The reaction was swift: Twitter users and political pundits immediately drew parallels with President George W. Bush’s now-infamous 2003 speech just over a month into the Iraq war, in which he announced an end to “major combat operations” in Iraq under a “Mission Accomplished” banner. In actuality, the war was far from over, and would stretch on for years.
The missile strike that Trump was referring to occurred on Friday night. In an announcement, Trump said the attack was underway in retaliation for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons on rebel-held areas of the country. The attacks left at least 42 adults and children dead. The United States, Britain, and France hit three targets in the country, including the capital of Damascus, in what Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called a “one-time shot.”
“A perfectly executed strike last night,” he wrote. “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!”
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 14, 2018
The Pentagon backed Trump’s assertion. “We met our objectives. We hit the sites, the heart of the chemical weapons program. So it was mission accomplished,” spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement to ABC News.
Bush thought it was “mission accomplished” in Iraq in 2003. It was not.
In May 2003, President Bush delivered a speech from the flight deck of the USS Lincoln, saying that the United States and its allies had prevailed in Iraq. He appeared under a banner reading, “Mission Accomplished,” but never used that exact phrase in the address. “The war on terror is not over, yet it is not endless,” Bush said. “We do not know the day of final victory but we have seen the turning of the tide.”
According to the website Iraq Body Count, the conflict resulted in around 200,000 civilian deaths, and some estimates say the death count is actually closer to half a million. Thousands of American troops died as well. Bush’s preemptive “mission accomplished” speech would haunt his presidency.
When Trump used the phrase in his recent tweet, people immediately responded with criticism.
I didn’t think I could be shocked by a tweet anymore but “mission accomplished” was so surprising I had to double check that it was not a spoof.
— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) April 14, 2018
The term “mission accomplished” was ultimately damaging for Pres. George W Bush but apparently not a concern for Pres. Trump https://t.co/CXwBIqWTE4
— Kelly O’Donnell (@KellyO) April 14, 2018
Mission Accomplished, 2003 edition. pic.twitter.com/D9KN6slaur
— Steven Dennis (@StevenTDennis) April 14, 2018
Friday’s strike marks the second time that the United States has waded into Syria’s seven-year conflict in response to a chemical weapons attack. In April 2017, Trump ordered a strike on Syria after Assad’s forces killed more than 80 people with chemical weapons.
It’s not entirely clear what the United States’ mission in Syria is at the present time, and analysts have warned about the risk of escalation. Russia, which backs the Assad regime, warned that Friday’s bombing raid “will not be met without consequences.” And chemical attacks in Syria almost certainly won’t stop — Assad’s forces have launched more than 200 of them since the start of the war there.
Regardless, Trump may want to take a cue from history and avoid repeating Bush’s mistakes — and not declare victory before it’s clear what’s coming next.