Eight Years Ago, Bush Declared 'Mission Accomplished' in Iraq

A look back at the media's naive coverage of the conflict

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Today marks the eighth anniversary of Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech about the Iraq War, when American casualties stood at 139 killed and 542 wounded. Eight years, over 4,000 U.S. fatalities,  and hundreds of thousands Iraqi fatalities later, the war carries on.

In 2008, U.S. President George W. Bush said he regretted some of his more blunt statements on his so-called war on terrorism wished he had not spoken in front of a "Mission Accomplished" banner only a month after U.S. troops in Iraq were deployed, according to CNN.

But George W. Bush was not alone. Greg Mitchell explains how many major media outlets unquestioningly accepted the announcement that the Iraq war was over, and the U.S. had won.

Chris Matthews on MSNBC called Bush a "hero" and boomed, "He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics." He added: "Women like a guy who's president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It's simple."

In fact, the image of President George W. Bush on the carrier reminded conservative and liberal media commentators irresistibly of "Top Gun." PBS' Gwen Ifill said Bush was "part Tom Cruise, part Ronald Reagan." Maureen Dowd wrote in a column:

He flashed that famous all-American grin as he swaggered around the deck of the aircraft carrier in his olive flight suit, ejection harness between his legs, helmet tucked under his arm, awestruck crew crowding around. Maverick was back, cooler and hotter than ever, throttling to the max with joystick politics...This time Maverick didn't just nail a few bogeys and do a 4G inverted dive with a MiG-28 at a range of two meters. This time the Top Gun wasted a couple of nasty regimes, and promised this was just the beginning.

Occasionally the coverage differed -- with regard to which movie star Bush resembled.

Bob Schieffer on CBS said: "As far as I'm concerned, that was one of the great pictures of all time." His guest, Joe Klein, responded: "Well, that was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day. That was the first thing that came to mind for me."

Eight years later, we still have the same war. But we are a very different country.

On August 31, 2010, President Obama declared an end to the combat mission in Iraq in a primetime address from the Oval Office. “We have sent our young men and women to make enormous sacrifices in Iraq, and spent vast resources abroad at a time of tight budgets at home,” Obama said. “Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibility. Now, it’s time to turn the page.”

There was no beaming, rejoicing, or movie star comparisons. One New York Times editorial summed up the response to the event:

There was no victory to declare last night, and Mr. Obama was right not to try. If victory was ever possible in this war, it has not been won, and America still faces the daunting challenges of the other war, in Afghanistan.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.