Part of something larger than ourselves: George H.W. Bush and the rhetoric of the first U.S. war in the Persian Gulf
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During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, George H.W. Bush achieved the rhetorical success that had escaped his prior speaking endeavors. If the aforementioned assessments regarded Bush’s Gulf War rhetoric as a rhetorical triumph, in light of prior damning criticism of his rhetorical abilities, then an explanation for that triumph is in order. Bush’s rhetoric differed from his Presidential predecessors by virtue of two factors. First, as the first U.S. president of the Post-Cold War era, Bush’s rhetoric faced different rhetorical constraints than those faced by his predecessors, as he no longer had the narrative framework of the Cold War to explain U.S. foreign policy action. Second, Bush rhetorically juxtaposed American exceptionalism and realism within his rhetoric itself. This differed from the rhetoric of his immediate predecessor, Ronald Reagan, whose rhetoric employed American exceptionalism without reference to realism, although that rhetoric was strategically geared toward achieving realist foreign policy ends. Bush’s success was also considerable in that he faced significant rhetorical constraints created or exacerbated by Reagan. Reagan’s reputation as the “Great Communicator,” contrasted with Bush’s less-than-stellar reputation as an orator, makes Bush’s rhetorical success particularly worth understanding. President George H.W. Bush relied on three particular arguments to facilitate a U.S. military victory during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. These arguments differed considerably from foreign policy arguments offered by the Reagan administration with respect to the manner in which they addressed issues concerning the United Nations and the Vietnam War. First, Bush promoted U.N. diplomacy as a subsidiary of U.S. foreign policy. For Bush, the U.N. served as a venue where world opinion could be galvanized and action serving United States interests would not be constrained so much as legitimized. Second, he compared and contrasted U.S. action in the Gulf to the Vietnam War. In doing so, he combined the moral urgency of prior foreign policy efforts with the hindsight necessary to avoid a repeat of the American experience in Vietnam. Third, in retrospectively assessing the Gulf War, Bush depicted the conflict as a discrete foreign policy event in which he narrowly defined victory. Bush defined victory as the removal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, in an attempt to shape a historical consensus on the significance of U.S. action.
Rangel, Nicolas , Jr. (2007). Part of something larger than ourselves: George H.W. Bush and the rhetoric of the first U.S. war in the Persian Gulf. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from