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In March 2003, responding to what he perceived to be an urgent need to destroy Saddam Hussein's Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), to unify and democratize the people of Iraq, and to defeat international terrorism, President George W. Bush ordered the military invasion of Iraq, what the White House dubbed "Operation Iraqi Freedom." From late 2002 and well into 2007, he delivered many public speeches in which he justified the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. In these speeches, the President addressed both Americans and Iraqis, inviting them to see the overthrow of Hussein and the ongoing occupation as a founding moment not only in Iraqi but also in Middle Eastern history. (1) According to Maurice Charland (1987), constitutive rhetorics are crucial during "founding" moments when advocates try to "interpellate" or "hail" audiences, calling a common, collective identity into existence. As Charland might say, President Bush as well as administration officials "addressed and so attempted to call into being" a unified and democratic Iraqi 'people' (p. 134). The Iraqi people, in turn, would "legitimate the constitution of a sovereign" Iraqi state (p. 134). The President addressed them by employing "prophetic dualism," a rhetorical frame for interpreting American foreign policy that divides the world into the forces of good (exemplified by the United States) and the forces of evil (represented by America's enemies). (2) As Wander (1984) points out, conflict between these forces can only be "resolved through the total victory of one side over the other" (p. 342). Prophetic dualism holds that Americans are morally and spiritually superior and destined to spread "good" around the globe. To be sure, Americans formed the President's primary audience: he interpellated them as prophetic dualists. But the effectiveness of Bush's rhetorical campaign also hinged on the way he articulated subject positions for people living in Iraq through a process of "identification" in the uniquely American prophetic dualist narrative. (3) For Bush, the whole idea of 'regime change' presupposed that Iraqis would participate in and secure democratic practices.
By 2005, despite promising elections and the development of an Iraqi political constitution, insurgents intensified their attacks against coalition forces and seemingly uncontrollable ethnic and sectarian violence wracked the nation. As several commentators on the war in Iraq observed, neither the President nor his advisors understood or took into account how the American intervention would unleash ethnic and religious tensions repressed for decades under autocratic rule (Chandrasekaran, 2006; Ricks, 2006; Will, 2006; Woodward, 2006). Washington Post reporter Anthony Shadid (2005) warned that the increasing violence magnified "the sense of U.S. failure in the eyes of most Iraqis ... and the rest of the world.... The carnage itself sent the message of approaching anarchy ... as if it was understood that Americans could say nothing to mitigate the most recent tragedies or promise anything that would end the violence.... Iraq was subsumed in the logic of violence, ruled by men with guns" (p. 426). By the end of 2006, rather than "reconstituting" Iraqis as a unified and democratic 'people,' the President's policy resulted in what the bipartisan Iraq Study Group called a "grave and deteriorating" situation (Baker et al., 2006, p. 6).
My purpose in this article is to investigate President Bush's Iraq war speeches as failed constitutive rhetoric. My study is guided by three overarching questions: (1) Why did Bush's speeches fail as constitutive rhetoric? (2) How did these speeches invoke or impose constraints on the American--Iraqi relationship in the form of what I shall call "constitutive paradoxes?" (3) What rhetorical opportunities are afforded by the failure of constitutive rhetoric? I will argue that, in the process of trying to create identification between Americans and Iraqis, making them partners in a democratic founding, Bush's discourse contributed to the emergence of conditions that were in many ways diametrically opposed to the democratic transformation he was promoting, creating several troubling constitutive paradoxes. The choice of the term "constitutive paradox" stems from the work of Kenneth Burke (1968). Burke writes that many attempts to define audiences as democratic, in effect reconstituting their identities, reveal "the paradox that these doctrines of progress contributed their part to usher in precisely the gloom they thought they were ushering out" (p. 331). In Iraq, as my analysis suggests, President Bush's rhetoric addressed Americans as givers of democracy and freedom and the people of Iraq as the recipients, a constitution that could only last so long as democratization made progress. More specifically, he addressed an audience of Iraqis that he believed was already consubstantial with the very identity he sought to call into existence, as if their identity was intrinsic to them, "existed prior to or served as the 'container' of their political community" (Charland, 2001, p. 68). In Iraq, however, the views of Shiites and Sunnis, in particular, were already "a rhetorical" or "ideological effect," as Charland (1987) might put it. These views held more ideological sway with most Iraqis than did the discourse of national identity proposed by Bush, which assumed the existence of a universal desire for democracy. Shiites and Sunnis could not simply be persuaded to shed preexisting views because "social identity, religious faith, sexuality, and ideology is beyond the realm of rational or even free choice, beyond the realm of persuasion" (Charland, 1987, p. 133). As Charland (1987) suggests, President Bush assumed and presumed the existence of a fundamental collective identity for his audiences, a kind of collective 'we'. In fact, the collective 'we' is a shifting formation: the identity of a reconstituted people, their borders and who counts as members of the new collective people are constantly contested and repositioned (Drzewiecka, 2002). Thus, when democratic progress slowed, in part because Shiites and Sunnis resisted the occupation, President Bush seemed compelled by his own prophetic dualism to intensify the American military and economic commitment. This renewed commitment made the Iraqis more dependent on the United States and expended American resources. But it did not necessarily make the situation better and in some ways made the situation worse (Ricks, 2006; Shadid, 2005). The deepening crisis demanded additional commitments--denying these commitments meant denying the American prophetic dualist identity. According to the Bush administration, withdrawing from Iraq would have enabled America's 'evil' enemies to prevail over the United States and its new Iraqi allies. As one administration official put it, a premature troop withdrawal amounted to "surrender," "defeat," and "a death sentence for the millions of Iraqis who voted for ... a free and democratic society" (quoted in Weisman & Williamson, 2007, p. 3A).
