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.”

Says Glenn,

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.

FILED UNDER: General, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    What the hell is Greenwald gonna do when he no longer has Bush to attack?

  2. Houston says:

    …with some even calling the current stalemate “victory,”…

    This tells me you obviously disagree. So I ask, what would it take for you to consider this war a victory?

  3. Tano says:

    I dont think it quite fair to interpret Glenn’s charge to be that the Bush legacy was Klein’s doing. He is just rightly upset at the spectacle of those who were cheerleading when Bush was popular, now dumping on him, without packaging that switch with suitable amounts of personal accountability.

    And just to nitpick a bit – Bush’s approvals were not in the nineties on Mission Accomplished day – they were just about at 70.

  4. Grewgills says:

    What the hell is Greenwald gonna do when he no longer has Bush to attack?

    The same thing you did when you no longer had Clinton to attack 😉

  5. Michael says:

    This tells me you obviously disagree. So I ask, what would it take for you to consider this war a victory?

    And extra points if you can describe it without using the phrase “magic pony”.

  6. James Joyner says:

    This tells me you obviously disagree. So I ask, what would it take for you to consider this war a victory?

    What we’ve achieved is fairly remarkable given where we were 18 months ago. The problem is that the stated goals were allowed to expand into ridiculous flights of fancy about shining examples of democracy that all the neighbors would flock to emulate. That ain’t happening.

  7. John Cole says:

    The problem is that the stated goals were allowed to expand into ridiculous flights of fancy about shining examples of democracy that all the neighbors would flock to emulate. That ain’t happening.

    26 November 2008. Mark it on your calendar, folks.

    The date James Joyner admitted publicly what we all suspected- that he hates America, the GOP, and possibly even the baby Jesus. Probably isn’t a real conservative, either. Traitor. Bet he is an anti-Semite to boot.

  8. Bithead says:

    The same thing you did when you no longer had Clinton to attack 😉

    I know I shouldn’t, but my curiosity is up.
    Just what do you think I did?

  9. Bithead says:

    The problem is that the stated goals were allowed to expand into ridiculous flights of fancy about shining examples of democracy that all the neighbors would flock to emulate. That ain’t happening.

    That’s a question of degree, James.
    Certainly, there are more people consdiering us in a positive light than would have been without those goals.
    Aren’t we supposed to aim high?

  10. Dantheman says:

    “The same thing you did when you no longer had Clinton to attack 😉

    I know I shouldn’t, but my curiosity is up.
    Just what do you think I did?”

    We don’t know — it hasn’t happened yet.

  11. Triumph says:

    At the time, the publicity stunt was almost universally perceived as brilliant political theater.

    I don’t know what you mean by “universal”–there were plenty of people who criticized it. I found it, frankly, one of the gayest things I’ve ever seen–which is saying a lot since I used to live in San Francisco. The homo-erotic vibe going through there was pretty creepy.

    Conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds said:

    The jet-pilot arrival, on the other hand, rang false. The whole leader-who-flies-jets thing seems, somehow, Third World to me. People say that it’ll make great campaign footage in 2004, but I actually doubt it — or at least, I think it will backfire if they do too much of this. The President is commander-in-chief, but he’s a civilian leader, and Americans want him to be one.

  12. ap says:

    does anyone know how many people greenwald does NOT have contempt for? i am guessing its somewhere between 1 and 5.

  13. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    Joe Klein has changed his mind in the last five-and-a-half years about President Bush’s now infamous flight suit gambit.

    And how is this significant?

  14. James Joyner says:

    Aren’t we supposed to aim high?

    Aim is one thing; announced policy goals another. Part of this is the natural tendency of democratic leaders to couch realist goals in fanciful, idealistic terms. Bush Sr. did that with the first Gulf War, turning a clear victory into “stopping too soon.” After all, Saddam was this generation’s Hitler and we left him in power!

  15. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    And the last time al Qaeda made a successful terrorist attack on the United States was when? Has anyone ever listened to or read the oath of office the President takes? Protect and defend are part of that oath. Bush has protected and defended. Agree with the method or not. He did not act alone. Congress gave him the authority. Not that the President of the United States needs congress to authorized war powers. I suggest a reading of the Constitution to include members of Congress who want to spend our money to buy private or publicly held businesses. I can not find the authorization.

  16. kazander says:

    You’re just setting up a straw man if you claim that Greenwald faults Klein for the disastrous turn of Bush’s presidency. Rather, he’s claiming that the press’s uncritical portrayal of Bush as a heroic warrior (with Klein being a prime example) contributed to Bush’s ability to carry out policies that have turned out to be disastrous.

    You can take issue with that analysis, but you should actually confront it.

  17. tom p says:

    I suggest a reading of the Constitution to include…

    Uhhhhh… You, Zelsdorf.

    Has anyone ever listened to or read the oath of office the President takes? Protect and defend are part of that oath. Bush has protected and defended.

    You might start with just exactly what Bush is supposed to protect and defend.

    “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

    Defending the US from terrorist attacks comes under the heading of “faithfully executing his office”, but he (and all other officers of gov’t) have an over-arching duty to “protect and defend the Constitution”.

    Do not confuse the 2.

  18. clovis says:

    ap asks;

    does anyone know how many people greenwald does NOT have contempt for? i am guessing its somewhere between 1 and 5.

    Well, do Thomas Ellers, Rick Ellensburg and Ellison count as one person or three?

  19. Grewgills says:

    Just what do you think I did?

    Kept attacking anyway.

  20. anjin-san says:

    Just what do you think I did?

    Remained obsessed with Clinton year after year.

  21. Bithead says:

    So, Historical facts change over time?

