Joseph Cotto, 4/26/2016 [Archive]

13 Years Later, Reassessing 'Mission Accomplished'

By Joseph Cotto

Almost thirteen years ago, 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 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."

Bush went on to mention how "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...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 — was chased from power, civil war replaced him.

American troops, expecting a liberator's welcome, found themselves in the middle of a conflict far older than the United States itself.

Before any of this, however, 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...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. They are 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, 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 guerrilla 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'. 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 — especially when unfamiliar cultures enter consideration.

Bush and his team of neocons were resolute in their conviction that Iraq would form a Western-style democracy. They neglected to take note of the land's conflict-ridden history; one in which rival groups settle their disputes with swords, bullets, and bombs, not gentleman's agreements.

One can say that American involvement in Iraq was a grand-scale culture clash. The United States's ideas of individualism and representative government simply did not, and do not, gel with the militant tribalism native to Mideastern societies.

If this falls short of reason enough to reject foreign military adventurism, then I am remiss to say what does not.


Copyright 2016 Joseph Cotto, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Joseph Cotto is a historical and social journalist, and writes about politics, economics and social issues. Email him at

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