President Bush’s speech delivered on May 1, 2003 has to be one of the most bitter, ironic celebrations of war ever delivered by a president. In the closing lines, President Bush even edges toward blasphemy. Certainly the banner prominent behind the presidential podium dominates perceptions of the speech. Sailors on the USS Abraham Lincoln gladly hoisted their Mission Accomplished proclamation because, in fact, the ship’s mission was over. They and their ship were headed home. Soldiers and sailors headed home to reunite with their families always celebrate.
Read President Bush’s remarks. He immodestly brags about exploits of people under his command, on board the deck of an aircraft carrier, the way Donald Trump brags in his tweets. He degrades his office, as well as the military’s mission, with empty praise – empty because it has no political foundation. He does praise our servicemen and women, the only moral bright spot in the speech. They follow the president’s orders, and he expresses his gratitude to them. He talks at length about the end of major combat operations. Everyone ridicules his ill-advised banner, but Bush’s Mission Accomplished boast is by far the least of the problem. Let me mention a few others.
We can begin with flagrant dishonesty. One of the hardest lies to bear is confident reassurance or prognosis from someone you know has practically no control over the outcome in question. President Obama’s lie about health care reform – “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it” – falls in this category. It was not demonstrably false at the time he said it, but everyone knew he had no power to make good on his reassurance. Obama himself would have said he was blowing smoke.
The same goes for President Bush’s declaration that major combat operations in Iraq were over. The Iraqi army – which the president was about to disband – Shiite militias, Sunni resistance, and thousands of individuals who wanted to see the United States out of their country would have something to say about whether fighting had stopped. President Bush knows that. Yet he declares with assurance that the U. S. military has laid all enemies low: deprived them of their ability to fight back.
A second problem with the speech is an amazing willingness to propagate the Big Lie about Al Qaeda. We look back and say, about the war, “Well at least Bush and the rest of his incompetent crew dropped the bullshit about Al Qaeda after they removed Saddam Hussein.” Along with propaganda about terrorists went the even more incredible claim that Hussein was determined to supply his terrorist allies with chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons. The more we think about Bush’s rationale for war, though, the more we recall the bullshit took years to go away. We looked for those weapons relentlessly, and finally had to confess we could not find any. When that happened, people challenged Bush about his casus belli. He responded, “So what?” Translation: “Who cares? We all knew it was a pretext from the beginning.”
When you read the speech below, or any other rhetoric of the time, you cannot help but compare what we know about the 9/11 attacks now, with what we knew then. President Bush’s remarks about 9/11 in this speech are extensive. Those attacks, not Iraq’s weapons, are the president’s ultimate justification for war. The true pretext for Hussein’s removal is the false flag attack conducted at the World Trade Center. That’s his ace. No one can oppose the war in Iraq, because that profanes the memory of 9/11 victims. He tells the world that America has launched a righteous crusade against terrorists who attacked America. They cannot hide. Now we merely think, after all we have learned since: “More bullshit.”
Perhaps Bush’s most egregious misstatements concern his happy prospects for Iraqi civilians. His remarks show him so pleased with himself, as he congratulates everyone about how the United States removed Hussein to protect the Iraqi people. They deserve freedom, he says; now, with a little more work to rebuild their state, they have it. He envisions, in this speech, a paradise of liberty and security on the eve of a sectarian bloodbath that rivals anything even the Middle East had ever seen. This killing intensified in 2006, only three years after Bush declared victory. In fact, civilian and military deaths have risen and fallen for fifteen years, but they have never stopped. Moreover, President Bush possessed no means to protect Iraqi civilians at the time he boasted of their newfound hope, and he knew it. He seems to think that after you pull down a few statues of the tyrant Hussein, everything’s good. You believe what you want to believe.
In fact, when you attack a foreign country, you cannot predict what will happen. Everyone who knows war knows that. Einstein said God does not play dice with the universe, but other Germans from Clausewitz to Bismarck know that leaders of states do play dice with war. Every act of war is a gamble. Every act of war that ignores risk is an act of hubris. Bismarck observed, “There is a Providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children and the United States of America.”
