A “Mission Accomplished moment” has come to mean any grandiose declaration of success which later rings false.
On May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush delivered a speech announcing the end of major combat operations in Iraq. “In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed,” the president told a crowd of cheering service members. Bush delivered the televised speech aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln with a “Mission Accomplished” banner hanging above his head.
Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech was widely praised at the time, with journalists comparing the president to Tom Cruise in Top Gun. Later, as the war dragged on and casualties mounted, the speech was sharply criticized and came to symbolize a premature announcement of victory.
Years later, President Barack Obama had his own “mission accomplished” moment. In a speech on October 21, 2011, Obama told Americans that the “long war” in Iraq was finally over and that he was bringing US troops back home. Obama said the troop drawdown in Iraq was part of a wider trend towards peace:
“The end of war in Iraq reflects a larger transition,” the president said. “The tide of war is receding. Now, even as we remove our last troops from Iraq, we’re beginning to bring our troops home from Afghanistan. The long war in Iraq will come to an end by the end of this year. The transition in Afghanistan is moving forward, and our troops are finally coming home.”
As it happened, Obama’s declaration of victory was premature and he, too, was widely criticized when the rise of ISIS led to a dramatic upsurge of violence in Iraq.
During his first years in office, President Trump had several “mission accomplished” moments. In October 2019, Trump announced that his administration had helped broker a ceasefire that would bring peace to Syria and the broader region. He tweeted,
“This is a great day for civilization. I am proud of the United States for sticking by me in following a necessary, but unconventional path. People have been trying to make this “Deal” for many years. Millions of lives will be saved. Congratulations to ALL!”
Fact checkers found that the president had dramatically exaggerated his accomplishments. “The agreement he is hailing is not nearly as consequential to the prospects for peace as he claims,” the AP wrote at the time, noting that the five-day ceasefire was unlikely to lead to a lasting peace in the region.
In 2020, Trump appeared to have a separate “mission accomplished” moment involving the coronavirus. On February 2, the president told Fox News that his administration had “shut down” the deadly virus:
“We pretty much shut it down coming in from China,” Trump told Sean Hannity. “But we can’t have thousands of people coming in who may have this problem, the coronavirus. So, we’re going to see what happens, but we did shut it down, yes.”
As it happened, the coronavirus continued to spread quickly both in the United States and around the world, in spite of repeated assurances from the president that the disease was “under control.”