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How Appeal to National Ideals Sold Operation Iraqi Freedom

How Appeal to National Ideals Sold Operation Iraqi Freedom

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Published by Christopher Haynes

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Published by: Christopher Haynes on Dec 06, 2012
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How appeal to national ideals sold Operation Iraqi Freedom
Christopher Haynes04/12/12
 
Ideas have power. They inspire any conceivable action by the largest of nations. God, king and country,not to mention cultural revolution, hold the minds of millions of obedient soldiers and taxpayers.Conversely, power has ideas. Be they the divine right of the king, the sovereignty of the people or thespreading of freedom from dictatorship around the globe, the powerful use ideas to give their actionslegitimacy.It is not truth and facts that approve policy and fuel conflict but perceptions. We filter what we perceivethrough our biases as we come to understand and act on them. In our pick-your-own-truth world, it iscommon to assume one version of the truth without unequivocal evidence. The important question isnot how many people were killed and who did it, but how many people do they think and say werekilled and whom do they think and say did it. Our perceptions come in part from our socialisation into aculture. Perception is the difference between a martyr and a terrorist, a soldier and an occupier, a heroand a murderer. People or groups are capable of any amount of violence if they consider their motivesrighteous and justified.Through the various historical processes that shape a nation, the people take on certain assumptions
about the nation’s identity, such as its values and virtues. Nationalism is not awareness of a nation’s
identity but the belief in its exclusivity or superio
rity to the identities of others. “Nationalism…is a
language of fantasy and escape
,” explains Michael Ignatieff.
 
“We can begin to see how nationalist
rhetoric re-writes and re-creates the real world, turning it into a delusional realm of noble causes, tragicsacrifice and cruel necessity.
1
 Governments spend enormous time and effort to garner support for their policies. Rulers tend to appeal
to either the basest fears or the highest aspirations of their constituents. Most or all “national values”
have been established long before the current president steps into office; which means, in the words of 
Andrew Bacevich, “[r]ather than bending history to their will, presidents and those around them are
much more likely to dance to histo
ry’s tune.”
2
In a democracy, only politicians willing to be unpopular (abrave few) will attempt to guide public opinion in directions it does not wish to travel. Beal andHinckley
3
 
argue that “opinion polls are at the core of presidential decision making.”
Elites may come upwith ideas but once they catch on, they have lost control of them. Elites continue to manipulate existingideas such as nationalism to build support for themselves and their policies, but in most cases thoseideas were latent in the culture, waiting for someone to come along and play with them. The people
1
Ignatieff, 187.
2
Bacevich, xii.
3
Beal and Hinckley, 74.
 
want to hear about their greatness. Successful rulers command the loyalty of the populace by appearingto reflect its values. In short, a democratic, and possibly even dictatorial, government needs the supportof a large section (a plurality if not a majority) of the public to initiate or prolong a war.This paper considers the ideas that form the core of what Americans believe are the virtues of theirnation, and examines how those ideas are reflected in the public statements of the Bush administrationin its attempts to win support for Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. Thequestion facing us is, aside from appeal to fear (which was powerful; perhaps the key factor in winningsupport for OIF), how did the administration use the national values and ideals Americans believe in towin approval for its plans for Iraq? In other words, how did those who executed the war legitimise it?To answer this question, we will need to know by which ideals Americans as a whole, or at least thatmajority that favoured an invasion of Iraq, see themselves and the nation. The three ideals that appearmost prominently are form the three sections of this paper.The first and perhaps most important is the fight against evil. Like his predecessors and his successor,
Bush invoked “evil” as
a reason for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a way to define the USas the polar opposite of evil, and a reason for going on a
crusade
against evil, including invading Iraq.
The appeal to Americans’ sense of evil includes the repeated invoking of God’s name and God’s values.
America, George W. Bush proclaimed, was destined to rid the world of evil, starting with Iraq. This wasits duty, its responsibility as the bearer of the universal values God had bestowed upon humanity.Many Americans, at times a majority,
agreed with George Bush’s manichean speeches about “theterrorists” because it is normal for them to think of the w
orld in terms of good versus evil. These samepeople believe the US has a moral duty to protect the country and the world from such evils as the nextHitler, and Saddam Hussein was one of them. (Dick Cheney made clear that, like in Paris in the SecondWorld War, US troops would be greeted as liberators. How could they not take up the torch?) Arighteous people united against an evil enemy bent on world domination is enough to rally the US public
because it wants to fight the good fight. “Evil does exist in the world,” said Barack Obama at his NobelPeace Prize acceptance speech. “
So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the
peace.”
4
 Second, humanitarian intervention. We are going there to bring freedom, democracy, free markets, freetrade, free this and free that to the poor people in Iraq, or wherever the intervention is. The Bush
4
Obama, Barack. Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech. December 10, 2009. Retrieved fromhttp://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-acceptance-nobel-peace-prize. 

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