Before turning his attention to former FBI Director James Comey, Donald Trump reflected briefly on Saturday on the military strikes in Syria he’d ordered the night before:
“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!”
There really aren’t many phrases modern presidents need to avoid in situations like these, but perhaps Trump wasn’t paying attention to current events in 2003 – or any of the years that followed.
Even Ari Fleischer, hardly a neutral political observer, wrote on Saturday, “Um … I would have recommended ending this tweet with not those two words.”
Whether Trump understands this or not, “Mission Accomplished” was the text on the banner above George W. Bush’s head in 2003 when the then-president declared the end of “major combat operations” in Iraq. Bush never literally spoke the words “mission accomplished” in his remarks, but they appeared over his head during the speech and his presidency was haunted by the phrase.
As conditions in Iraq deteriorated, the death toll mounted, and the arguments in support of the invasion evaporated, that two-word banner came to represent premature celebration of a conflict that was at its beginning, not its end.
Even Bush later conceded the message was a “mistake.”
For reasons that don’t appear to make any sense, Trump seems eager to repeat the mistake. Indeed, in some ways, it’s even more difficult to understand this president’s use of the phrase, since Trump has never even tried to explain what the U.S. mission in Syria is.
Are we trying to withdraw from Syria “very soon,” as the president assured the public a few weeks ago? Are we there to defeat ISIS? Are we using our military resources to impose restrictions on the Assad regime? Are we eager to support more than one side in Syria’s multi-party civil war?
Which of these missions does Trump think he’s “accomplished”? Does he realize the degree to which some of these goals are contradictory?