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Context of 'Before May 1, 2003: Bush Administration Arranges ‘Mission Accomplished’ Banner'

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President-elect George W. Bush meets with Donald Rumsfeld in Washington, and offers him the position of secretary of defense. Insiders are amazed that Bush would even consider Rumsfeld, the chief of staff for former President Ford (see September 21, 1974 and After), after Rumsfeld’s open contempt and enmity towards the elder Bush, the “Team B” onslaught against the elder Bush’s CIA (see Late November 1976 and Late November, 1976), and his attempts to keep Bush off the presidential tickets in 1976 and 1980 (see Before November 4, 1975). “Real bitterness there,” a close friend of the Bush family later says. “Makes you wonder what was going through Bush 43’s head when he made [Rumsfeld] secretary of defense.” The Bush family’s great friend and fixer, James Baker, even tries to dissuade Bush from choosing Rumsfeld, telling him, “All I’m going to say is, you know what he did to your daddy.” But Bush chooses Rumsfeld anyway. Not only does Rumsfeld have a long and fruitful relationship with Vice President Cheney (see 1969), but Rumsfeld, described as always an ingratiating courtier by author Craig Unger, plays on Bush’s insecurity about his lack of experience and his desire to be an effective commander in chief. Rumsfeld is also a key element of Cheney’s long-term plan to unify power in the executive branch (see 1981-1992), to the detriment of Congress and the judiciary. [Unger, 2007, pp. 186-187]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Craig Unger, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, James A. Baker

Timeline Tags: US Military

From Barksdale Air Force Base, President Bush speaks with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld informs the president that it had been an American Airlines plane that hit the Pentagon. Previously, there had been a question as to whether it was hit by a smaller plane or a helicopter. [New Yorker, 9/25/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 116] Rumsfeld also tells Bush, “This is not a criminal action. This is war.” Washington Times reporter Rowan Scarborough later reflects, “Rumsfeld’s instant declaration of war… took America from the Clinton administration’s view that terrorism was a criminal matter to the Bush administration’s view that terrorism was a global enemy to be destroyed.” [Washington Times, 2/23/2004] Bush reportedly tells Rumsfeld that there will “be a counterattack and that the military [will] not be hamstrung by politics the way it had been in Vietnam.” He says to Rumsfeld, “It’s a day of national tragedy and we’ll clean up the mess. And then the ball will be in your court and [incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] Dick Myers’s court to respond.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 116]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Bush administration will later deny that it planned the “Mission Accomplished” banner that was used during Bush’s public relations event aboard the USS Lincoln (see May 1, 2003), and instead blame the banner on the crew of the Lincoln, who supposedly want to celebrate the end of their own uneventful mission. However, aside from the careful, micromanaged stagecraft used in every moment of the presentation, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will later tell reporter Bob Woodward that the banner was a Bush administration PR element. According to Rumsfeld, he had the words “mission accomplished” removed from Bush’s speech: “I took ‘mission accomplished’ out,” he will recall. “I was in Baghdad and I was given a draft of that thing and I just died. And I said, it’s too inclusive.… They fixed the speech, but not the sign.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 305] Five years later, the White House will still insist that it had nothing to do with the creation of the banner (see April 30, 2008).

