Tag: Presidential Rhetoric

Blog Archeology: The Discursive Bundle that Justified the Iraq War

Yesterday morning I forgot to link the National Security Archive’s “Iraq War Ten Years After” page. It highlights some of the greatest hits of the period. I founded the Duck after the start of the Iraq War, but, as was the case for many US political and international-affairs blogs, the team blogged a fair amount on the subject.

Given Jon’s recent post, I thought I’d dredge up an old one that I wrote on the framing of the Iraq War. Given how recent apologias have emphasized certain aspects of pro-war rhetoric, such as the call to democratize Iraq, I think it remains relevant.

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The Selling of the Iraq War: Case Study of Presidential Persuasion?

This week, a number of high-profile journalists and bloggers are engaged in a debate about presidential persuasion. Among other examples, they have been discussing the George W. Bush administration’s selling of the Iraq war — leading political scientists at the The Monkey Cage to weigh in with data and useful analysis.

Much of the discussion about the Iraq war centers around this chart, which details the contours of support for the war based on party identification.

I left the following in comments, but wanted to add key links:

The Bush administration really starting selling war in late August and early September 2002, so prior data is not especially relevant to the question of presidential persuasion.  Andrew Card was quoted in the NYT the 1st week of September 2002: “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” In August, Card formed the White House Iraq Group and on the 26th of that month, Cheney spoke to the VFW. From that time until war began in March 2003, Republican support for war increased by over 5% despite a starting position at nearly 80% — and despite open skepticism expressed in the NYT & WSJ by Bush I stalwarts James Baker & Brent Scowcroft. At the same time, Independent support for war remained flat at about 60%, and Democratic support remained between 45-50%. I’m pretty sure Gallup polling from the last 25 years showed 2003 as the nadir for Democratic party ID, meaning that at least some ex-Democrats were suddenly telling pollsters they were pro-war Independents or Republicans.

Some elites may well have become skeptical over time, but media coverage of the case for war was decidedly uncritical and newspaper op-ed pages were overwhelmingly pro-war, especially after the Colin Powell presentation at the UNSC.

In any case, the selling of the Iraq war was remarkable and fairly unique, so we should be careful generalizing from it.

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Nuk-ya-lar Two-Step

As I always tell my World Politics 101 students, the word is “nuclear,” folks. Noo-clee-ahr. No such word as “nuk-ya-lar”!

Yet here we go, Sarah Palin on the stage pontificating about nukes (HT to Moira Whelan at Democracy Arsenal):

Seems like a silly thing to bitch about, eh? But goddammit, the thought of listening to my President or Vice-President further embarrass our country and belittle the incredible threat posed by these weapons by mangling that word for the next four to eight years, well, let’s just say my botherment is probably at least as disproportionate as the utility of nukes to any conceivable military objective.

Why is that, I’m asking myself? Why do I work so hard to make sure my students don’t reiterate this simple error in job interviews, an error for which they might, after all, be forgiven after listening to Washington for the last four years? Why do I fixate on word pronunciation when the substance of Palin’s remarks was about nine zillion times as scary? (In case you didn’t notice, her answer to the question about nuclear use was an answer about non-proliferation – she clearly has no basic literacy in the nuances of nuclear policy discourse.)

So why sweat the details? Because it reflects on me when my students or my President sound uneducated in foreign affairs. Because of what it says about me as an American when I allow myself to be represented on the world stage by someone who, whether smart or not, simply doesn’t care enough about basic diplomatic protocols to do simple things like learn the vernacular. I’ve been embarrassed for four years by my President’s inability to form a sentence. Whether this is simply a strategy to make Palin look “folksy” doesn’t matter. Whether it actually reflects on her intelligence, irrelevant.

It is the image this communicates about Americans abroad that matters. The perception that we care so little about the rest of the world that we are willing to put the power to affect the entire globe into the hands of someone who seems not to care would be as damaging to our soft power abroad and our national security as any US policy. It is part of what makes [some] people abroad despise us, not just our leaders. I would be just as hesitant to vote for a Democrat who was so brazenly and callously indifferent to the basic rules and syntax of foreign affairs.

OK. Rant over for now.

Update: OK, OK, Mike Innes has definitively proven that my statement that “people abroad despise us” for electing idiots, not just the idiots we elect, was an exaggeration… only some people abroad do.

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A Mild Plea for Assistance

As many readers of The Duck may know I am currently on hiatus working full time and writing my dissertation–a handful to say the least.

To that end, can anyone recommend any books or articles that do a good job of summarizing the literature on presidential rhetoric and its influence on public opinion? I am looking for literature on this topic generally, on presidential influence on foreign policy as well as presidential approval ratings.

Many thanks in advance!

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