I watched the final Bush press conference this morning, and something was bothering me all day about something he said regarding the “Mission Accomplished” banner. Here is the relevant portion of the press conference:
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q And I’m not trying to play “gotcha,” but I wonder, when you look back over the long arc of your presidency, do you think, in retrospect, that you have made any mistakes? And if so, what is the single biggest mistake that you may have made?
THE PRESIDENT: Gotcha. I have often said that history will look back and determine that which could have been done better, or, you know, mistakes I made. Clearly putting a “Mission Accomplished” on a aircraft carrier was a mistake. It sent the wrong message. We were trying to say something differently, but nevertheless, it conveyed a different message. Obviously, some of my rhetoric has been a mistake.
I pretty clearly remember that event, because I was in full-fledged wingnut phase, and I remember cheerleading the landing on the carrier. But something about Bush’s version today just didn’t seem right, and just a couple minutes ago while watching the Colbert Report, it dawned on me- what Bush said today was incompatible with what the administration said back when this happened.
If you remember correctly, when things started to go to shit six months after the Mission Accomplished banner, the administration said it was the Navy’s idea:
The president told reporters the sign was put up by the Navy, not the White House.
“I know it was attributed somehow to some ingenious advance man from my staff — they weren’t that ingenious, by the way,” the president said Tuesday.
Now his statements are being parsed even further.
Navy and administration sources said that though the banner was the Navy’s idea, the White House actually made it.***
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told CNN that in preparing for the speech, Navy officials on the carrier told Bush aides they wanted a “Mission Accomplished” banner, and the White House agreed to create it.
“We took care of the production of it,” McClellan said. “We have people to do those things. But the Navy actually put it up.”
They later walked back even more:
The perfect photo-op has flopped. Engineered by the most image-conscious White House in history, the carrier landing portrayed Bush as master and commander, an ideal bookend to his spontaneous performance with a bullhorn in the rubble of the World Trade Center after 9/11. Instead, the hothouse tableau already sharply at odds with the reality in Iraq did even more damage to White House credibility last week. Asked at a news conference whether the “Mission Accomplished” banner had been prematurely boastful, the president backed away from it, saying it had been put up by the sailors and airmen of the Lincoln to celebrate their homecoming after toppling Saddam’s regime.
Not long afterwards, the White House had to amend its account. The soldiers hadn’t put up the sign; the White House had done the hoisting. It had also produced the banner — contrary to what senior White House officials had said for months. In the end, the White House conceded on those details, but declared them mere quibbles. The point was, they said, that the whole thing had been done at the request of the crewmembers. Even that explanation didn’t sit well with some long-time Bush aides. “They (the White House) put up banners at every event that look just like that and we’re supposed to believe that at this one it was the Navy that requested one?” asked a senior administration official. Others remember staffers boasting about how the president had been specifically positioned during his speech so that the banner would be captured in footage of his speech.
And now, today, Bush confirms what some of you knew all along. The Navy had nothing to do with the “Mission Accomplished” banner- it was a complete Bush WH operation.