A 6th Anniversary Look Back at Media Coverage of 'Mission Accomplished'

On May 1, 2003, Richard Perle advised, in a USA
Today Op-Ed, "Relax, Celebrate Victory." The same day, exactly six
years ago, President Bush, dressed in a flight suit, landed on the deck
of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln and declared an end to major military
operations in Iraq -- with the now-infamous "Mission Accomplished"
banner arrayed behind him in the war's greatest photo op.

Chris Matthews on MSNBC called Bush a "hero" and
boomed, "He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody
recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics." He added: "Women
like a guy who's president. Check it out. The women like this war. I
think we like having a hero as our president. It's simple."

PBS' Gwen Ifill said Bush was "part Tom Cruise, part
Ronald Reagan." On NBC, Brian Williams gushed, "The pictures were
beautiful. It was quite something to see the first-ever American
president on a -- on a carrier landing."

Bob Schieffer on CBS said: "As far as I'm concerned,
that was one of the great pictures of all time." His guest, Joe Klein,
responded: "Well, that was probably the coolest presidential image
since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie
Independence Day. That was the first thing that came to mind for me."

Everyone agreed the Democrats and antiwar critics were now on the run.

When Bush's jet landed on an aircraft carrier, American casualties stood at 139 killed and 542 wounded.

The following (a revised version of a chapter in my
2008 book on Iraq and the media, "So Wrong for So Long") looks at how
one newspaper -- it happens to be The New York Times -- covered the
Bush declaration and its immediate aftermath. One snippet: "The Bush
administration is planning to withdraw most United States combat forces
from Iraq over the next several months and wants to shrink the American
military presence to less than two divisions by the fall, senior allied
officials said today."

By Elisabeth Bumiller

WASHINGTON, May 1--President Bush's
made-for-television address tonight on the carrier Abraham Lincoln was
a powerful, Reaganesque finale to a six-week war. But beneath the
golden images of a president steaming home with his troops toward the
California coast lay the cold political and military realities that
drove Mr. Bush's advisors to create the moment.

The president declared an end to major combat
operations, White House, Pentagon and State Department officials said,
for three crucial reasons: to signify the shift of American soldiers
from the role of conquerors to police, to open the way for aid from
countries that refused to help militarily, and--above all--to signal to
voters that Mr. Bush is shifting his focus from Baghdad to concerns at

''This is the formalization that tells everybody
we're not engaged in combat anymore, we're prepared for getting out,''
a senior administration official said.
By Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt

BAGHDAD, May 2--The Bush administration is planning
to withdraw most United States combat forces from Iraq over the next
several months and wants to shrink the American military presence to
less than two divisions by the fall, senior allied officials said today.

The United States currently has more than five
divisions in Iraq, troops that fought their way into the country and
units that were added in an attempt to stabilize it. But the Bush
administration is trying to establish a new military structure in which
American troops would continue to secure Baghdad while the majority of
the forces in Iraq would be from other nations.

Under current planning, there would be three sectors
in postwar Iraq. The Americans would keep a division in and around
Baghdad; Britain would command a multinational division in the south
near Basra; and Poland would command a third division of troops from a
variety of nations.
By Dexter Filkins and Ian Fisher

BAGHDAD, May 2--The war in Iraq has officially ended,
but the momentous task of recreating a new Iraqi nation seems hardly to
have begun. Three weeks after Saddam Hussein fell from power, American
troops are straining to manage the forces this war has unleashed: the
anger, frustration, and competing ambitions of a nation suppressed for
three decades.

