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What is unsaid in bushs gulf war speech politics essay

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A Critical Stylistics Approach. Political discourse is a special kind of discourse that produces and reproduces beliefs, opinions, and ideologies. However, it is sometimes difficult for politicians to express their thoughts explicitly. Very often, they have to mask them. This discussion investigates the use of presuppositions and implicatures in President George H. W. Bush’s Gulf War speeches in 1990. It attempts to provide answers for the following questions:

How presuppositions and implicatures are manipulated to express the ideologies of the speaker? And

What is the influence of presuppositions and implicatures on recipients?

The remainder of this discussion is organized as follows. Part 1 is an outline of political discourse analysis. It discusses the relationship between language and politics. Part 2 is methodology and tools. It outlines the use of presuppositions and implicatures in discourse. Part 3 is context. It describes the data and its context. Part 4 is an analysis of the data. Part 5 is conclusion.

Political discourse analysis

Recently, discourse analysis studies have come to realize the importance of addressing social and political life (Chilton, 2003; Wodak, 1989). Based on the assumption that understanding social and political problems begins with understanding the language of the social groups involved, discourse analysis has come to the study of the discourse of different social groups in what came to known as the study of professional discourse (Gunnarsson, 2009). Discourse analysis is now dealing with a number of professional settings including business, government, education, health care, jurisprudence, media, and politics. This has led to the appearance of technical terms such as business discourse, medical discourse, legal discourse, media discourse, and political discourse (Geluykens, 1999). This discussion is concerned with political discourse.

Schäffner (2004) explains that ” political discourse analysis is concerned with the analysis of political discourse” (2004: 117). She proceeds that there is a close relationship between discourse and politics. It is the function of political discourse analysis ” to relate the fine grain of linguistic behavior to politics, or political behavior” (2004: 119). In linguistics and critical discourse analysis (CDA) studies, political discourse has been of much concern for many linguists and discourse analysts in the last three decades. This is due to the idea that some observations about politics have found out that politics and language are closely associated with each other. Chilton and Schäffner (2002) argue that political discourse is a complex form of human activity, which is based on the assumption that politics cannot be conducted without language. They argue that ” Politics and language are intimately intertwined” (2002: VII). Likewise, Geis (1987) stresses that language is an essential component in politics; it is not merely a tool for describing political events; rather, it is a part of events: ” language is an integral facet of the political scene: not simply an instrument for describing events but itself a part of events, strongly shaping their meaning and helping to shape the political roles officials and mass publics see themselves as playing” (1987: 5).

Method & Tools

This discussion is using Jeffries’ (2010) linguistic model of assuming and implying in revealing the embedded messages conveyed in Bush’s war speech. These are the presuppositions and implicatures the speaker used to achieve his goal of obtaining support from his recipients. The rational of using presuppositions and implicatures is that presupposition and implicature are two important tools politicians use to express their ideologies and achieve their goals in an indirect way. Presupposition, on the one hand, is important in political discourse because “ it expresses the taken-for-granted existence of some referent” (Chilton, 2003: 54). Implicature, on the other hand, “ enables political actors to convey more than they say in so many words. In political discourse it can often happen that the inferences that save the maxims and the CP can only arise if the hearer adopts a particular ideology or set of attitudes and values (Chilton, 2003: 37).

Jeffries (2010) explains “ presuppositions are text-based, easily defined and verifiable, and cannot be cancelled, even if the sentence carrying hem is negated” (2010: 100). Presuppositions can be expressed in a number of ways. These include the use of change of state verbs, factive verbs, cleft sentences, and comparative structures (Jeffries, 2010). Implicatures, in turn, arise either through perceived flouting (Grice, 1975) or through linguistic tools: “ the interaction between the conventional meaning of words and the operation of particular maxims and CP in local linguistic exchanges” (Chilton, 2003: 35).

