An Issue of Gulf War Rhetoric

Strategic misrepresentation through war rhetoric is typically subject to change, meaning a president’s rhetoric will often modify throughout the course of the war if it means gaining more support and swift action, as showcased in Bush’s war rhetoric. Strategic misrepresentation gives the president the upper hand in war rhetoric due to their access of privileged information that is not readily available to anyone who might challenge their claims – such as Congress (Campbell and Jamieson, 2013).

Within war rhetoric multiple themes typically arise as discussed previously. A trending theme found frequently in presidential war speeches is the demonization of the opposition. This theme can fit within the characteristic of narratives or strategic misrepresentation. Two other themes that tend to arise within war rhetoric and fit within these characterizations are human rights concerns and defeating aggression. Synonymous with these themes is a unique facet of war rhetoric – the rhetoric of atrocities (Ben-Porath, 2007). According to Ben-Porath, this dynamic of rhetoric builds on presidential crisis rhetoric and enemy construction described in narratives of specific atrocities, building the case for imminent war. It is important to note that when presidents use this rhetorical theme of atrocities, they turn to narrative form rather than factual description (Ben-Porath, 2007).

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Themes within presidential war rhetoric emerge from the idea of America being humane and the ‘other’ being savage. Presidents that desire support for a war will often use rhetoric of atrocities due to the empathetic reaction to the suffering of the helpless it produces, that consequently garners support (Ben-Porath, 2007). This is typically successful through the demonization of an individual or group of people as illustrated within Bush’s speeches that surround The Gulf War. The two themes, human rights concerns and defeating aggression, can be umbrellaed underneath the rhetoric of atrocities, too. Both themes evoke empathy by shining a light on America’s values as a moral contrast to the opposition’s barbarity.  The rhetoric of atrocities is marked by emphasis on the experiential component and the personalization of horror (Ben-Porath, 2007).

Critical Analysis

        President George H. W. Bush conveyed a strong narrative and strategic misrepresentation using supporting themes within his rhetoric to publicly influence The Gulf War or ‘Operation Desert Storm’. It’s important to note this rhetoric differed from the past due to the pervasive presence of an international media able to provide both real-time coverage and instant analysis of both his actions and their consequences (Stuckey, 1992). Preceding allied military action in the gulf Bush delivered a speech titled Address on Iraq’s Invasion of Kuwait on August 8, 1990. In this speech, Bush satisfies all five of the characteristics Campbell and Jamieson discuss. This speech is merely constructed as an argument to gain support for war sited in a narrative that indicates the best interest of humanity. Following this speech was the announcement of war against Iraq titled Address to the Nation Announcing Allied Military Action in the Persian Gulf and was delivered January 16, 1991.

While both speeches satisfy the five war rhetoric characteristics that were previously described, they slightly differ in theme emphasis. While Bush began his rhetorical justifications of The Gulf War by expressing his economic concerns in reference to the oil in the middle east (Hurst, 2004), the rhetoric shifted ultimately toward the themes and characteristics that have been discussed throughout this paper- arguments that carried more weight than the prior. Bush heavily played on fear appeals when striving for support of the war within his rhetoric, demonizing Saddam Hussein and Iraqis in the process. Bush painted a picture of Saddam Hussein and Iraq as being a hub of mass destruction weaponry, inhumanity and savagery. Bush called Iraq’s invasion the rape of Kuwait and looked forward to a new world order where the rule of law supplants the role of the jungle (Ben-Porath, 2007).

Throughout Bush’s rhetoric in 1990, prior to the American invasion of the gulf, Hussein is demonized by being compared to Hitler: Saddam Hussein must pay for the pain and the hardship that he has caused. The world will hold him accountable, just as it held Hitler accountable in the wake of the destruction of World War II (Stuckey, 1992). Bush also said, there’s a direct parallel between what Hitler did to Poland and what Saddam Hussein has done to Kuwait and they’ve tried to silence Kuwaiti dissent and courage with firing squads, much as Hitler did when he invaded Poland (Hurst, 2004). This Hitler analogy was successful in gaining support in respect to the mass of the American public knowing very little about the context of events in the Gulf (Hurst, 2004). Bush’s rhetoric through stereotypes and comparisons demonizes not only Hussein but also the entirety of Iraq and its people and implies the need for elimination. Iraq is often not regarded as a nation of human beings with a social structure supporting theme. So obsessed are our media and governments with Saddam Hussein that one gets the impression that no one else inhabits Iraq. The dehumanized men, women, and children of Iraq thus appear ‘as blank spaces characterized by ontological emptiness (Muscati, 2002).

Bush carried over the rhetoric of demonizing the nation of Iraq to focus on the demonization of Hussein, making it an easier pill for the public to swallow that we were at war with one individual rather than an entire [far-away] country: Hussein is the archetypal evil Arab/Muslim so it is now a fight against Hussein, and all that his persona represents (Muscati, 2002). This narrative shift was successful, gaining Bush more support for Operation Desert Storm. Bush took advantage of the use of narratives and demonization by framing Iraq as a brutal aggressor for twice invading its neighbors in the past ten years (Muscati, 2002). The demonization of Hussein was furthered when discussing his nuclear weapon intent. The use of narrative through demonization is demonstrated when Bush argues that every day that passes brings Saddam Hussein one step closer to realizing his goal of a nuclear weapons arsenal (Hurst, 2004).

