George W. Bush Primary Source eText

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President George W. Bush meets with pilots and crew members of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln before giving a speech to announce that major combat operations were over in Iraq. Photograph by Hector Mata. AFP/Getty Images. Reproduced by permissio President George W. Bush meets with pilots and crew members of the aircraft carrier USS Published by Gale Cengage Photograph by Hector Mata. AFP/Getty Images. Reproduced by permission.
A U.S. Army Bradley fighting vehicle moves into position near a burnt humvee following a rocket propelled grenade attack on American troops on August 7, 2003. Even though President Bush announced an end to major combat operations during his aircraft carri A U.S. Army Bradley fighting vehicle moves into position near a burnt humvee following a rocket propelled grenade attack on American troops on August 7, 2003. Even though President Bush announced an end to major combat operations during his aircraft carrier speech, U.S. soldiers continued to face dangerous conditions in Iraq. Published by Gale Cengage Photograph by Scott Nelson. Getty Images. Reproduced by permission.

Excerpt from his speech announcing the end of major combat operations in Iraq

Delivered from the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003

On May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush made a historic speech in which he announced that major combat operations in Iraq were over after forty-three days of fighting. The president chose to make the announcement in a dramatic fashion from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. The ship had been stationed in the Persian Gulf earlier, but it was sailing off the coast of California at the time of the speech. Bush was flown to the ship in the copilot's seat of a U.S. Navy S-3B Viking jet. He wore a flight suit that indicated his military rank as commander in chief. The bridge of the ship was decorated with a large banner reading "Mission Accomplished."

In his "aircraft carrier" speech, Bush praised the performance of U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq. He congratulated the members of the military for bringing freedom to the Iraqi people while also acknowledging that the coalition forces still had work to do in order to capture leaders of the former regime, locate hidden weapons, and reconstruct Iraq. But he claimed that the successful war effort was an important step in the war against terrorism.

Things to remember while reading the excerpt from President Bush's "aircraft carrier" speech:

  • Bush reserves special praise for several aspects of the U.S. military performance in Iraq. For example, he mentions the ground forces' rapid advance to Baghdad, which he calls "one of the swiftest advances of heavy arms in history." The president also mentions the coalition's extensive use of precision-guided weapons. These weapons allowed the coalition forces to strike at Saddam Hussein's regime while minimizing civilian casualties and damage to Iraq's infrastructure.
  • Bush accuses Hussein of building palaces for himself instead of hospitals and schools for the Iraqi people. By the time the 2003 war ended, coalition troops had found evidence that the regime used illegal oil sales to enrich itself in the decade following the 1991 Persian Gulf War. For example, several of Hussein's seventy-eight ornate palaces were built or rebuilt during this period, while millions of ordinary Iraqis were suffering hardships under United Nations economic sanctions (trade restrictions intended to punish a country for breaking international law).
  • Bush calls the successful war in Iraq a victory in the global war against terrorism. But many listeners questioned this remark. They pointed out that there was no evidence of a connection between Saddam Hussein and the terrorists responsible for the attacks that struck the United States on September 11, 2001. As time passed, it also appeared unlikely that Iraq possessed any weapons of mass destruction that could have fallen into terrorist hands. Finally, some experts claimed that anger over the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq actually increased support for terrorist groups in the Arab world.

Excerpt from President Bush's speech announcing the end of major combat operations in Iraq

Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing the country.

In this battle, we have fought for the cause of liberty and for the peace of the world. Our nation and our coalition are proud of this accomplishment, yet it is you, the members of the United States military, who achieved it. Your courage, your willingness to face danger for your country and for each other made this day possible. Because of you our nation is more secure. Because of you the tyrant has fallen and Iraq is free.

Operation Iraqi Freedom was carried out with a combination of precision and speed and boldness the enemy did not expect and the world had not seen before. From distant bases or ships at sea, we sent planes and missiles that could destroy an enemy division or strike a single bunker. Marines and soldiers charged to Baghdad across 350 miles of hostile ground in one of the swiftest advances of heavy arms in history. You have shown the world the skill and the might of the American armed forces.

This nation thanks all of the members of our coalition who joined in a noble cause. We thank the armed forces of the United Kingdom, Australia, and Poland who shared in the hardships of war. We thank all of the citizens of Iraq who welcomed our troops and joined in the liberation of their own country. And tonight, I have a special word for Secretary Rumsfeld, for General Franks, and for all the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States: America is grateful for a job well done.

The character of our military through history, the daring of Normandy, the fierce courage of Iwo Jima, the decency and idealism that turned enemies into allies is fully present in this generation. When Iraqi civilians looked into the faces of our service men and women, they saw strength and kindness and good will. When I look at the members of the United States military, I see the best of our country and I am honored to be your commander in chief.

In the images of fallen statues we have witnessed the arrival of a new era. For a hundred years of war, culminating in the nuclear age, military technology was designed and deployed to inflict casualties on an ever-growing scale. In defeating Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, Allied forces destroyed entire cities, while enemy leaders who started the conflict were safe until the final days. Military power was used to end a regime by breaking a nation. Today we have the greater power to free a nation by breaking a dangerous and aggressive regime.

With new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians. No device of man can remove the tragedy from war, yet it is a great advance when the guilty have far more to fear from war than the innocent.

In the images of celebrating Iraqis we have also seen the ageless appeal of human freedom. Decades of lies and intimidation could not make the Iraqi people love their oppressors or desire their own enslavement. Men and women in every culture need liberty like they need food and water and air. Everywhere that freedom arrives, humanity rejoices, and everywhere that freedom stirs, let tyrants fear.