The term Implicature came to language at the hands of Grice, the man who coined the term. The main concept of the term is that what is communicated or conveyed is more than what is explicitly said. Grice (1975) distinguished between two types of implicatures: conventional implicatures and conversational implicatures. He assumes that in some cases the conventional meaning of the words used determines what is implicated. He gives this example: He is an Englishman, he is, therefore, brave. He explains that the meaning of words implies that his being brave is a consequence of his being an Englishman. When the meaning is implied within the words, Grice calls it conventional implicature. He distinguishes it from the other sort of implicature, namely, conversation implicature. He suggests that the identification of this sort of implicature is based upon cooperation between speaker and hearer. In this connection, Grice suggests a rough general principle which participants are expected to follow in their conversations. His principle is known as the Cooperative Principle. Grice’s Cooperative Principle consists of four conversational maxims: Quantity, Quality, Relation, and Manner. However, a speaker or an interactant may seem to be violating one or more of the maxims, though he does not really do so. This is justified as Conversational Implicature. The hearer then depends upon the context to understand the implied meaning of the speaker.


This discussion takes the U. S. President (Bush, 1990) speech as an example for investigating the use of implicatures and presuppositions in political discourse. The speech is concerned with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the ways of confronting Saddam Hussein. The invasion was met with international condemnation, and brought immediate economic sanctions against Iraq by members of the UN Security Council. U. S. President George H. W. Bush urged world countries to send their own forces to the scene. A coalition from 34 countries was formed with the expressed purpose of expelling Iraqi forces from Kuwait. It is thought that the political speeches of the U. S. President George H. W. Bush played an influential part in such an unprecedented coalition.

The reason of selecting this speech is that it exhibits many assuming and implying features. President Bush realized that he was addressing a controversial issue: the involvement of the U. S in a purely Arab conflict. One way of evading any challenges against his argument was the use of presuppositions and implicatures. This is further explained in the next section.


In an address to the Nation on August 8, 1990, President Bush tries to get the assistance needed of his people and the world community in his war against Iraq. He implies that war on Iraq has become a must. He justifies the war on Iraq as:

Iraqi armed forces, without provocation or warning, invaded a peaceful Kuwait.

The achievement of an immediate, unconditional, and complete withdrawal of all Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

The restoration of the Kuwaiti legitimate government.

Keeping security and stability of the Persian Gulf.

Protecting the lives of American citizens abroad.

Keeping the sovereign independence of Saudi Arabia

In this address, Bush makes a strong start:

In the life of a nation, we’re called upon to define who we are and what we believe. Sometimes these choices are not easy. But today as President, I ask for your support in a decision I’ve made to stand up for what’s right and condemn what’s wrong, all in the cause of peace.

President Bush begins his speech with stressing that the United States is experiencing a current crisis that needs to be solved and settled. However, he does not state explicitly the nature of the crisis or its source. As the speech is primarily addressed to the American people, President Bush uses the NP a nation by which he refers to the United States. This means that Bush wants to depict the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait as an American concern. This will give him the right to discuss the problem at the national level and ask them to support his policies in the Gulf. The use of the passive form in we’re called upon to define who we are and what we believe implies that there is an outside authority, an over authority that compels him and his audience to make a stance against some error that has taken place. This is as we will understand is the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. By this general statement, Bush did not name this authority. This authority seems to be a moral authority, as understood from the context of the speech, which calls upon Bush and the American people to resist the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

The two clauses who we are and what we believe do not give the opportunity for his recipients to question them. In this context, he means the United States as a defender of the human values of peace and democracy. The use of the two clauses in this context serves the purpose that Bush does not like his recipients to argue about the position of the American people and their beliefs. This is not a matter of argument. He takes them as granted. He assumes that these are issues they all agree on. President Bush attempts to display himself from the very beginning, even before discussing the Iraqi act, as a defender of human values and more specifically the peace of the world. The overall effect of the sentence is that President Bush implies that the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait has direct consequences on the United States; therefore, the American people should support his policies.

Likewise, the two noun clauses [what is right] and [what is wrong] presuppose that there is something right that needs to be supported and something wrong that requires to be condemned. The idea is that Bush determined and judged his policies to be right from the very beginning even before making any arguments. So he is not inviting his audience to think about what is right and what is wrong. These are determined and taken for granted. There is a significant use of contrast. Bush makes a contrast between what he is going to do and what Saddam did. The structural parallelism between the two clauses reinforces the contrast between the two personalities as one defending human values and one breaching them.