Bush dramatizes the notion of Hussein desiring more nuclear power by concluding if we don’t take action now then Hussein will reach his ‘nuclear goal’. Another unambiguous demonization example is showcased through exhortation to unified action when Bush discusses the horrible nature of Hussein and his people’s violent acts as defying the values of human rights and freedom: While the world waited, Saddam Hussein systematically raped, pillaged, and plundered a tiny nation, no threat to his own. He subjected the people of Kuwait to unspeakable atrocities—and among those maimed and murdered innocent children. The terrible crimes and tortures committed by Saddam’s henchmen against the innocent people of Kuwait are an affront to mankind and a challenge to the freedom of all (Bush, 1991). Bush’s appeal to human rights concerns is magnified when noting his comment that the reports out of Kuwait tell a sordid tale of Brutality (Bush, 1990) and furthered when telling what became the media’s favorite story: Bush claimed that Iraqi soldiers unplugged the oxygen to incubators supporting twenty-two premature babies and shot the hospital employees (Hurst, 2004). In addition, Bush claimed that dialysis patients were ripped from their machines and that two children handing out leaflets had been shot in front of their parents (Hurst, 2004).

Bush rhetorically implied that human rights concerns in Iraq meant war was necessary and that it was necessary now. As discussed previously, defeating aggression was another common theme found within Bush’s speeches in regard to The Gulf War. According to Hurst (2004), Bush made reference to aggression on 113 occasions. This tendency to use aggression as an alibi for war falls within the rhetoric of atrocities. Bush asserted that there is no place for this sort of naked aggression in today’s world and that what Iraq has done violates every norm of international law (Hurst, 2004). By using this rhetorical strategy Bush is emphasizing the transcendent values that are being threatened, such as freedom, focusing on this being a violation of people rather than the international law (Hurst, 2004): Protecting freedom means standing up to aggression. You know the brutally inflicted on the people of Kuwait and innocent citizens of every country must not be rewarded (Bush, 1990). Bush incited war through his rhetoric by strategically misrepresenting multiple elements of Iraq in regard to the situation at hand. Bush accused the Iraqi regime of being separated from the civilized world . by centuries (1990), implying that Iraq belongs in a pre-civilized world. (Muscati, 2002).

This strategic misrepresentation allows for more public support due to the conceptualization of Iraq being distance spatially, temporally, and morally from the West taking on the narrative of defending an entire worldview of humaneness and moral righteousness (Muscati, 2002). Due to the dramatic narrative Bush illustrated throughout his Gulf War rhetoric it was implied that being in support of the war was supporting the values of an American – patriotism. This led to anti-war protests being perceived as anti-patriotic (Reese and Buckalew, 1995), framing the Gulf War as an indisputable patriotic decision. Bush narrates the necessity of The Gulf War as good vs evil – America vs Saddam Hussein. Pearce and Fadely illuminate this conception: Bush found it easy to represent himself as a liberator and protector in comparison: a champion of values and beliefs of the United Nations; a harmonizer whose goodwill was tried and pushed to the threshold by a renegade bully who ruled his own nation with terror and coercion (1992).

Bush cabinets the characteristic of ‘thoughtful deliberation’ by testifying Now the 28 countries with forces in the Gulf area have exhausted all reasonable efforts to reach a peaceful resolution—have no choice but to drive Saddam from Kuwait by force. We will not fail. (Bush, 1990) and by expressing that This military action, taken in accord with United Nations resolutions and with the consent of the United States Congress follows months of constant and virtually endless diplomatic activity on the part of the United Nations, the United States, and many, many other countries (Bush, 1990) (Pearce and Fadely, 1992). Bush repeatedly alludes to values within his speeches inciting the war is driven by those values, commonly characterized as ‘unified action’. Bush exhorts to unified action when literally stating I am convinced not only that we will prevail but out of the horror of combat will come the recognition that no nation can stand against a world united. (Bush, 1990) and by identifying with the American Audience asserting that No president can easily commit our sons and daughters to war. They are the nation’s finest. (Pearce and Fadely, 1992). Ultimately, Bush rationalizes his role as commander in chief by the intent to protect values and to unify by serving as a patriotic diplomat.

Conclusion

        Presidential war rhetoric strongly influences the support of war especially through the implementation of characteristics and themes, as exhibited in this paper. George H. W. Bush employs common war rhetoric themes and characteristics throughout his rhetoric in effort to gain support for The Gulf War. Bush used the rhetoric of demonization, atrocities, human rights concerns, and defeating aggression to shape the narrative of disparity and hopelessness of Kuwait inciting the inevitability of American assertion in Iraq – Operation Desert Storm. Bush’s rhetoric shifted from the original intent behind the war (economical oil concerns) to rhetoric that emphasizes American values like unification and patriotism. The support for The Gulf War continued to increase as Bush’s rhetoric further intensified the characteristics and themes.  Bush’s war rhetoric exemplifies the pivotal role that rhetoric plays in influencing the support for a war.

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