With George W. Bush, Providence had enough. Providence said, “I cannot protect someone that foolish.” Unlike children, happy drunks, or pleasant idiots, Bush was not harmless. Pride runs in his blood. Proverbs observes, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (16:18) By the end of his speech, Bush actually seems to think God approves of all he has done, that he’ll stand first to receive the Lord’s welcome as he enters the new Jerusalem. For others who still live with his extraordinary folly, his acts of hubris mark the end of American ascendance, a loss of respect so precipitous you cannot find anything similar in the annals of great powers.
One more quotation from Bismarck demarcates the difference between white and damnable lies: “People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.” Lies you tell after a hunt don’t harm anyone, nor does ordinary election dishonesty generally influence the way people vote. Wartime dishonesty and deception, however, carry potential for harm beyond any other kind of lie a political leader might tell. Fifteen years after President Bush led the United States to smash Saddam Hussein and his state, we ought to remember where he brought us.
Thursday, May 1, 2003
ABOARD THE USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN – The following is an unedited transcript of President Bush’s historic speech from the flight deck of the USS Lincoln, during which he declared an end to major combat in Iraq:
Thank you. Thank you all very much.
Admiral Kelly, Captain Card, officers and sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln, my fellow Americans, major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.
And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country.
In this battle, we have fought for the cause of liberty and for the peace of the world. Our nation and our coalition are proud of this accomplishment, yet it is you, the members of the United States military, who achieved it. Your courage, your willingness to face danger for your country and for each other made this day possible.
Because of you our nation is more secure. Because of you the tyrant has fallen and Iraq is free.
Operation Iraqi Freedom was carried out with a combination of precision and speed and boldness the enemy did not expect and the world had not seen before.
From distant bases or ships at sea, we sent planes and missiles that could destroy an enemy division or strike a single bunker. Marines and soldiers charged to Baghdad across 350 miles of hostile ground in one of the swiftest advances of heavy arms in history.
You have shown the world the skill and the might of the American armed forces.
This nation thanks all of the members of our coalition who joined in a noble cause. We thank the armed forces of the United Kingdom, Australia and Poland who shared in the hardships of war. We thank all of the citizens of Iraq who welcomed our troops and joined in the liberation of their own country.
And tonight, I have a special word for Secretary Rumsfeld, for General Franks and for all the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States: America is grateful for a job well done.
The character of our military through history, the daring of Normandy, the fierce courage of Iwo Jima, the decency and idealism that turned enemies into allies is fully present in this generation.
When Iraqi civilians looked into the faces of our service men and women, they saw strength and kindness and good will. When I look at the members of the United States military, I see the best of our country and I am honored to be your commander in chief.
In the images of fallen statues we have witnessed the arrival of a new era. For a hundred of years of war, culminating in the nuclear age, military technology was designed and deployed to inflict casualties on an ever-growing scale.
In defeating Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, Allied forces destroyed entire cities, while enemy leaders who started the conflict were safe until the final days. Military power was used to end a regime by breaking a nation.
Today we have the greater power to free a nation by breaking a dangerous and aggressive regime.
With new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians.
No device of man can remove the tragedy from war, yet it is a great advance when the guilty have far more to fear from war than the innocent.
In the images of celebrating Iraqis we have also seen the ageless appeal of human freedom. Decades of lies and intimidation could not make the Iraqi people love their oppressors or desire their own enslavement.
Men and women in every culture need liberty like they need food and water and air. Everywhere that freedom arrives, humanity rejoices and everywhere that freedom stirs, let tyrants fear.
We have difficult work to do in Iraq. We’re bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous. We’re pursuing and finding leaders of the old regime who will be held to account for their crimes. We’ve begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons, and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated.
We are helping to rebuild Iraq where the dictator built palaces for himself instead of hospitals and schools.
And we will stand with the new leaders of Iraq as they establish a government of, by and for the Iraqi people.
The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth every effort. Our coalition will stay until our work is done and then we will leave and we will leave behind a free Iraq.
The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11th, 2001 and still goes on.
That terrible morning, 19 evil men, the shock troops of a hateful ideology, gave America and the civilized world a glimpse of their ambitions. They imagined, in the words of one terrorist, that September the 11th would be the beginning of the end of America.
By seeking to turn our cities into killing fields, terrorists and their allies believed that they could destroy this nation’s resolve and force our retreat from the world.
They have failed.
