Behind the camera: Press Pool
Where: Flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln which was 30 miles from the coast of California
Photo Summary: George W. Bush giving his famous speech announcing the end of ‘major combat operations’ in the 2003 War on Iraq.
Picture Taken: May 1, 2003
In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed
-President Bush in his speech under the banner
On May 1, 2003 George W. Bush landed on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln a Lockheed S-3 Viking (Navy One had been painted on the side), where he gave a speech announcing the end of major combat operations in the War on Iraq. Clearly visible in the background was a banner stating “Mission Accomplished.” Bush critics pointed to the seemingly premature declaration the war over as evidence of the arrogance and lack of planning in the Iraq War. The mission was in fact just beginning as major combat operations hadn’t ended American military casualties. After the speech casualties grew and eventually exceeded those killed before the speech. The controversy surrounding the speech and the banner in the background made video clips and pictures of the speech famous.
Where Did The Banner Come From?
As criticism mounted the White House who had in the Lincoln speech and other press releases implied that the war was over, backpedalled stating that they didn’t mean to imply that the Iraq War was over and that the Navy had, in fact, put the banner up for a totally different reason. As Navy Commander and Pentagon spokesman Conrad Chun put it, the banner referred specifically to the aircraft carrier’s 10-month deployment (which was the longest deployment of a carrier since the Vietnam War) and not the war itself “It truly did signify a mission accomplished for the crew.”
The White House claimed that the banner was requested by the crew of the ship. Afterwards, the administration and naval sources stated that the banner was the Navy’s idea, White House staff members made the banner, and it was hung by U.S. Navy personnel. White House spokesman Scott McClellan told CNN “We took care of the production of it. We have people to do those things. But the Navy actually put it up.” The White House when further pressed by TIME magazine was forced to admit that they made the banner and hung it up but still clung to the line that it had been done at the request of the crew members.
The event was criticized by many as premature — especially later as the guerrilla war began to take its toll. Subsequently, the White House released a statement saying that the sign and Bush’s visit referred to the initial invasion of Iraq. Bush’s speech noted:
“We have difficult work to do in Iraq. We are bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous.” However, the speech also said that “In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”
For critics of the war, the photo-op became a symbol of the administration’s unrealistic goals and perceptions of the conflict. Anti-war activists questioned the integrity and realism of George W. Bush’s “Major combat” statement. The banner came to symbolize the irony of the President giving a victory speech only a few weeks after the beginning of a relatively long war. Many in the administration came to regret the slogan. Some even going so far as to edit the White House website’s official video of the speech that Bush made on the aircraft carrier, cropping the video to conceal the “Mission Accomplished” banner.
The Jet Landing
Before the speech, Bush made a historic jet landing on the carrier, the first by a sitting president. While the president was a former pilot in the National Guard he did not land the plane, leaving the dangerous carrier landing to Navy Cmdr. John Lussier. At the time it was criticized by opponents as an overly theatrical and expensive stunt. For instance, they pointed to the fact that the carrier was well within the range of Bush’s helicopter, and that a jet landing was not needed. Originally the White House had stated that the carrier was too far off the California coast for a helicopter landing and a jet would be needed to reach it. It was later revealed that on the day of the speech, the Lincoln was only 30 miles from shore but the administration still decided to go ahead with the jet landing. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer admitted that the president “could have helicoptered, but the plan was already in place. Plus, he wanted to see a landing the way aviators see a landing.” The Lincoln waited offshore while the President slept before it returned to its home base in Everett, Washington on May 6, 2003.