Having established that (I mean the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait is an American concern), Bush moves another step. He argues that he is forced to take an action against Iraq in order to assert the moral values he and his nation are called for. He insists that he can never tolerate with a puppet regime imposed from the outside or the acquisition of territory by force.

A puppet regime imposed from the outside is unacceptable. The acquisition of territory by force is unacceptable. No one, friend or foe, should doubt our desire for peace; and no one should underestimate our determination to confront aggression.

This implicates that he has the firm determination to confront Saddam. Although Bush does not say clearly or explicitly that he will use force in his confrontation, this message is implicated in the speech.

The NP (our determination to confront aggression) presupposes that Bush has already the determination to confront aggression. Once again the NP aggression which functions as a direct object of the verb confront entails that the use of force can be an option because it is an act of aggression.

The reasons are that

A puppet regime imposed from outside is unacceptable

The NP in italics has the presuppositions that Saddam’s control over Kuwait is just a puppet regime and it is imposed from outside. The NP (A puppet regime imposed from outside) is the subject of the sentence. Regime is the head of the NP. It is both pre-modified and post-modified. The pre-modifier is the adjective puppet and the post-modifier is the participle phrase (imposed from outside). The effect of modification is that the ideas proposed cannot be challenged. These two propositions are not for discussion or argument here. These are taken for granted. As it is both puppet and imposed, it is illegitimate and it should be confronted by all means including the use of force.

The acquisition of territory by force is unacceptable.

Once again, Bush asserts the illegality of Saddam’s act through the NP in italics. The NP presupposes that Iraq extended his control by force. This entails that force too can be used to confront him and contain his danger. The NP again denies any right of Iraq for his act. The Iraqi act is defined as an acquisition of territory by force. In the sentence above, the NP is the theme while the VP is unacceptable is the rheme. This means that Bush wants his recipients just to think about the Iraqi act as an acquisition of a territory by force.

What makes Bush’s language more authoritative and shows him more determinative and willing to take a military action against Iraq is the use of list-like language. The list-like representation adds power and authority to discourse. President Bush outlines his policy in the following points:

Four simple principles guide our policy. First, we seek the immediate, unconditional, and complete withdrawal of all Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Second, Kuwait’s legitimate government must be restored to replace the puppet regime. And third, my administration, as has been the case with every President from President Roosevelt to President Reagan, is committed to the security and stability of the Persian Gulf. And fourth, I am determined to protect the lives of American citizens abroad.

Apparently, Bush draws his policy in the form of a list. The previous extract describes four challenges facing Bush administration. These are presented as a four-sentence list, with each consecutive sentence beginning, First…, Second….., Third…., Fourth…. The first of these challenges is the withdrawal of all the Iraqi forces without any condition. The second challenge is the restoration of the Kuwaiti legitimate government. The third challenge is keeping the security and stability of the Persian Gulf. The fourth challenge is the protection of the lives of the Americans abroad. The indication the list or enumerating has in the example above is that the speaker wants his audience to realize that all possibilities are covered and that they are invited to conclude that the list is comprehensive (Jeffries, 2010). It gives a sense of unity and completeness (Beard, 2000).

The list-like representation, together with the repeated use of the agent ” We” in action process clauses (We succeeded in the struggle for freedom in Europe, We agree that this is not an American problem or a European problem or a Middle East problem, we must recognize that Iraq may not stop using force to advance its ambitions, We are working around the clock to deter Iraqi aggression and to enforce U. N. sanctions) present Bush’s policy in a very dynamic and authoritative light. This indicates that the capacity of Bush administration to launch a war against Iraq is certainly emphasized. However, Bush pretends that violence or military action must be a final resort and assures that it is not predetermined. First, he assures that he is pledged that the United States will share the world community the sanctions imposed upon Iraq although he believes that economic sanctions are not enough. On his part, he believes that there is no alternative to war. He sees that it is inconvenient that the economic sanctions alone will deter Saddam. He thus prepares the minds of his audience to accept the prospect war decision because he thinks there is no alternative. A decision like that however needs an agreement and support from all parts. And because the issue is risky and controversial, Bush tended to address the urgency of war in an indirect way. This argument is supported through a series of presuppositions that he argues to be facts which should not be challenged or negotiated. These are discussed below.