Rhetorical analysis of President Bush's speeches as failed constitutive rhetoric illustrates two significant points: first, as Judith Butler (1997) suggests, the emergence of a reconstituted and seemingly autonomous identity is rooted in paradox--becoming a subject is intricately bound up with being subjected to power. In Iraq, Bush rhetorically constituted the relationship between Americans and the Iraqis in such a manner that it denied the autonomy requisite for Iraqi self-determination. Moreover, by describing Iraqis as lacking the resources necessary for instituting democracy, his public address called attention to an irresolvable lack. The attempted and repeated fulfillment of this lack contributed to a culture of dependency from which it was (and remains) extremely difficult for the United States to extricate itself. Second, advocates must consider the competing worldviews of various audiences and understand how these identities impede and promote democratic transformation. The contradictions that arise between competing identities and the narratives that constitute them pose a tremendous challenge, especially to foreign policy rhetorics which seek to create founding moments. When Iraqis resisted President Bush's notion of an Iraqi democratic founding, he defined away the resistance within the confines of a prophetic dualist frame. This prevented him from adjusting or thinking 'reflexively' about this resistance and how it could be transformed into a rhetorical and political resource. As Noon (2004) demonstrates, President Bush's foreign policy discourse has always characterized the world in a simple, dualistic fashion that actually evades a critical engagement with history and the deeply rooted traditions of other countries. By 2006, this critical evasion (not to mention the escalating violence and lack of overall democratic progress in Iraq) led to rising discontent in the United States, opening what Tate (2006) calls "a rhetorical space" from which opponents in Iraq but also in America could contest the President's Iraq policy. In the United States, dissenters revised the prophetic dualist identity, although their resistance did not result in an immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq or seriously oppose the basic grounds of prophetic dualism.
In what follows, I describe Charland's theory of constitutive rhetoric and its extension in the work of Burke and Butler. Next, I rhetorically analyze several of President Bush's public speeches spanning the period from right before the invasion of Iraq to immediately after the Iraqi constitutional elections in January 2006. This primary selection supplies a fairly broad overview of the President's public discourse on Iraq. I focus on how Bush's speeches tried to interpret events in Iraq in prophetic dualist terms. Finally, I investigate the implications of the President's speeches for the theory of constitutive rhetoric. I attend specifically to what this case study reveals about the constitutive paradoxes and the reflexive inventional possibilities of constitutive rhetoric. I suggest how constitutive rhetoric may articulate alternative political identities in the midst of ethnic and religious strife.
Constitutive Rhetoric and Prophetic Dualism
In his study of the "Peuple Quebecois," Charland (1987) shows how advocates for Quebec's political sovereignty "addressed and so attempted to call into being a peuple quebecois that would legitimate the constitution of a sovereign Quebec state" (p. 134). Employing what Michael McGee might call Quebec's rhetoric of a "people," Charland (1987) argues that
claims for Quebec sovereignty based themselves upon the asserted existence of a particular type of subject, the "Quebecois." That subject and the collectivized "people quebecois" are, in Althusser's language, "interpellated" as political subjects through a process of identification in rhetorical narratives that "always already" presume the constitution of subjects. (p. 134)