Mission Accomplished

Mission Accomplished

"Mission Accomplished", a phrase associated with completing a mission, is in recent years particularly associated with a sign displayed on USS Abraham Lincoln during a televised address by United States President George W. Bush on May 1, 2003.

Bush stated at the time that this was the end to major combat operations in Iraq. While this statement did coincide with an end to the conventional phase of the war, Bush's assertion — and the sign itself — became controversial after guerilla warfare in Iraq increased during the Iraqi insurgency. The vast majority of casualties, among both coalition (approximately 98.3% as of October 2008) and Iraqi combatants, and among Iraqi civilians, have occurred after the speech. Due to this fact, "Mission Accomplished" is now a winged word for uncompleted operations with an unclear ending.


On May 1, 2003, Bush was the first sitting President to trap on an aircraft carrier, USS Abraham Lincoln in a Lockheed S-3 Viking, dubbed Navy One, as the carrier returned from combat operations in the Persian Gulf. He posed for photographs with pilots and members of the ship's crew while wearing a flight suit. A few hours later, he gave a speech announcing the end of major combat operations in the Iraq War. Clearly visible in the background was a banner stating "Mission Accomplished."

Bush's historic jet landing on the carrier, was criticized by opponents as an overly theatrical and expensive stunt. For instance, they pointed to the fact that the carrier was well within range of Bush's helicopter, and that a jet landing was not needed. Originally the White House had stated that the carrier was too far off the California coast for a helicopter landing and a jet would be needed to reach it. On the day of the speech, the Lincoln was only from shore but the administration still decided to go ahead with the jet landing. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer admitted that the president "could have helicoptered, but the plan was already in place. Plus, he wanted to see a landing the way aviators see a landing. The Lincoln made a scheduled stop in Pearl Harbor shortly before the speech, docked in San Diego after the speech, and returned to its home base in Everett, Washington on May 6, 2003.

The S-3 that served as "Navy One" was retired from service and placed on display at the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida on July 17, 2003. The museum makes it clear that President Bush was a passenger—not the pilot—of the plane. Unlike his father, who was a Navy pilot, George W. Bush was never trained to land on a carrier.

The banner stating "Mission Accomplished" was a focal point of controversy and criticism. Navy Commander and Pentagon spokesman Conrad Chun said the banner referred specifically to the aircraft carrier's 10-month deployment (which was the longest deployment of a carrier since the Vietnam War) and not the war itself, saying "It truly did signify a mission accomplished for the crew."

The White House claimed that the banner was requested by the crew of the ship, who did not have the facilities for producing such a banner. Afterwards, the administration and naval sources stated that the banner was the Navy's idea, White House staff members made the banner, and it was hung by the U.S. Navy personnel. White House spokesman Scott McClellan told CNN "We took care of the production of it. We have people to do those things. But the Navy actually put it up. According to John Dickerson of TIME magazine, the White House later conceded that they actually hung the banner but still insists it had been done at the request of the crew members.

Many people who watched the event on television and saw the banner displayed on the ship drew the conclusion that the banner declared that the U.S. mission in Iraq had been completed.

Whether meant for the crew or not, the general impression created by the image of the President under the banner has been criticized as premature, especially later as the guerrilla war began. Subsequently, the White House released a statement saying that the sign and Bush's visit referred to the initial invasion of Iraq. Bush's speech noted:

"We have difficult work to do in Iraq. We are bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous."
"Our mission continues...The War on Terror continues, yet it is not endless. We do not know the day of final victory, but we have seen the turning of the tide."

However the speech also said that:

"In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed."

When he received an advance copy of the speech, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld took care to remove any use of the phrase "Mission Accomplished" in the speech itself. Later, when journalist Bob Woodward asked him about his changes to the speech, Rumsfeld responded:"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… they fixed the speech, but not the sign.

Bush reiterated a "Mission Accomplished" message to the troops at Camp As Sayliyah on June 5, 2003 — about a month after the aircraft carrier incident: "America sent you on a mission to remove a grave threat and to liberate an oppressed people, and that mission has been accomplished.

For critics of the war, the photo-op became a symbol of the administration's unrealistic goals and perceptions of the conflict. Anti-war activists questioned the integrity and realism of George W. Bush's "major combat" statement. The banner came to symbolize the irony of the President giving a victory speech only a few weeks after the beginning of a relatively long war. Many in the administration came to regret the slogan. Karl Rove later stated "I wish the banner was not up there.

In a less publicized incident, Rumsfeld also declared an end to major combat operations in Afghanistan on May 1, a few hours before President Bush's announcement.

