Rhetorically speaking: Richard Ice on Bush's speech

With a backdrop of bookshelves and an oil lamp, George Bush addressed the nation tonight, not from the Oval Office but from the White House Library. But was the change in venue enough to signal the significant change in strategy his speech was hyped to address? Dr. Richard Ice, Professor of Communication at St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota, shared his thoughts on the rhetoric and stagecraft of Bush's speech.
I’m surprised they were in the library. The message is they’ve got a different setting, which suggests a different strategy. I don’t think it was different enough.

He built up the argument that Iraq is central to our fight against terrorism, but also making it this kind of beacon of democracy in the whole area. He really upped the stakes of success in Iraq. Then he went to great pains to show this is somehow a different strategy. But I’m not sure most Americans see this as a different strategy. Embedding American troopss with the Iraqis? Most people might see this as a more dangerous strategy. He’s making the argument that they’re going to be able to not only expel the insurgents from areas now, but also hold the area...

Right after September 11, the theme was: victory over terrorism was different than victory in any other kind of war. That’s a good example of a rhetorical problem he’s got. He uses "war on terrorism" to mean both a literal war and a metaphoric war, and those two things get confused. Because when he talks about it as a literal war—which it is in Iraq, and people are dying—people are wanting to see a tangible outcome, but he also refers to the "war on terror" as a metaphor. Like Johnson’s War on Poverty, it suggests a kind of lasting vigilance in going after the terrorists. And he was using it that way when talking about Iraq tonight: he demands success and says democracy has to work there, but he can’t really articulate what that's going to be.

It’s clear it’s not going to be some kind of Jeffersonian democracy like we have, but I don’t know what it means to succeed there anymore. Even in Vietnam, the image of victory was South Vietnam saved. The image in Korea was South Korea stayed as a country. Here, you’re left wondering: When do we know we’ve had a victory? And he admits, we don’t.

That makes it even harder to note that there’s even success. We’re trying to get troops to secure something, instead of getting more troops to win. The idea of winning a victory, he admits is not really what's going on. So, why are we sending more people in? To win a… what?

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