'Mission Accomplished' and the Bush legacy
Happy "Mission Accomplished" Day, everybody!
May 1 marks the 10th anniversary of one of America's most shameful episodes - when George W. Bush descended from the skies in an SB-3 Viking fighter plane, dressed in full combat regalia. That moment was perfectly timed to catch the golden rays of twilight, as orchestrated by a former ABC News producer working for the Bush re-election campaign. Bush then switched to business attire and declared, on the deck of the aircraft carrier, backed by the infamous banner, that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended."
This anniversary observance should help put the kibosh on last week's bizarre Bush boomlet, the spike in his poll approval that he enjoyed during the opening of his presidential library. We all know, of course, that Americans have woefully short memories, so let us briefly walk memory lane to remind ourselves why Bush was one of the worst presidents in history.
For his defenders, I offer this simple test: Imagine what they'd say if Barack Obama reacted to a 9/11-style domestic terrorist attack by invading the wrong foreign country under false pretenses, and then declaring that "major combat operations" had ended - when, in reality, the major combat operations, the deaths of thousands of American soldiers, the wounded and maiming of tens of thousands more, and the budget-busting expenditure of three trillion dollars, were only just beginning.
Rest my case.
One reason why Obama doesn't want to storm into Syria on the basis of preliminary WMD evidence is because he'd prefer not to make a fool of himself the way Bush did. The craven rhetoric of 10 years ago, the rank deceptions, the slippery wordplay, the willfull ignorance - it all haunts us still....
President Bush, during his Mission Accomplished address: "We have begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons, and already know hundreds of sites that will be investigated."
Vice President Cheney, the de facto president, Aug. 26, 2002: "There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us." (Italics are mine.)
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Sept. 8, 2002: "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, March 30, 2003: "We know where (the WMDs) are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."
Bush cheerleader Dick Morris on Fox News, April 9, 2003: "Over the next couple of weeks, when we find the chemical weapons this guy was amassing...the left is going to hang its head for three or four more years."
President Bush, three weeks after his Mission Accompished address: "We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories. For those who say we haven't found the banned manfacturing devices or banned weapons - they're wrong. We found them."
Actually, Bush's team hadn't found squat, and it never did. And the skeptics were proven right.
Mopping the slop
For years thereafter, Bush loyalists tried to mop the slop by spinning/insisting that everybody, not just Bush, got it wrong during the prewar phase. So claimed Condoleezza Rice in 2007: "It was an intelligence problem worldwide. We all thought - including U.N. inspectors -that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction." But that was yet another lie.
The truth is, U.N weapons inspectors refused to join the prewar bandwagon. They were reportedly so contemptuous of the Bush team's WMD tips that they dismissed them as "garbage after garbage after garbage." Hans Blix, the chief U.N. inspector, says he repeatedly told the Bush team, during the prewar phase, that the WMD evidence was thin or worse ("As we found no weapons and no evidence supporting the suspicions, we reported this") - to no avail, of course. And after Bush claimed, in a prewar address, that Hussein was trying to get uranium from Africa, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog group, the International Atomic Energy Agency, concluded that the purported Hussein documents were, in fact, forgeries.
So let's mark today's sad observance by staying true to Bush's soiled legacy. He will forever own one of the worst strategic errors in American statecraft. And let's remember that the U.S. Supreme Court made his legacy possible in the first place - thanks to Bush v. Gore, which summarily halted the Florida recount.
I mention this only because Sandra Day O'Connor, one of the five Republican appointees who dragged Bush across the finish line, is voicing second thoughts about what the court wrought. Last Friday, she told the Chicago Tribune editorial board: "(The court) took the case and decided it at a time when it was still a big election issue. Maybe the court should have said, 'We're not going to take it, goodbye'' ... It turned out the election authorities in Florida hadn't done a real good job there, and kind of messed it up. And probably the Supreme Court added to the problem at the end of the day."
Now she tells us.
Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1