Analysis of Two Bush Speeches

Presidents play a critical role when influencing the public through the use of rhetoric. Through only words – often within a speech – a president can have an everlasting impact on society and the public. Rhetoric, and how it’s used, is arguably one of the most powerful and unique dynamics of a presidency. Presidential rhetoric is so powerful that it can even incite war and rationalize its indispensability. For decades presidents have been using their platform to push their personal political agendas within their rhetoric – especially within war rhetoric. So, can presidents incite war through rhetoric solely? I argue, yes, that presidents can make war seem inevitable and incite war through their rhetoric alone. A resounding depiction of this use of rhetoric is found when looking at George H. W. Bush’s rhetoric in 1990 – 1991 in regard to The Gulf War. George H. W. Bush stimulates, through rhetoric, the notion that The Gulf War (also known as Operation Desert Storm) was necessary. Consistent themes are found within presidential speeches that shape war rhetoric. Common themes are demonization of the opposition, human rights concerns, and defeating aggression. All of the themes mentioned are illustrated within Bush’s rhetoric preceding and during The Gulf War. To illuminate these rhetorical themes and argue the incitation of war by George H. W. Bush I will be analyzing two of his speeches: Address on Iraq’s Invasion of Kuwait and Announcing War on Iraq.

Literature Review

        War rhetoric, according to Jamieson and Campbell, means the rhetoric by which presidents seek to justify to Congress and to the citizenry their exercise of war powers. Presidential war rhetoric intends to launch invasions, direct invasions, suffice stationing troops, and sell the war. It’s imperative to sell the war so that people will fight it and people will fund it. Presidential power, especially war power, has expanded and increased with every decade in respect to rhetoric. Executive war powers have been broadened over time by their exercise, by congressional complicity, and by Supreme Court sanction (Campbell and Jamieson, 2013). The president can overstep his assumed constitutional powers and rights through the use of rhetoric due to the blurred lines of what the president can and can’t do. Rhetoric can subdue what might seem unconstitutional as far as influencing the nation or pushing a personal agenda. War rhetoric is a constant power struggle between the President and Congress mediated by The Supreme Court. Presidential war rhetoric is related to the ongoing struggle between the president and Congress, refereed by the courts, over what the Constitution permits the president to do (Campbell and Jamieson, 2013). Presidential entitlements have been into argument because article 1 of the Constitution reserves to Congress the authority to declare War, . to raise and support Armies, . provide and maintain a Navy, . [and] make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval forces, whereas article 2 defines the president as Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States. (Campbell and Jamieson, 2013).

The democratic solution to war includes 2 steps: 1) President must request or recommend declaration of war; 2) Congress must declare war through resolution, statute, or declaration of war. The argument of the President being able to take advantage of and exploit their power of war is validated through the evidence of only five officially declared wars. According to Campbell and Jamieson, major military actions in Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, and Iraq have been carried out without declarations of war, and more than one hundred military ventures involving combat troops have been conducted without any form of congressional authorization. The majority of American wars have been enacted without statutory authorization, a resolution of support, or a declaration of war (Campbell and Jamieson, 2013). It is often argued whether or not a president’s call to war is appropriately in the defense of our nation or an overstep of the nation’s military capabilities. It is often in question if a presidential decision to go to war is a hasty or responsive decision, rather than a well thought out one. The founders hoped that the rhetorical process implied by the Constitution would ensure that a decision to wage war would be arrived at thoughtfully, not rashly or emotionally (Campbell and Jamieson, 2013). While it is often seen that a president is overstepping his congressional duties by inciting war, it is still a frequent occurrence that is provoked through rhetoric.

Despite the change from former to subsequent reasoning of military action, Campbell and Jamieson argue that presidential war rhetoric throughout U.S. history manifests five pivotal characteristics: 1) every element in it proclaims that the momentous decision to resort to force is deliberate, the product of thoughtful consideration; 2) forceful intervention is justified through a chronicle or narrative from which argumentative claims are drawn; 3) the audience is exhorted to unanimity of purpose and total commitment; 4) the rhetoric not only justifies the use of force, but also seeks to legitimize presidential assumption of the extraordinary powers of the commander in chief; and, as a function of these other characteristics, 5) strategic misrepresentations play an unusually significant role in its appeals (Campbell and Jamieson, 2013). It is often found that by including these characteristics in their speeches, the President is better able to legitimatize his intentions in the interest of the constitutional right to defend the nation. Within war rhetoric it is common for the President to greet his ‘rational deliberation’ (a constitutional obligation) with recommending Congress to declare war or to authorize the introduction of armed forces (Campbell and Jamieson, 2013).

This thoughtful deliberation usually is when the President states that he has talked to international leaders, allies, all of the government, etc. before speaking on the matter. Perhaps one of the most prominent and effective characteristics of war rhetoric is the use of narratives. Narratives are typically what allow the media to further the argument of war and influence the public. The use of narratives allows the President to dramatize and simplify the situation at hand so that war seems inevitable. Narratives often explore the idea of how alternatives might be possible but due to the [dramatic] situation or threat at hand an immediate response is undoubtedly necessary. The narrative typically reframes the conflict as aggression by the enemy, according to Jamieson and Campbell, which legitimizes presidential initiatives as actions to defend the nation. This type of narrative results in a call to action to support the decision to wage war. An extended narrative is often seen in war rhetoric, where the President structures the argument of war by exhausting national values to frame the opposition as a threat to the nation and civilization. War rhetoric narratives often characterizes America as innocent and in favor of good, desiring to help others or taking action in the best interest of others. Narratives tend to differ between presidents based on intentions and motives but remains an essential characteristic of war rhetoric. Following narratives is the third characteristic of presidential war rhetoric that Campbell and Jamieson discuss, exhortation to unified action. It is often found within presidential speeches that incite war elements of unification. This unification element is in large part due to framing the intent behind war being in the best interest of humanity and civilization as a whole. The concept of unification comes with the assumed [anticipative] conclusion that right will prevail (Campbell and Jamieson, 2013).

This characteristic will often appear as a president reminding the audience to put parties aside and using unifying terms and phrases like we and my fellow Americans while playing on national values. Exhortation to unified action speaks to the values Americans want to see in themselves and suggests values are threatened. The fourth characteristic that Campbell and Jamieson designate as a necessary element of war rhetoric is ‘investiture as commander in chief’. Ultimately, war rhetoric is a rhetoric of investiture (Campbell and Jamieson, 2013) meaning that it is an [arguably] excusable time to expand power as a president and justify why. The president rationalizes this as the time to exercise his ‘right’ to play the role of Commander in Chief due to the threat of American values and the community. While the original intent of the role Commander in Chief was to repel attack, presidential innovations have created precedents that presidents have used to claim expanded executive war powers (Campbell and Jamieson, 2013). Another complex modification of this characteristic is the role Congress now plays with the president in waging war. The intent of the Constitution was that the president would go to Congress to request authorization to act as commander in chief, but now the president assumes the role and then asks for congressional ratification (Campbell and Jamieson, 2013). The characteristic that plays a very significant role in war rhetoric is ‘strategic misrepresentation’. Strategic misrepresentation is a very dominant trend within Bush’s war rhetoric, which will be explored further in this paper. War rhetoric is typically intended to incite immediate action demanding immediate support. This urgent action is attainable through the use of strategic misrepresentation, where the president uses rhetoric to misrepresent the events described in ways strategically related to stifle dissent and unify the nation (Campbell and Jamieson, 2013).

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Analysis Of Two Bush Speeches. (2019, Oct 31). Retrieved August 4, 2021 , from
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