This essay offers a dilemma-centered rhetorical history of the Iraq debacle, beginning with the president's melodramatic crisis narrative in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, continuing with the unraveling of that narrative in the run-up to war and during the prolonged occupation of Iraq, and culminating in situational entrapment, or quagmire, wherein the Bush administration's reputation for "staying on message" has lost its rhetorical glow.
Political leaders craft public communications in a strategic manner and attempt to use mass media as a political resource. With this in mind, we argue that during summer and autumn 2002 President George W. Bush extended the September 11 crisis through emphasis in public communications on internal "homeland" security and an external "war on terror"—discourses into which Iraq was carefully inserted over time. These strategic communications allowed the president to significantly shape U.S. news coverage, helped Republicans gain control of Congress, and propelled the United States toward war with Iraq. Our analysis shows that Bush's emphasis on three themes in combination with a particular sequence of discourse facilitated a subtle shift from a focus solely on homeland security legislation to one that emphasized the dangers of Saddam Hussein's Iraq without substantive changes in the accompanying arguments. Further, analysis of U.S. news coverage during the same dates indicates that news media often followed the president's messages about these topics.
This essay examines the Bush administration's rhetoric of evil in the war on terror and invasion of Iraq by reframing the question of national security into one of a chosen people's recurring quest for redemption. As such, ritualized perceptions of peril are an engine of unreflective policy making. Yet the ritual of redemptive violence suggests a remedy from within war culture, which begins with reconsidering the function of the scapegoat vis-à-vis the articulation of categorical guilt. From there, the essay explores the notion of transforming the scapegoat mechanism through rehumanizing rituals into a peace-building, as opposed to enemy-making, salvation device.
This essay argues that, if carefully read, the public statements of the Bush administration in the run-up to the March 2003 U.S.-led military intervention in Iraq reveal that the available evidence did not warrant the administration's confident claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD). To support this argument, the essay explores the administration's verbal leakage and Freudian slips, shifts in the burden of proof, strategies that minimized evidentiary accountability, assertions of the presence of convincing evidence that could not be publicly revealed, and tacit concessions that the case for WMD was a patchwork.
The most fully articulated case for war in Iraq was presented in Secretary of State Colin Powell's February 5, 2003, speech to the United Nations Security Council. After establishing the context for the speech, this essay examines the strength of that case, focusing especially on structure, reasoning, and evidence. The structure was appropriate to the purpose, if somewhat unusual. Although the speech relied on argument from ignorance, this inference was reasonable in context. The fatal flaw in the speech was the unreliability of key evidence. More critical questioning of evidence at the time could have brought this problem to light and perhaps have avoided some of the consequences that followed.
During the 1980s and the 1990s, scholars in the field of rhetorical studies presented presidential war rhetoric as a genre of public discourse. More recently, some have questioned the genre's continued relevance given the current challenges of U.S. warfare. This essay examines whether preemption conducted in the context of the war on terror alters or reinforces the conventional substantive and stylistic expectations of war rhetoric. Analyzing the public communication strategies of the Bush administration on Iraq and the Reagan administration on the bombing of Libya, it demonstrates that despite changes in the situational exigencies, the nation's leadership uses a heavy reliance on strategic misrepresentation to maintain compliance with the genre's expectations.
George W. Bush has issued hundreds of "signing statements" objecting to select provisions of legislation that he has nonetheless signed into law. While signing statements have been used by previous presidents, President Bush's signing statements are unique in their volume, their frequent lack of specificity, and the breadth of the power that they claim for the executive branch. His statements undermine the deliberative exchange between the president and the Congress mandated for traditional veto messages and sustained in most signing statements prior to the 43rd presidency. In doing so, they imperil the prospect for effective legislative oversight, particularly in areas related to national security and, by extension, the Iraq war.