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

Bush on the USS Abraham Lincoln.Bush on the USS Abraham Lincoln. [Source: Associated Press]President Bush, wearing a custom-made flight suit, is ferried in a Navy S-3B Viking jet to the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln anchored off the coast of San Diego, where he declares the cessation of major combat operations in Iraq. A banner unfurled behind the president reads, “Mission Accomplished.” [CNN, 5/2/2003] Bush begins his speech by saying: “Officers and sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln, my fellow Americans, major combat operations have ended. In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.” [White House, 5/1/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 304-305] Bush praises a military victory “carried out with a combination of precision and speed and boldness the enemy did not expect and the world had not seen before.” He celebrates “the images of fallen soldiers” and “the images of celebrating Iraqis” (see April 9, 2003, April 9, 2003, and April 10, 2003), and continues, “[T]he battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the eleventh, 2001, and still goes on.” The invasion “removed an ally of al-Qaeda,” he asserts. Because of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Bush says, “no terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because the regime is no more.” Bush gives his listeners a dose of belligerence: “With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States, and war is what they got.” [White House, 5/1/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 90]
Perfectly Staged - The presentation itself is a triumph of stage-managed spectacle. The Lincoln, only 39 miles offshore, is held out at sea for an additional 24 hours, forcing the crew to wait another day to see their families after their lengthy sea tour. The carrier shifts position several times to ensure that the television cameras only film expanses of ocean as backdrop for Bush, and not the Southern California skyline. Bush’s handlers decide not to have the president fly in by helicopter—standard procedure for such a visit—but instead opt for a far more dramatic flight in a fighter jet making a high-speed tailhook landing. The jet is renamed “Navy One” and Bush is designated co-pilot. [Unger, 2007, pp. 304-305] The Secret Service balks at allowing Bush to fly in “one of the sexier fighter jets,” but eventually relents enough to allow Bush to “pilot” a four-seat S-3B Viking (specially dubbed “Navy One” and with the legend “George W. Bush, Commander-in-Chief” stenciled on the cockpit). [Rich, 2006, pp. 88-90] The crew wears uniforms color-coordinated with the banner and other props the White House public relations staff have deployed. [Rich, 2006, pp. 88-90] Bush makes a dramatic exit from the fighter jet wearing, not civilian clothes, but a flight suit. As he greets the crew, he shouts in response to a reporter’s question: “Yes, I flew it! Of course I liked it!” The idea that Bush, whose time in fighter planes was strictly limited and 30 years out of date, would have been allowed to fly a state-of-the-art fighter jet without training or certification is absurd on its face, but by and large the press swallows Bush’s claim without question. Three hours later, Bush emerges from below decks, this time wearing a business suit. His entrance is timed to coincide with the California sunset, called by Hollywood cinematographers the “magic hour” for the lovely, glowing low light it bathes upon its subject. The huge “Misson Accomplished” banner, produced by Bush public relations staffers and designed to match other event banners and graphics, stretches high above Bush’s head. (One of the chief producers of the event, former ABC producer Scott Sforza, had boarded the Lincoln days before to ensure that production values were met. Sforza made sure that the banner would be visible to the cameras during Bush’s speech—see Before May 1, 2003.) [Unger, 2007, pp. 304-305]
Iraqi Captives No Longer POWs - US military officials will subsequently say that the event means captives being held in Iraq will no longer be treated as prisoners of war under the third article of the Geneva Conventions, but instead as civilians being held by an occupying power under the fourth article of the Geneva Conventions—which allows long-term detentions for prisoners deemed a threat to governing authorities. [Washington Post, 5/21/2004] White House aides tell reporters that Bush will not officially declare the war “over” because, under the Geneva Conventions, that would require the US to release some 6,000 prisoners of war taken during and after the invasion. [Rich, 2006, pp. 88-90]
'Hubris, Arrogance, and Cowboy Swagger' - Author and public administration professor Alasdair Roberts will later write: “President Bush attempted to clothe himself in the garb of the military with the hope of drawing on the esteem with which it was regarded. He did this figuratively—and also literally when… he landed on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln.… This was taken as hubris, arrogance, and cowboy swagger. But it is more accurately regarded as a sign of weakness. The heads of other developed democracies do not feel the need to meet the media in military garb. This was evidence of the president’s inability to command authority on his own account.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 21] Some have a different opinion (see May 1-4, 2003 and May 7, 2003). Immediately after the event, Fox pundit Morton Kondracke says, “This was fantastic theater.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 89]

Entity Tags: US Secret Service, US Department of the Navy, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, Morton Kondracke, Scott Sforza, Bush administration (43), Alasdair Roberts

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

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