We have difficult work to do in Iraq. We're bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous. We're pursuing and finding leaders of the old regime who will be held to account for their crimes. We've begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons, and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated.

We are helping to rebuild Iraq, where the dictator

President George W. Bush addressing the nation on the Iraq situation. ©Reuters NewMedia Inc./Corbis. Reproduced by permission. President George W. Bush addressing the nation on the Iraq situation. Published by Gale Cengage ©Reuters NewMedia Inc./Corbis. Reproduced by permission.
built palaces for himself instead of hospitals and schools. And we will stand with the new leaders of Iraq as they establish a government of, by, and for the Iraqi people. The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth every effort. Our coalition will stay until our work is done and then we will leave, and we will leave behind a free Iraq.

The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11th, 2001, and still goes on. That terrible morning, 19 evil men, the shock troops of a hateful ideology, gave America and the civilized world a glimpse of their ambitions. They imagined, in the words of one terrorist, that September the 11th would be the beginning of the end of America.

By seeking to turn our cities into killing fields, terrorists and their allies believed that they could destroy this nation's resolve and force our retreat from the world. They have failed....

The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We have removed an ally of Al Qaeda and cut off a source of terrorist funding. And this much is certain: No terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because the regime is no more....

Our war against terror is proceeding according to the principles that I have made clear to all. Any person involved in committing or planning terrorist attacks against the American people becomes an enemy of this country and a target of American justice. Any person, organization, or government that supports, protects, or harbors terrorists is complicit in the murder of the innocent and equally guilty of terrorist crimes. Any outlaw regime that has ties to terrorist groups and seeks or possesses weapons of mass destruction is a grave danger to the civilized world and will be confronted. And anyone in the world, including the Arab world, who works and sacrifices for freedom has a loyal friend in the United States of America....

The advance of freedom is the surest strategy to undermine the appeal of terror in the world. Where freedom takes hold, hatred gives way to hope. When freedom takes hold, men and women turn to the peaceful pursuit of a better life. American values and American interests lead in the same direction. We stand for human liberty.

The United States upholds these principles of security and freedom in many ways: with all the tools of diplomacy, law enforcement, intelligence, and finance. We are working with a broad coalition of nations that understand the threat and our shared responsibility to meet it. The use of force has been and remains our last resort. Yet all can know, friend and foe alike, that our nation has a mission: We will answer threats to our security, and we will defend the peace....

The war on terror is not over, yet it is not endless. We do not know the day of final victory, but we have seen the turning of the tide. No act of the terrorists will change our purpose, or weaken our resolve, or alter their fate. Their cause is lost; free nations will press on to victory.

What happened next...

Bush's twenty-three-minute speech received an enthusiastic response on board the Lincoln. In fact, the president was interrupted twenty-four times by cheering, and he received several standing ovations. Many Americans who watched on television

appreciated Bush's message and found his speech stirring. But the "aircraft carrier" speech did not receive universal praise.

Some critics suggested that Bush staged the speech in order to increase his own popularity and political power. They pointed out that the Lincoln, which was on its way home after ten months in the Persian Gulf, had been turned around and sent back out to sea so that the U.S. coastline would not be visible to TV cameras. Critics also complained about Bush's decision to be flown to the ship on a fighter jet. Although it provided dramatic news footage, the flight created a security risk for Bush and also cost the American taxpayers a considerable amount of money. It also was not necessary, since the Lincoln was only 30 miles from the U.S. Naval Base in San Diego, California, well within helicopter range.

Political opponents suggested that Bush's dramatic gesture was intended to distract people's attention from domestic problems such as high unemployment rates. "The

president's going out to an aircraft carrier to give a speech far out at sea," said Senator John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic candidate for president, "while countless Americans are frightened stiff about the economy at home."

Finally, some people felt that it was too early to announce the end of combat operations in Iraq. They questioned whether the U.S. military had really accomplished its mission. After all, Hussein and his sons had not been captured at that point, no evidence of weapons of mass destruction had been found, and no concrete plans for Iraq's future existed. Some analysts believed that reconstructing Iraq and forming a democratic government would be the most difficult tasks of all.

Did you know...

  • Bush's landing on the Lincoln marked the first time in history that a sitting president arrived on the deck of an aircraft carrier by plane (other presidents have traveled to the ships by helicopter). The four-seater S-3B Viking jet also carried two experienced navy pilots and a Secret Service agent. The jet made a "tailhook" landing, swooping down on the flight deck at 150 miles (241 kilometers) an hour, hooking a steel cable, and coming to a complete stop in less than 400 feet (122 meters).
  • Before leaving Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, California, Bush was briefed on what he would need to do to eject from the plane in case of emergency. Earlier, he also underwent water survival training in preparation for his flight.
  • Bush was an F-102 fighter pilot in the Texas Air National Guard following his graduation from Yale University in 1968. Upon arriving on the Lincoln, he told reporters that he had taken the controls of the jet for about one-third of the trip.
  • Analysts noted that Bush did not formally declare the Iraq War to be over in his "aircraft carrier" speech. Instead, he announced an end to major combat operations in Iraq. They believed that the president did this intentionally in order to keep his options open. Under international law, declaring the war to be over could complicate the coalition's efforts to track down former members of Hussein's regime. Coalition forces were still questioning thousands of Iraqi prisoners of war at that time, and declaring an end to the hostilities would have required the release of these prisoners.

For More Information

"Commander in Chief Lands on USS Lincoln.", May 2, 2003. Available online at (last accessed on February 27, 2004).

Purdum, Todd S., and the staff of the New York Times. A Time of Our Choosing: America's War in Iraq. New York: Times Books, 2003.