Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of one of the most dishonest propaganda speeches in modern American history.
President Bush did his flight suit strut on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln in front of a banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished.” While Bush’s popularity has collapsed since then, the pundits and publications that crowned Bush for that speech should also live in infamy.
Bush proclaimed, “With new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians." Tell that to Haditha — tell that to all the Iraqi families whose kinfolk were killed at U.S. checkpoints — tell that to the people of Fallujah. The British medical journal Lancet estimated last year that American and allied military forces have directly caused 186,000 Iraqi deaths since 2003. That is the equivalent of several large soccer stadiums full of people no longer available to thank Bush for liberating them.
Bush assured Americans and the world: “We’ve begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons, and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated.” With each passing month, we are learning more about how the administration was warned before attacking Iraq that Saddam had long since abandoned the production of chemical and biological weapons. But Bush could still successfully use that hobgoblin in the weeks after Baghdad was captured.
Bush declared, “The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We have removed an ally of Al Qaeda and cut off a source of terrorist funding.” This is ironic in hindsight, since the Bush administration is now using Al Qaeda’s presence in the postwar rubble to justify perpetuating American military occupation.
Bush closed his speech with the following Biblical contortion: “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, u2018To the captives, come out; and to those in darkness, be free.”’
I guess the Abu Ghraib exemption to captives coming out did not make the final cut of Bush’s speech. And did Bush think that he was God’s anointed, spreading salvation to the world?
As things deteriorated in Iraq as 2003 progressed, the Bush team scrambled to rewrite the history of that speech. At an October 28, 2003, press conference, Bush was asked about that giant "Mission Accomplished" banner. Bush replied: "The u2018Mission Accomplished’ sign, of course, was put up by the members of the USS Abraham Lincoln, saying that their mission was accomplished. I know it was attributed somehow to some ingenious advance man from my staff — they weren’t that ingenious, by the way."
The design of the banner had the same design, typeface, and background as a large "Jobs and Growth" banner hung at a Bush speaking event in Ohio a week earlier. A few days after Bush’s Abraham Lincoln speech, the Washington Post noted that Bush’s "aides say the slogan was chosen in part to mark a presidential turn toward domestic affairs as his campaign for reelection approaches." After Bush’s October 28 comment on the banner, White House spokesman Dan Bartlett asserted that the slogan was thought up by sailors who then asked the White House to create the banner. The White House arranged for the banner to be created and delivered to the aircraft carrier. But Bush was correct that the banner was not hung up on the carrier by his press secretary, Ari Fleischer.
Nothing has happened since May 1, 2003 to make George Bush a smidgin more honest. The only difference is that Iraq’s carnage is now so obvious that even many of his loyal supporters no longer swallow Bush’s lies.
But we must not forget the politicians, pundits, think tanks, newspapers and magazines who cheered this speech and groveled at Bush’s feet in the years that followed. The more arrogantly Bush acted, the more servile the nation’s political-intellectual Establishment became. While Bush’s days as president are numbered, there will be no purge of the designated deep thinkers who helped pave the way to ruin. Their ideas and bootlicking will likely imperil our rights and liberties for many years to come.
James Bovard [send him mail] is the author of the just-released Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, and Terrorism & Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice, and Peace to Rid the World of Evil. He serves as a policy advisor for The Future of Freedom Foundation. Visit his website.