Obama’s conflict: A close textual analysis of the President’s discourse on the 2011 Libyan Civil War



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In 2011, President Barack Obama was charged with the necessity to respond to the atrocious human rights violations occurring in Libya at the hands of the Muammar al-Qaddafi government. As a result of a U.N. resolution requiring the establishment of a no-fly zone, the Obama administration sent warships to the Mediterranean to eliminate the threat of a tyrant. The following analysis recaps these events from a rhetorical standpoint. President Obama spoke about the conflict and the possibility of U.S. intervention as the civil war grew in scope and became a threat to U.S. national security. Throughout his discourse on the conflict, Obama engages in two rhetorical strategies to justify foreign intervention without a declaration of war. First, Obama creates a rhetorical imperialist strategy for defending U.S. action in Libya. To accomplish such a task, he rhetorically establishes a homogenized notion of democracy, conflating the needs and goals of Libyan democracy with western and American notions of human and civil rights. With this notion of consubstantiation of identity and misinterpretation of Libyan desires, Obama could then frame the threat of democracy failure in Libya as a necessity for intervention, justifying military and economic imperialist action in the name of national security. His second strategy illuminated a spatial panopticon within his rhetoric. Obama frames Qaddafi as the prisoner of Jeremy Bentham’s all-seeing, all-knowing prison structure that was at the will of the international community, the watchtower led by its supervisor, the U.S. and President Obama. For the first time in presidential address, the conception of East versus West was diminished in foreign policy rhetoric as Obama transformed the rhetorical field to new focus of international affairs, the U.S. versus the world.



Presidential address, Obama, Barack -- President, Close textual analysis, Imperialism, Panopticism, Libyan Civil War