Audiences, Metaphors, and the Persian Gulf War

By Bates, Benjamin R. | Communication Studies, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Audiences, Metaphors, and the Persian Gulf War


Bates, Benjamin R., Communication Studies


For nearly fifty years, the world was simple. In the bipolar system, one was aligned with the United States or with the Soviet Union. With the end of the Cold War, this world was gone. The post-Cold War era became more complex as the world entered a transition stage between a bipolar world and an allegedly unipolar one. Nitze correctly noted that "a time of transition is bound to be a time of uncertainty. Old guideposts are gone or quickly fading and new landmarks need to be sorted out and established" (1990, p. 11).

In this post-Cold War world, the stumbling for a coherent international policy, and some would say the justification for such a policy, made for an unclear course. Then, as if to test the new international waters, Saddam Hussein directed Iraqi troops to invade Kuwait. Although there had been minor skirmishes involving the United States, Iraq's 1990 invasion was the first substantial challenge to America's post-Cold War preponderance (Hippler, 2000). The American response was also seen as the moment of krisis in which the United States would functionally declare whether it had unipolar pretensions or would become an active participant in multipolar collective security, a moment with broad implications for American foreign policy (Maynes, 2000; Nitze, 1990). The American response was not a unilateral eviction of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Instead, an international coalition was assembled, several U.N. resolutions were passed, and then, after attaining U.N. authorization, American-led forces from 28 nations waged air- and land-based war.

The invasion of Kuwait was not enough to cause mass international outcry for the "globocop" to return to her beat. The U.S.-led coalition did not represent the deployment of the American behemoth against Saddam Hussein, whilst being cheered by the international crowd (Mermin, 1996). Instead, the American-led coalition was a feat of engineered international elite opinion. The conclusion given by Foreign Affairs in the midst of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm is apt:

   George Bush did not blunder into war. At each juncture over a
   six-month period he weighed his options and made his choices. The
   president had to maintain an unprecedented and fragile coalition,
   retain domestic support for what might end in war, and bring
   increasing pressure to bear against an opponent whose very
   rationality was open to question. ("The road to war," 1990, p. 4)

If Bush did not blunder into the war, then how did he build and maintain the coalition that was necessary to the successful prosecution of the war? Instead of seeing it as blundering or inevitable, analysts should see that the American leadership was constructed as necessary.

To explore the construction of American leadership, I will examine George Bush's diplomatic efforts as rhetorical efforts. I will first outline the importance of Bush's international audience, one composed of opinion leaders from other countries that could enable the military coalition. After indicating some of the constraints that an international audience places on foreign policy rhetoric, I will note the importance of Bush's mass-mediated public speeches as a representative anecdote for the persuasion of this international audience. Using metaphoric cluster analysis, I then will read these speeches. After discussing the use of metaphoric clusters of SAVAGERY and CIVILIZATION in these speeches, I will indicate how the international audience adopted these metaphors in their own language after meeting with the president. Finally, I offer some conclusions about Bush's use of metaphor and its implications for our readings of war rhetoric.

THE IMPORTANCE OF MULTIPLE AUDIENCES

To successfully prosecute the Persian Gulf War, the United States needed to build a coalition. Yet, when exploring how this coalition was built, the foreign policy literature has assigned the success to the genius of George Bush's diplomacy and left it there (see Nacos, 1994 for a review). …

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