U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday defended his use of the historically charged phrase “Mission Accomplished” to describe the recent U.S.-led strike in Syria.
The phrase immediately evoked former president George W. Bush’s premature Iraq victory speech on board the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003. A banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished” loomed in the background as Bush declared the end of major combat operations in Iraq, a claim belied by the years of hard fighting that followed.
Trump resurrected the phrase in a tweet on Saturday after the strikes launched by U.S., British and French forces in response to an alleged chemical attack by the Syrian regime. “The Syrian raid was so perfectly carried out, with such precision, that the only way the Fake News Media could demean was by my use of the term ‘Mission Accomplished,’” he tweeted on Sunday. “I knew they would seize on this but felt it is such a great Military term, it should be brought back. Use often!”
U.S. military officials said the airstrikes took out “the heart” of Syria’s chemical weapons facilities, but it remained to be seen how Syria would respond. “We of course know our work in Syria is not done,” U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Fox News Sunday. “We know that it is now up to [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad on whether he is going to use chemical weapons again, and should he use it again, the president has made it very clear that the United States is locked and loaded and ready to go,” she said. “If Assad doesn’t get it, it’s going to hurt.”
Democrats and others denounced Trump’s use of the “Mission Accomplished” phrase as odd, incautious and premature.
Senator Angus King, an independent who serves on the armed services and intelligence committees, noted that the missile strike Trump ordered last year had failed to prevent Syria’s continued use of chemical weapons. “I think it is impossible to say at this point that the mission has been accomplished,” he said on CNN’s State of the Union. He also noted that while administration officials had notified congressional leaders on Friday just before the strike, “they didn’t supply the evidence” of chemical use.
But White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders insisted on Sunday that the strike was a success. “They 100 percent met their objectives,” she said on ABC’s This Week.
Longer-term, she said, Trump had three ultimate objectives in Syria: to defeat the Islamic State group, to contain Iranian aggression and to halt the use of “mass chemical weapons.”
The “Mission Accomplished” phrase prompted widespread derision on social media. Even Ari Fleischer, who was Bush’s spokesman at the time of the “Mission Accomplished” speech, seemed almost at a loss for words. “Um…I would have recommended ending this tweet with not those two words,” he tweeted.