In the battle of Afghanistan, we destroyed the Taliban, many terrorists and the camps where they trained. We continue to help the Afghan people lay roads, restore hospitals and educate all of their children.
Yet we also have dangerous work to complete. As I speak, a special operations task force lead by the 82nd Airborne is on the trail of the terrorists and those who seek to undermine the free government of Afghanistan.
America and our coalition will finish what we have begun.
From Pakistan to the Philippines to the Horn of Africa, we are hunting down Al Qaida killers.
Nineteen months ago I pledged that the terrorists would not escape the patient justice of the United States. And as of tonight nearly one half of Al Qaida’s senior operatives have been captured or killed.
The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We have removed an ally of Al Qaida and cut off a source of terrorist funding.
And this much is certain: No terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because the regime is no more.
In these 19 months that changed the world, our actions have been focused and deliberate and proportionate to the offense. We have not forgotten the victims of September the 11th, the last phone calls, the cold murder of children, the searches in the rubble. With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States, and war is what they got.
Our war against terror is proceeding according to the principles that I have made clear to all.
Any person involved in committing or planning terrorist attacks against the American people becomes an enemy of this country and a target of American justice.
Any person, organization or government that supports, protects or harbors terrorists is complicit in the murder of the innocent and equally guilty of terrorist crimes. Any outlaw regime that has ties to terrorist groups and seeks or possesses weapons of mass destruction is a grave danger to the civilized world and will be confronted.
And anyone in the world, including the Arab world, who works and sacrifices for freedom has a loyal friend in the United States of America.
Our commitment to liberty is America’s tradition, declared at our founding, affirmed in Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, asserted in the Truman Doctrine and in Ronald Reagan’s challenge to an evil empire.
We are committed to freedom in Afghanistan, Iraq and in a peaceful Palestine.
The advance of freedom is the surest strategy to undermine the appeal of terror in the world. Where freedom takes hold, hatred gives way to hope.
When freedom takes hold, men and women turn to the peaceful pursuit of a better life.
American values and American interests lead in the same direction. We stand for human liberty.
The United States upholds these principles of security and freedom in many ways: with all of the tools of diplomacy, law enforcement, intelligence and finance.
We are working with a broad coalition of nations that understand the threat and our shared responsibility to meet it.
The use of force has been and remains our last resort. Yet all can know, friend and foe alike, that our nation has a mission: We will answer threats to our security, and we will defend the peace.
Our mission continues. Al Qaida is wounded, not destroyed. The scattered cells of the terrorist network still operate in many nations and we know from daily intelligence that they continue to plot against free people. The proliferation of deadly weapons remains a serious danger.
The enemies of freedom are not idle, and neither are we. Our government has taken unprecedented measures to defend the homeland and we will continue to hunt down the enemy before he can strike.
The war on terror is not over, yet it is not endless. We do not know the day of final victory, but we have seen the turning of the tide.
No act of the terrorists will change our purpose, or weaken our resolve, or alter their fate. Their cause is lost; free nations will press on to victory.
Other nations in history have fought in foreign lands and remained to occupy and exploit. Americans, following a battle, want nothing more than to return home. And that is your direction tonight.
After service in the Afghan and Iraqi theaters of war, after 100,000 miles on the longest carrier deployment in recent history, you are homeward bound.
Some of you will see new family members for the first time; 150 babies were born while their fathers were on the Lincoln. Your families are proud of you, and your nation will welcome you.
We are mindful as well that some good men and women are not making the journey home. One of those who fell, Corporal Jason Mileo, spoke to his parents five days before his death. Jason’s father said, “He called us from the center of Baghdad, not to brag but to tell us he loved us. Our son was a soldier.”
Every name, every life is a loss to our military, to our nation and to the loved ones who grieve. There is no homecoming for these families. Yet we pray in God’s time their reunion will come.
Those we lost were last seen on duty.
Their final act on this Earth was to fight a great evil and bring liberty to others.
All of you, all in this generation of our military, have taken up the highest calling of history: You were defending your country and protecting the innocent from harm.
And wherever you go, you carry a message of hope, a message that is ancient and ever new. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “To the captives, come out; and to those in darkness, be free.”
Thank you for serving our country and our cause.
May God bless you all. And may God continue to bless America.