In a virtual power vacuum, with the relationship
between American military and civilian authority seeming ill defined,
new political parties, Kurds, and Shiite religious groups are asserting
virtual governmental authority in cities and villages across the
country, sometimes right under the noses of American soldiers. There is
a growing sense among educated Iraqis eager for the American-led
transformation of Iraq to work that the Americans may be losing the
initiative, that the single-mindedness that won the war is slackening
under the delicate task of transforming a military victory into
political success.
By David E. Sanger

WASHINGTON, May 2--In his speech, Mr. Bush argued
that the invasion and liberation of Iraq were part of the American
response to the attacks of Sept. 11. He called the tumultuous period
since those attacks ''19 months that changed the world,'' and said Mr.
Hussein's defeat was a defeat for al-Qaeda and other terrorists as

Politically more complex for the administration is
the continuing search for chemical and biological weapons, a search
that so far has turned up next to nothing. One member of Mr. Bush's war
cabinet said that he suspected that Mr. Hussein had not mounted his
chemical stockpiles on weapons, but suggested that sooner or later they
would be found. Mr. Bush himself said tonight that the United States
knew of ''hundreds of sites that will be investigated.''
Editorial, May 2

As presidential spectacles go, it would be hard to
surpass George Bush's triumphant ''Top Gun'' visit to the U.S.S.
Abraham Lincoln yesterday off the California coast. President Bush flew
out to the giant aircraft carrier dressed in full fighter-pilot regalia
as the ''co-pilot'' of a Navy warplane. After a dramatic landing on the
compact deck--a new standard for high-risk presidential travel--Mr.
Bush mingled with the ship's crew, then later welcomed home thousands
of cheering sailors and aviators on the flight deck in a nationally
televised address.

The scene will undoubtedly make for a potent campaign
commercial next year. For now, though, the point was to declare an end
to the combat phase of the war in Iraq and to commit the nation to the
reconstruction of that shattered country.

From the moment that Mr. Bush made his intention of
invading Iraq clear, the question was never whether American troops
would succeed, or whether the regime they toppled would be exposed to
the world as a despicable one. The question was, and still is, whether
the administration has the patience to rebuild Iraq and set it on a
course toward stable, enlightened governance. The chaotic situation in
Afghanistan is no billboard for American talent at nation-building. The
American administration of postwar Iraq has so far failed to match the
efficiency and effectiveness of the military invasion. But as the
United States came to the end of one phase of the Iraqi engagement last
night, there was still time to do better.
Letter to the Editor, May 3

Some unanswered questions remain: Where are the
weapons of mass destruction? What evidence makes Iraq ''an ally of
al-Qaeda''? Where is Saddam Hussein? Where is Osama bin Laden? Who is
Martin Deppe
By David E. Sanger

WASHINGTON, May 4--With his administration under
growing international pressure to find evidence that Saddam Hussein
possessed banned weapons, President Bush told reporters today that
''we'll find them,'' but cautioned that it would take some time
because, he said, Mr. Hussein spent so many years hiding his
stockpiles. Mr. Bush's comments came after his senior aides, in
interviews in recent days, had begun to back away from their pre-war
claims that Mr. Hussein had an arsenal that was loaded and ready to

They now contend that he developed what they call a
''just in time'' production strategy for his weapons, hiding chemical
precursors that could be quickly loaded into empty artillery shells or
short-range missiles.
Maureen Dowd, column, May 4

The tail hook caught the last cable, jerking the
fighter jet from 150 m.p.h. to zero in two seconds. Out bounded the
cocky, rule-breaking, daredevil flyboy, a man navigating the Highway to
the Danger Zone, out along the edges where he was born to be, the
further on the edge, the hotter the intensity.

He flashed that famous all-American grin as he
swaggered around the deck of the aircraft carrier in his olive flight
suit, ejection harness between his legs, helmet tucked under his arm,
awestruck crew crowding around. Maverick was back, cooler and hotter
than ever, throttling to the max with joystick politics. Compared to
Karl Rove's ''revvin' up your engine'' myth-making cinematic style,
Jerry Bruckheimer's movies look like Lizzie McGuire.

This time Maverick didn't just nail a few bogeys and do a 4G inverted
dive with a MiG-28 at a range of two meters. This time the Top Gun
wasted a couple of nasty regimes, and promised this was just the
Thomas Friedman, column, May 4

President Bush may have declared the war in Iraq
effectively over. But, judging from my own e-mail box--where
conservative readers are bombing me for not applauding enough the
liberation of Iraq, and liberals for selling out to George Bush--the
war over the war still burns on here.

Conservatives now want to use the victory in Iraq to
defeat all liberal ideas at home, and to make this war a model for
America's relatio

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