White House rhetoric runs counter to policy realities, speech experts say

President George W. Bush frequently has been criticized for being verbally challenged, but a new rhetorical analysis of the Bush White House, based on the public record, argues that the president and his colleagues have demonstrated an impressive facility with the language.

According to the researchers, whose findings appear in a new book, "Globalization and Empire: The U.S. Invasion of Iraq, Free Markets, and the Twilight of Democracy" (University of Alabama Press), the Bush presidency has built a verbal "operation of deception" characterized by fabrications and lies, disinformation and propaganda, posturing and threats and an arsenal of rhetorical tricks, chief among them what rhetoricians call logical fallacies.

The researchers also say that the public statements and policies of the Bush White House generally have clashed with each other. The authors say irregular but common practices of the administration -- what the researchers call "crony capitalism," "patriotic provincialism," "privatizing globalism" and "institutionalized privateering" -- are not only ruining Iraq, but cheating U.S. taxpayers out of billions of dollars and potential social services, threatening to send the United States into a "numbing economic morass," and undercutting democracy.

Collectively, the deceptions and policies constitute "a massive campaign to change the ways Americans think about democracy, globalization, and empire," wrote authors Stephen Hartnett, a professor of speech communication, and Laura Ann Stengrim, a doctoral candidate, both at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Looking at the relationship between the Bush administration's public statements and its policies on many issues -- weapons of mass destruction, waging war on Iraq, the reconstruction of Iraq, Sept. 11, Abu Ghraib and the CIA leak incident -- Hartnett and Stengrim found "a powerful bond between fraying and increasingly deceptive norms of public discourse and post-9/11 political and economic policies."

Their analysis, which uses case studies based on historical research, evidence-based arguments and detailed rhetorical criticism, illustrates, among other things, "the remarkably complicated ways the Bush administration has used 9/11 as an elastic justification for waging wars of globalization and empire under the banner of free trade and democracy."

Regarding the rationales used for going to war in Iraq, the authors determined that the president's arguments were "fabrications spun from evidence that was shaky at best, outright nonsense at worst, and that the labyrinthine cover-ups following these initial fabrications amount to a second, equally dangerous series of lies."

"Although it is not the first time deceptions have been foisted on the world by a dissembling president, we demonstrate that President Bush's WMD (weapons of mass destruction) rhetoric amounts to a pattern of lying that poses a serious threat to the foundational principles of democracy," the authors wrote.

There also is a "yawning abyss" between Bush administration statements and the facts regarding reconstruction in Iraq.

The president, facing criticism from Canada and pressure from Britain regarding the administration's country-limited bidding process for reconstruction work in 2003, agreed to open the process on $18.6 billion in projects. As of April 2004, the authors wrote, the companies that had received contracts still were overwhelmingly based in the United States.

And contrary to the president's statements that the oil flowing again in Iraq is "Iraqi oil, owned by the Iraqi people," the oil, the authors wrote, is owned by the international consortium of creditors behind the Trade Bank of Iraq (TBI), which, in turn, is managed by U.S.-based banking giant JP Morgan Chase.

Iraqi oil thus "belongs to JP Morgan Chase and the international consortium of bankers behind the TBI, those parties benefiting from the U.N.-created Compensation Fund, and international fossil-fuel elites running the Development Fund for Iraq."

Although Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld claimed in 2003 that the war had "literally nothing to do with oil," he repeatedly traveled to Baghdad in the mid-1980s to negotiate with Saddam Hussein for the construction of a U.S. pipeline that would have shipped Iraqi oil through Jordan to port of Aqaba, where it would be put on ships for America, the authors wrote. Fearing Israeli air strikes on the pipeline, Saddam turned down the deal in 1985.

The authors wrote that they offer their book "from positions of deep sadness and unflagging hope, for although we are not proud of our nation's actions in Iraq, and although many of the stories and facts conveyed here can only be called shameful, we continue to believe in the promises and practices of American democracy."

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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