  22. tom p says:

    I am waiting Zelsdorf (don’t worry, I leave town for 4 days tomorrow morning). But be very careful where you step… there is a constitutional minefield out there…

    I am hardly a constitutional scholar… but some parts of it are clear and without equivocation. For instance, Art VI, para. 3:

    “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” I should also mention that all soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, ALL of them “do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same;” Take note: this comes before they swear to “obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.” Take special note of that small caveat called the UCMJ…

    Now, nobody expects our soldiers, sailors, airmen, or marines to be Constitutional scholars, but ALL of them (right up to the POTUS) have as their primary oath to, “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”…

    The Constitution of the United States of America is supreme in this land, and yes, that supercedes defense of this land (and it’s people).

  23. tom p says:

    So, Historical facts change over time?

    What changed, Bit? (and please speak clearly, not in parables)

  24. Michael says:

    So, Historical facts change over time?

    No, you were just as wrong then as you are now.

  25. Eric says:

    That’s a question of degree, James.

    Right. But sometimes the degree of difference is so sharp that it actually morphs into a degree of kind… just like evolution. (But we don’t wanna open THAT can of worms, do we?)

    Certainly, there are more people consdiering us in a positive light than would have been without those goals.

    And your evidence for this certainty lies in what, Bush’s high approval rating here or in the rest of the world? Or is this the same “math” that Karl Rove felt he was entitled to?

    The date James Joyner admitted publicly what we all suspected- that he hates America, the GOP, and possibly even the baby Jesus. Probably isn’t a real conservative, either. Traitor. Bet he is an anti-Semite to boot.

    John, I don’t think your condemnation is strong enough. Makes me think your a RINO. I mean, you didn’t even get a good ol’ Arab fear-mongering in. I don’t know about you. I might have to get Dobson all over your a** on this one. (Oh, shoot, was that your blog I linked to…)

    And the last time al Qaeda made a successful terrorist attack on the United States was when?

    Oh, sweet jesus. I was hoping Zelsy overlooked this one. By the way, I also support GWB for the way he’s prevented purple elephants attacking the US, too, since, y’know, negatives can apparently be proven now.

    So, Historical facts change over time?

    They do if you’re a Bithead-type conservative. How else are you gonna come up with your crackpot theories? Facts? Bwahahahahahahah!

  26. G.A.phillips says:

    Dude why? The flight-suit was cool.

  27. Bithead says:

    And your evidence for this certainty lies in what, Bush’s high approval rating here or in the rest of the world? Or is this the same “math” that Karl Rove felt he was entitled to?

    Heh. Well, If you look closely, you will note that the Afghanis and the Irqis don’t consider us the enemy the New York Times does.

    Oh, sweet jesus. I was hoping Zelsy overlooked this one.

    Yeah, I suppose you would. A lot less obvious that you’re ignoring that point hoping that it will go away. if someone doesn’t actually have the stones to ASK it… and in public no less.

    They do if you’re a Bithead-type conservative. How else are you gonna come up with your crackpot theories? Facts? Bwahahahahahahah!

    I invite you to fill us in on exactly when where and on what subject I’ve done this. Though, I’ve no doubt you’ll ignore this question, too.

  28. Michael says:

    I invite you to fill us in on exactly when where and on what subject I’ve done this.

    Vince Foster. Fannie/Freddie. Global Warming.

  29. David says:

    Zelsdorf Ragshaft III wrote:

    And the last time al Qaeda made a successful terrorist attack on the United States was when?

    This is my first visit to OTB (but I probably won’t be here often as I don’t frequent sites without full feeds), the above seems such an obvious material fallacy that I wonder if the poster has even a basic grasp on critical thinking.

    He appears to imply the position that:

    In response to the threat of al Qaeda, Bush invaded Iraq.
    There have been no successful al Qaeda attacks in the United States since Bush invaded Iraq.
    Therefore, the invasion of Iraq prevented al Qaeda from mounting a successful attack in the United States.

    Perhaps one could make the same assertion that the special way Bush pardons turkeys on Thanksgiving is what has kept us safe all these years!

  30. Barry says:

    James Joyner:

    “What we’ve achieved is fairly remarkable given where we were 18 months ago. The problem is that the stated goals were allowed to expand into ridiculous flights of fancy about shining examples of democracy that all the neighbors would flock to emulate. That ain’t happening.”

    I’ve got to remember to use that first sentence with my boss, to expain my lousy work. When I point out that a few hours ago, I had absolutely nothing, he’ll forgive me.

    “The problem is that the stated goals were allowed to expand …”

    Long before the first tanks rolled, the goals were insane. Of course, with a fraudulent war, why not?

  31. Michael says:

    This is my first visit to OTB (but I probably won’t be here often as I don’t frequent sites without full feeds), the above seems such an obvious material fallacy that I wonder if the poster has even a basic grasp on critical thinking.

    I can assure you, he doesn’t.

  32. Bithead says:

    Vince Foster. Fannie/Freddie. Global Warming.

    FAIL

  33. Grewgills says:

    What the hell is Greenwald gonna do when he no longer has Bush to attack?

    then,

    The same thing you did when you no longer had Clinton to attack 😉
    then,
    I know I shouldn’t, but my curiosity is up.
    Just what do you think I did?

    then,

    Kept attacking anyway.

    then,

    So, Historical facts change over time?

    Bit you never cease to amuse.

  34. Grewgills says:

    I invite you to fill us in on exactly when where and on what subject I’ve done this.

    Vince Foster. Fannie/Freddie. Global Warming.

    Michael your list is kind in its brevity.

    FAIL

    So concise and yet so wrong.