Mag: Presidential aide wants a 'do-over' on 'Mission Accomplished'
One of the president's closest aides, who announced his resignation last month, said in a magazine interview the White House wishes it could "do over" President Bush's "Mission Accomplished" appearance aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln months after the Iraq War's start in 2003.
"There was never a more benign incident that turned into a bigger messaging problem than 'Mission Accomplished,'" Dan Bartlett, a former top communications adviser, told GQ magazine in an interview to be published next month. "It set the wrong tone for what became a protracted, difficult mission. If there was ever a do-over, that would be it."
Bartlett spent the last 14 years at Bush's side beginning when he was a consultant to his 1993 gubernatorial campaign in Texas. He demurred when GQ interviewer Robert Draper tried to pin-down how many people knew the president would be speaking directly in front of the banner, where news cameras could perfectly frame his face with the myopic phrase.
Although he acknowledged the White House signed off on printing the "Mission Accomplished" banner and hanging it on the aircraft carrier, Bartlett said he and other White House advisers didn't know where it would be placed. He also reiterated the White House line that the banner referred to the specific mission of the USS Abraham Lincoln, and not the Iraq war in general.
The New York Times reported in 2003 that Bush's communications team goes "far beyond the foundations of stagecraft set by the Reagan White House" in using precisely managed television images to promote his presidency.
The Times Elisabeth Bumiller reported that one of Bartlett's subordinates, former television producer Scott Sforza, and aides "choreographed every aspect of the event, even down to ... the 'Mission Accomplished' banner placed to perfectly capture the president and the celebratory two words in a single shot."
In the GQ interview, Bartlett disputed former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claim, made in an interview for Bob Woodward's book "State of Denial," that Rumsfeld personally excised the phrase "mission accomplished" from Bush's speech itself. The phrase was "never in" the speech, Bartlett told GQ, echoing comments he made earlier this year to the Washington Post.
Bartlett has known President Bush as long as he has served in public office, giving him a unique insight into the president's political beginnings. Draper asked if Bartlett saw Bush as presidential material when the two first met in 1993.
"No. N-O," Bartlett said. "And he (Bush) would probably agree with that."
Un-addressed in the GQ interview: What's changed since then?