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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    ‘Mission Accomplished’: Bush’s vainglorious victory

    Justyn DillinghamEditor-in-Chief
    Justyn Dillingham

    Four years ago today, President Bush stepped before the cameras and announced that the Iraq war was won.

    Standing on an aircraft carrier and decked out in a flight suit, Bush declared that the United States had “”prevailed”” in Iraq. Behind him, a sign read “”Mission Accomplished.””

    It had been a breathtaking month. The road to war had been swift; a year after the invasion of Afghanistan, Bush was calling for Saddam Hussein to disarm or face dire consequences. By March 20, 2003, when U.S. bombs finally fell on Iraq, he had managed to rouse quite a few Americans to cheer on his war. Now he exulted in his victory, like Caesar marching through Rome after his triumph over Pompey.

    On the fourth anniversary of the “”Mission Accomplished”” speech, it is likely that most commentary will be devoted to the war itself – how long it has lasted, how bad the situation is, how we are possibly going to extricate ourselves from so deep a hole.

    But “”Mission Accomplished”” was such a blatant – and foolish – display of power that it may tell us something important about why we are in the war in the first place.

    To start with, it violated a long-standing presidential taboo. Presidents have traditionally avoided appearing in uniform, the better to stress the fact of civilian control over the military. Bush’s appearance was a reckless confusion of this strict separation of roles.

    Unable to contain his exultation at the close of the conflict, Bush rushed forward and paraded himself as a great conqueror. Arrogance and ambition blinded him to reality.

    And, of course, the war was not truly “”won,”” in the sense that everyone could now go home. Our troops remain stuck there to this day, policing a people who didn’t invite us and don’t want us. As a result, the appearance was the target of gibes and ridicule from the second it happened, and those taunts have only grown louder in the four years since the United States “”prevailed”” in Iraq.

    In every sense, “”Mission Accomplished”” was a disaster. Why, then, did it happen?

    Ask most people why we went to Iraq, and they will give a variety of answers, none of them satisfying. We went to disarm Saddam of his monstrous weapons stash. We went for humanitarian reasons. We went to enrich ourselves with oil. We went because the corporations told us to do it. We went because capitalism is imperialist by nature.

    The real reason, I think, is far simpler – and far more difficult to grasp, so determined are we, by nature, to have a “”real”” answer. As with the endless theories about John Kennedy’s assassination that leave more questions than they answer, we are determined to have a vast conspiracy that explains everything.

    But the real answer forces us to confront the nature of politics, which at its most basic is nothing more than a constant struggle between people over who is to rule over what. “”Of the gods we believe, and of men we know,”” said Pericles, “”that by a law of their nature they rule wherever they can.””

    What if the Bush administration went forth out of sheer vaingloriousness? Lusting after what John Quincy Adams called “”the murky radiance of dominion and power,”” Bush and his advisers saw Iraq not as a threat but as a golden opportunity. They saw a hesitant U.N., long-standing taboos against launching a preemptive aggressive war and even the very will of the American people as mere obstacles to their ambition.

    That is why our president chose to launch a disastrous war, and that is why he foolishly proclaimed victory despite the evidence, which suggested we were going to stay in Iraq for a long time indeed. Unable to contain his exultation at the close of the conflict, he rushed forward and paraded himself as a great conqueror. Arrogance and ambition blinded him to reality.

    As historian Charles Beard said in 1939, “”Only conceit, dreams of grandeur, vain imaginings, lust for power or a desire to escape from our domestic perils and obligations could possibly make us suppose that Providence has appointed us his chosen people for the pacification of the Earth.””

    This answer will likely seem unsatisfactory to many. We can bear to accept that people have died because of a vast conspiracy; that at least gives their deaths meaning. But can we bring ourselves to accept that thousands died to suit a vainglorious politician’s ambition?

    The war has robbed 3,346 Americans and many, many more Iraqis of their lives. Only by coming to grips with the reality of power politics can we begin to understand why we are in Iraq. If we are to do it, we had better do it now.

    “”You’re not dealing with a bunch of lying scamps that just love war,”” former Republican senator Alan Simpson complained on CNN 10 days before the war broke out. It is time for us to acknowledge that yes, we are.

    Justyn Dillingham is copy chief for the Arizona Daily Wildcat and is a junior majoring in political science and history. He can be reached at

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