and the country has descended into sectarian violence.
And since then, the event and the banner have emerged as indicative of an arrogant White House too often disconnected from facts on the ground in Iraq. By April 2004, even political aide Karl Rove acknowledged that the banner was a boner. "I wish the banner was not up there," Rove told an editorial board meeting with the Columbus Dispatch. "I'll acknowledge the fact that it has become one of those convenient symbols."
There were no banners as Bush traveled to the military's Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., highlighting that troops fighting the war need the $100 billion set aside for them in the funding bill, although he did not mention troop funding in his speech today. "We look back at that history and marvel at what millions of ordinary people accomplished," the president said of World War II. "That success was not preordained. And the outcome was not certain. Only now we can see those eras with the proper perspective. I believe that one day future generations will look back at this time in the same way, and they will be awed by what our coalition has helped to build."
"I think it's an embarrassment when our troops are waiting on an emergency spending bill to provide them essential equipment that we are staging signing ceremonies and going through political kabuki theater just to demonstrate on the part of some their disagreement with the president's strategy in Baghdad and in Iraq," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in a speech on the Senate floor. "I think it's inappropriate and irresponsible."
However much the "Mission Accomplished" event embarrassed the president today, if at all, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said that the event could have been much more embarrassing. Rumsfeld has said that when he got an advance copy of the president's speech he edited out a number of other items, including a line stating that in Iraq "the guns are silent."
"I took 'mission accomplished' out," Rumsfeld told Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward. "I was in Baghdad, and I was given a draft of that thing to look at. And I just died, and I said, my God, it's too conclusive. And I fixed it and sent it back. And we got it back and they fixed the speech, but not the sign."