Following an overnight missile strike in Syria, President Donald Trump praised U.S. allies and declared “Mission Accomplished!” in an early morning tweet.
For many observers, Trump’s choice of words was immediately evocative of a similar declaration made by President George W. Bush on May 1, 2003. That was the day Bush, standing in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, declared that “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.”
Of course, things didn’t quite work out that way. The Iraq war officially continued until December of 2011, costing well over $2 trillion in U.S. funding and thousands of American lives, while causing as many as half a million Iraqi civilian deaths. The basic rationale for the Iraq intervention has remained intensely disputed.
Bush himself later expressed regret over his chest-thumping rhetoric, and today, Trump’s critics were swift to drive home the comparison.
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Trump’s declaration, of course, could be interpreted more generously – last night’s strike did successfully hit its targets, three alleged chemical weapons sites near Damascus and Homs. The strike, executed in conjunction with the U.K. and France, has been described by U.S. officials as a “one-time shot” aimed at deterring the use of chemical weapons by Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad against civilians and rebel forces that have sought to topple him since 2011.
But it is too early to tell whether the strike will act as an effective deterrent even in that limited sense. And the Syrian conflict involves so many competing international factions that the possibility of deeper entanglements makes it all too similar to the Iraqi quagmire. Russia, which backs the Assad regime, has already described the strike as an “act of aggression” and warned that “such actions will not be left without consequences.”