At a May 1, 2008 press conference in Washington D.C., Democratic Senator Jim Webb stated:

"This is the fifth anniversary of the day that President Bush arrived on an aircraft carrier in a flight suit and declared 'mission accomplished.' And in an ironic way, I think it can be said, when you look at the historic way that we use our military, that the Iraq war was over five years ago, in classical terms. And what began was a very contentious occupation that placed our military in what classically we would call a holding position, totally dependent on the ability of the political process to reach the type of solution that would allow this occupation to end.

Media references

Iraq War opponents have used the phrase "mission accomplished" in an ironic sense. In addition, some mainstream outlets questioned the state of the war with derivatives of this statement. For example, the October 6, 2003 cover of Time featured the headline "Mission Not Accomplished. On April 30, 2008, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino sarcastically said "President Bush is well aware that the banner should have been much more specific and said 'mission accomplished for these sailors who are on this ship on their mission.' And we have certainly paid a price for not being more specific on that banner. On May 5, 2008, The Daily Show mocked her statement by producing a graphic of what such a sign may have looked like.

  • "Mission accomplished" style banners appear in three episodes of the Fox Broadcasting Company's television sitcom Arrested Development.
  • The third season finale of the HBO drama The Wire is entitled "Mission Accomplished." The third season uses the failed War on Drugs as a metaphor for the Iraq War through the needless war over territory between two drug crews that dominates much of the third season.
  • In a FoxTrot comic from around the time of this incident, Jason receives a "G.I. Jim Presidential Photo Op" Aircraft Carrier Playset for Christmas, parodying this incident. His best friend Marcus says he thought all those were recalled, to which Jason responds "Santa must have shopped early."
  • In a Pearls Before Swine comic one of the crocodiles shows a banner stating "Meeshunn Akkompished". Wearing a party hat, he celebrates the rumored killing of an antelope by his folks across the street. After the antelope shows up very alive, he says "Sign not my idea".
  • On The Daily Show, Stephen Colbert lampooned the sign with the anagram " C'mon I lied, so scampish" Jon Stewart also lampooned this publicity stunt by wearing a flight suit and appearing in front of a banner that read "My Bad!"
  • On MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Keith Olbermann ends most of the broadcasts by stating the number of days since "the declaration of Mission Accomplished in Iraq."
  • Comedian Bill Maher pointed out that coincidentally the third anniversary fell on approximately the same date of the premiere of the Tom Cruise film Mission: Impossible 3.
  • On the November 11, 2006 episode of Saturday Night Live, one skit parodied a Donald Rumsfeld interview with him being moved out of his office. As the move was just being started, they showed a banner that said "Move accomplished"
  • On an episode of Scrubs, J.D. reads "Iraq War for Dummies". He then calls Turk saying: "You know what's messed up? I just got to the part where President Bush gave his Mission Accomplished speech on a battleship, and I still got like 400 more pages to go!"
  • Filmmaker Michael Moore mocked the scene in his film Fahrenheit 9/11 by underscoring it with the theme song from The Greatest American Hero.
  • A video appeared on YouTube alleging the White House website's official video of the speech Bush made on the aircraft carrier has now been cropped to conceal the "Mission Accomplished" banner. Some dispute that the edits to the video were for the purpose of hiding the banner, citing evidence that, due to camera angles, the banner would not have appeared in that shot in any event, and that blacked out portion of the video likely covers television graphics belonging to the source of the video.
  • Musician Serj Tankian's music video for the song Empty Walls, which shows children imitating various events from the Iraq War features a child dressed and acting like a leader with a banner behind him that says "Mishin Akomplishd".
  • An episode of "30 Rock" titled Cougars mirrored this story, with Alec Baldwin's character, Jack Donaghy, as President Bush and an inner-city youth baseball team representing the Iraqi people. After "fixing" the underprivileged team by buying them expensive equipment (e.g., new uniforms and a scoreboard), Jack (inexplicably dressed like Douglas MacArthur) displays a banner that reads "FUN TIMES ACCOMPLISHED". This storyline serves as a metaphor for the war in Iraq throughout the episode.
  • In early 2008, upon signs that Sony's Blu-ray disc format may have won the format war against HD-DVD, Sony's CEO Howard Stringer refused to declare victory, and stated "I never put up banners that say 'Mission Accomplished'".
  • In March 2008 a book entitled Mission Accomplished! (or How We Won the War in Iraq) was released. A continuation of the "Experts Speak" series from the Institute of Expertology, this book by Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky, with illustrations by Robert Grossman, is a compilation of hundreds of quotations from prominent figures in the media and government concerning military operations in Iraq.
  • An episode of 'Transformers: Animated is titled "Mission Accomplished", in which Optimus Prime's attempts to convince members of Cybertron's Elite Guard of the threat of Decepticons on Earth and the need for a continued Autobot presence are dismissed, and _Animated orders the Earth-based Autobots to return with them to their homeworld. Encountering _Animated is enough to convince the Autobot command of the inaccuracy of their assumption that the mission is indeed accomplished.


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