Four years ago today, he emerged from the skies in an SB-3 Viking fighter plane, stepping from the cockpit in full combat regalia, and many who witnessed the moment assumed (erroneously, as it turned out) that the triumphal image of George W. Bush in a flight suit, playing the role of conquering hero, would resurface one year later in a 2004 Republican TV ad.
Happy “Mission Accomplished” Day, everyone. I marked the date yesterday with a torrent of words in this space, and no doubt I’ll add a fresh torrent this morning on Philadelphia’s NPR station (90.9 FM), beginning at 11:05 a.m. (also available online, here). So for the rest of this post, I’ll let others do the talking. Let us briefly return to those halcyon days when the president’s wisdom was rarely questioned, when his surrogates uttered certitudes, when an awestruck media marched in tune....
Pentagon adviser Ken Adelman, writing in a guest newspaper column, Feb. 13, 2002: “I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk. Let me give simple, responsible reasons: (1) It was a cakewalk last time; (2) they've become much weaker; (3) we've become much stronger; and (4) now we're playing for keeps.”
Vice President Cheney, in a speech, Aug. 26, 2002: “There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us…Time is not on our side.” (emphasis mine)
Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, speaking to U.S. troops on Feb. 7, 2003: “(The war) could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, in House testimony Feb. 27, 2003: Asked to comment on Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki’s prediction that the U.S. would need several hundred thousand soldiers to police the postwar ethnic tensions, Wolfowitz dismissed that assessment as “wildly off the mark,” because Iraqis “will greet us as liberators, and that will help us to keep (troop) requirements down.”
April Ryan, American Urban Radio Networks, confronting the president over the war at a March 6, 2003 press conference: “Mr. President…how is your faith guiding you?”
Wolfowitz, in a speech on March 11, 2003: "The Iraqi people understand what this crisis is about. Like the people of France in the 1940s, they view us as their hoped-for liberator."
Cheney on NBC, March 16, 2003: “My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.”
Barbara Bush on ABC, March 19, 2003: “Why should we hear about body bags and deaths and how many, what day it’s gonna happen? It’s not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?”
Judy Miller of the New York Times, talking on CNN, March 19, 2003: According to “a slew of information from defectors” and her other “intelligence sources,” American troops would soon find the WMD sites; indeed, “one person in Washington told me that the list could total more than 1400 of those sites.”
Wolfowitz, in Senate testimony, March 27, 2003: “We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.”
Neoconservative leader Bill Kristol, April 1, 2003: “There is a certain amount of pop psychology in America that the Shia can’t get along with the Sunni….There’s almost no evidence of that at all.”
David Asman, Fox News, April 9, 2003 (upon the toppling of Saddam’s statue in Firdos Square, where tight shots by the cameras masked the fact that the crowd barely filled one quarter of the plaza): “My goose bumps have never been higher than they are right now.”
Brit Hume, Fox News, same time: “This transcends anything I’ve ever seen.”
Dick Morris, Fox News, April 9, 2003: “Over the next couple of weeks, when we find the chemical weapons this guy was amassing…the left is going to have to hang its head for three or four more years.”
Fred Barnes, Fox News, April 10, 2003: “The war was the hard part….And it gets easier. I mean, setting up a democracy is hard, but not as hard as winning a war.”
Columnist Charles Krauthammer, April 19, 2003: “The only people who think this wasn’t a victory are upper West Side liberals, and a few people here in Washington.”
Morton Kondracke, Fox News, May 1, 2003, after Bush landed on the Lincoln: “This was fantastic theatre,” akin to actor Bill Pullman’s stint as a presidential flyboy who battled aliens in Independence Day.
David Broder, The Washington Post, reacting to the events of May 1: “This president has learned how to move in a way that just conveys a great sense of authority and command.”
Columnist Robert Novak: “Could Joe Lieberman get into a jet pilot’s jump suit and look credible?”
President Bush, in his May 1 speech: “We have begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons, and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated….Our coalition will stay until our work is done. And then we will leave — and we will leave behind a free Iraq.”
Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, same day: “I think it was time to say to the American people, the hostilities in Iraq have ended.”
Bush, speaking to the press, May 29, 2003: “We found the weapons of mass destruction,” claiming that two mobile labs “to build biological weapons” had been discovered. (This was false.) “For those who say we haven’t found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they’re wrong. We found them.”
British satirist Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), commenting on the dangers of propaganda: “When a man’s fancy gets astride on his reason, when imagination is at (odds) with the senses and common understanding, as well as common sense…the first (convert) he makes is himself, and when that is once (achieved), the difficulty is not so great in bringing over others - a strong delusion always operating from without, as vigorously as from within.”