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Mission Accomplished? White House Touts Iraq, BP, Auto Industry Successes

4 years ago
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President Barack Obama wasn't exactly making a tailhook landing on an aircraft carrier and unfurling a "Mission Accomplished" banner, but the White House took aggressive steps this week to show the American public that it has achieved some very hard-won successes.

On three major issues -- U.S. military engagement in the Middle East, the BP oil spill disaster, and the American economy -- the administration has finally gained some positive momentum after what has felt like a protracted period of Nothing Good Ever Happens. For a White House and Democratic Congress badly in need of ammo in the run-up to the November elections, it couldn't have come at a better time.

While President George W. Bush donned a green flight suit and white helmet in May 2003 to trumpet that "major combat operations in Iraq [had] ended," he turned out to be (at least) seven years early on the call. On Monday, President Obama -- in a standard-issue black suit -- took his turn at the podium, proclaiming to an audience of disabled veterans in Atlanta, "I made it clear that by August 31st, 2010, America's combat mission in Iraq would end. And that is exactly what we are doing -- as promised and on schedule."

By the end of the month, 50,000 non-combat troops will still be in the country, with a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces expected by the end of 2011. The words "mission accomplished" were nowhere to be heard -- in fact, the president reiterated that "the hard truth is we have not seen the end of American sacrifice in Iraq" -- but the message was clear. "As we mark the end of America's combat mission in Iraq," Obama said, "a grateful America must pay tribute to all who served there." Was that a humble way of saying almost the same thing? You betcha.

On Wednesday, the White House rounded up the Disaster Dream Team -- retired Adm. Thad Allen, climate and energy czarina Carol Browner, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration head Jane Lubchenco -- to deliver the good news that concerned citizens around the world had been waiting for since April 20: the effort to plug the BP oil well appeared to be working. And the even better news: It looked as if 75 percent of the oil in the Gulf of Mexico had been captured, dispersed, burned, dissolved, evaporated or otherwise annihilated.

The White House, scarred by earlier failed efforts to cap the well that spewed an estimated 4.9 million barrels of crude into the Gulf, shied away from a "Bon Voyage, Oil!" cake, but even the normally stoic Allen conceded, "It's a consequential day." Both he and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs went on to say that the work was not yet done -- or, in Allen-speak, there will be "a continuum of activities" in the days ahead. "We're not leaving the area," Gibbs said. But when pressed, he too conceded that the latest update was "very good news."

If the administration was cautiously optimistic about the BP spill, then it was forcefully celebratory over the state of the American auto industry. On Thursday, Obama visited a Ford Motor Co. plant in Chicago -- his second visit to a U.S. car maker in the last week -- to claim success for the federal government's bailout of the industry. When he took office, Obama pointed out, "Two of the Big Three automakers -- GM and Chrysler -- were on the brink of liquidation. If that had happened, more than 1 million jobs could have been lost, and that would have been a devastating blow to the entire economy." But, he continued, "I refused to walk away from this industry and American jobs. I put my faith in the American worker."

And the result? In the president's words: "All three U.S. automakers are now operating at a profit. That's the first time it's happened in six years. America's automakers have added 55,000 jobs since last June. That's the best job growth in more than 10 years in this industry." If the goal was to rescue an industry that the "just say no crowd" would have left for dead over a year ago, then it had been met. "The industry isn't just on the way back," Obama said triumphantly, "it's on the way to being number one again."

Of course, the president and his advisers have good reason not to utter the words "mission accomplished." In Iraq, serious questions remain as to the stability of the country in the wake of a U.S. withdrawal, and the ability of the Iraqi government to provide its citizens with even the most basic services.

With BP, 25 percent of the oil is still out there -- four to five times the amount of the Exxon Valdez spill. Concerns remain about the effect of widespread use of chemical dispersants, and questions about when local fishermen can return to work and when the offshore drilling moratorium will end are as yet unanswered.

And while the U.S. automotive sector looks brighter than it has in a while, economic growth on the whole is sluggish at best. July jobs numbers, released Friday, showed only anemic growth, with an unemployment rate stuck at 9.5 percent.

Still, the phrase "Mission Still Ongoing but Looking More and More Like It Might Get Accomplished" doesn't really have the same ring to it, does it? Team O is wisely choosing to avoid that pratfall. The path to recovery remains long and winding -- and if the administration can manage to drum up some goodwill along the way, they'll take it.

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