Date of Award
Program or Major
Master of Arts
Marion G. Dorsey
This thesis considers the rhetoric advocating for the use of military force by United States Presidents following the end of the Cold War, using Aristotle’s model of rhetoric as a persuasive tool as a framework. Aristotle asked: What is the character of the speaker? What logical arguments has the speaker made? Has the speaker understood and appealed to the emotions of the listener? As of this writing, there have been four United States Presidents since 1989: George H.W. Bush, William Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Each used rhetoric to advocate for the use of military force. By considering the rhetoric of each of these Presidents in the context of the specific situation he confronted, and by examining United States Congressional and public response, it is clear that while the character of the speaker, actual or imputed, may have been important in persuading a listener, and while logical arguments were important in persuading a listener, it was absolutely critical that the sitting President understand and appeal to the emotions of the American people, including members of Congress, to successfully advocate for the use of military force.
The four cases considered here, one for each post-Cold War President, provide three examples where the President was able to understand and make that critical appeal to the emotions of his audiences and one example where the President did not initially understand or appeal to the emotions of his audiences. Presidents George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush, who successfully understood and appealed to the emotions of their audiences, were able to successfully advocate for the use of military force. President Obama, who did not initially understand or successfully appeal to the emotions of his audiences, failed in his advocacy for the use of military force.
Larkin, Benjamin, "Presidential Rhetoric: A Call To War In the Post-Cold War United States" (2015). Master's Theses and Capstones. 930.