OnWords: Mission Accomplished

May 15, 2018

Recently, our president used the words “mission accomplished” to describe military action in Syria.

The phrase immediately brought up a famous faux pas: George W. Bush slapping the same term across an aircraft carrier to proclaim the same in Iraq.

That statement turned out not to be true, and US forces fight and die there still.

Some of the problems with the phrase “mission accomplished” we can chalk up to the nature of contemporary war: it’s usually asymmetrical, with more traditional armies fighting insurgencies that have ideological, not strictly geographical, aims.

When the enemy is an ideology or a manner of fighting (think “the war on terror”), it’s hard to know when “mission accomplished” even applies since the mission will exist for as long as the ideology or methodology exists.

But “mission accomplished” is also a way to declare a win for leaders whose domestic agenda is embattled or stalled. Just as likely, “mission accomplished” is a way for leaders to use celebratory language to declare that they’ve lost interest.

Motive aside, the phrase distracts us from those who survive our attacks, surviving to fight on and make the statement a lie.

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