Bush’s Flight Suit
Glenn Greenwald notes that Joe Klein has changed his mind in the last five-and-a-half years about President Bush’s now infamous flight suit gambit.
- Now: “The flight-suit image is one of the two defining moments of the Bush failure.”
- Then: “[T]hat was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day.”
People who regret their mistakes and learn from them should be welcomed and encouraged. But a vital aspect of what happened over the last eight years is the role the media — our leading media stars — played in glorifying and venerating George Bush, and that can’t be re-written or forgotten. Truly learning from one’s mistakes — as opposed to wet-finger-in-the-air abandoment of previously revered leaders when they are revealed as failures and lose their power — requires, at the very least, an acknowledgment of one’s own role in what happened.
But Klein’s role in Bush donning a flight suit and congratulating the crew of the Lincoln was . . . to watch it happen and give his instant impressions.
At the time, the publicity stunt was almost universally perceived as brilliant political theater. We had, with the loss of fewer than 200 American troops and in record time, toppled the government of Saddam Hussein and were met by cheers. Bush’s approval ratings were in the 90s. Over time, the “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED” banner began to seem like a cruel joke, as the mission morphed from regime change to counterinsurgency and stabilization of Iraq. That mission is still not accomplished all this time later and it has cost an enormous amount of treasure and more blood than anticipated.
Although the war has largely faded from the national consciousness, with some even calling the current stalemate “victory,” Bush’s presidency is almost universally thought a failure. Even moments of triumph are, through that lens, viewed cynically. Of course, every move Bush ever made was horrendous, all his appointments incompetent buffoons, everything that went wrong his fault, and everything that went right sheer happenstance. That’s just the nature of the presidency.
None of it, in any event, is Joe Klein’s doing.