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"Mission Accomplished"

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Bush declares combat operations over

Bush declares combat operations over

The “Mission Accomplished” banner that hung on the USS Abraham Lincoln became shorthand for the Bush administration’s hubris and flawed Iraq War planning. Six years after the president visited the aircraft carrier, U.S. troops were still fighting in Iraq and the war continued. When you’re in the end zone, act like you’ve been there before. That was an aphorism repeated in the early days of the Bush administration. After a disputed election, making it look like even big successes were old hat helped chip away at questions about the new president’s abilities. George W. Bush and his aides forgot that lesson when they planned the Lincoln landing. The president, in full flight gear, made a flashy arrested landing. He emerged smiling and victorious to the raucous reception of the flight crew. It was the fanciest end-zone dance in American political history. The landing was off-message not just because it suggested the fighting was over when it wasn’t. The president was supposedly visiting the troops to celebrate their work, but the showy landing made the story about him. Over time, the White House would compound the problem by blaming the crew for hanging the banner. The suggestion was that Bush aides would never have been that cocky. This not only made the Bush team seem petty, but it was at odds with the facts. At the time of the landing, White House aides had boasted they’d been able to align the president’s lectern so that when he spoke to the cameras the banner would be framed perfectly in the background.

Dickerson is Slate’s chief political correspondent and the author of On Her Trail. He runs a blog, Notions, and has a Twitter stream.

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