The Iraqi invasion is a threat to the world and the US economic stability

Much of the world is even more dependent upon imported oil and is even more vulnerable to Iraqi threats.

Here, President Bush uses the comparative structure to assert his meaning that the world (and this entails the United States) is both dependent on Iraq’s oil and vulnerable to Iraqi threats. The use of the comparative structure has the effect of producing logical presupposition in the listeners or recipients (Jeffries, 2010). So if people think that their economic interests are at risk, they can accept any decision to be made even the use of force. In this context, President Bush is aware of emphasizing upon the U. S. interests to make sure that the Americans will favor and vote for his policies. So he is making sure that he is addressing emotion and intellect, moral values and materialistic goals. He knows that some of his audience may be after materialistic goals; therefore, he assumes that he is going to the Gulf to protect their sources of wealth. People of this kind may not be moved by the peace and democracy talk.

Saddam is an aggressive dictator who is not committed to his promises

we see in Saddam Hussein an aggressive dictator threatening his neighbors…….. And twice we have seen what his promises mean: His promises mean nothing.

Bush presupposes that Saddam is a dictator who is committing aggressive acts and threatening his neighbors. This is followed by the presupposition that Saddam is not committed to his promises. This is achieved through the factive verb see. The clause [what his promises mean] is a direct object of the verb seen. Then he explains what his promises mean as indicating they mean nothing. The use of the factive verbs has the effect of generating statements that cannot be challenged or denied. This is supported by the frequent use of the pronoun we. This is one of the methods Bush manipulates to achieve a maxim of agreement with his audience. It is not only Bush that sees that but it is he and his audience.

The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait is the world’s problem

We agree that this is not an American problem or a European problem or a Middle East problem: It is the world’s problem. And that’s why, soon after the Iraqi invasion, the United Nations Security Council, without dissent, condemned Iraq, calling for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of its troops from Kuwait. The Arab world, through both the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council, courageously announced its opposition to Iraqi aggression. Japan, the United Kingdom, and France, and other governments around the world have imposed severe sanctions. The Soviet Union and China ended all arms sales to Iraq.

In the argument above, Bush attempts to assert the meaning that the invasion of Kuwait is the world’s central problem. The NP problem (in italics) is hat it is a real problem. Bush presents it an event, not as an action or a state of affairs. Whether the audience accepts it as the world’s central problem or not, it remains a problem which needs to be confronted. Then he supports his argument that it is a problem of world dimension. He provides examples of acts undertaken by other institutions and countries. He gives the examples of the United Nations Security Council, The Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, the Soviet Union and China. The use of exemplifying here is significant and of strategic function. Bush knows certainly that the world is an exaggeration. He realizes that many countries of the world are not affected in one way or another by the conflict in the Middle East. The use of exemplifying in this context has the effect of making his recipients accept his argument. The listeners thus can accept Bush’s examples as representatives of the world countries.

The definition of Iraq’s act as an aggression

Bush tended to stress the idea that Iraq’s act is an aggression. In this definition, Bush denies Iraq’s claims of defending their interests in Kuwait. Bush asserts this argument through the following presuppositions

This aggression came just hours after Saddam Hussein specifically assured numerous countries in the area that there would be no invasion. There is no justification whatsoever for this outrageous and brutal act of aggression……….

no one should underestimate our determination to confront aggression.

We are working around the clock to deter Iraqi aggression

These sanctions, now enshrined in international law, have the potential to deny Iraq the fruits of aggression

The NPs in italics have the presupposition that the Iraq’s act is an act of aggression. This definition of the Iraqi act entails that there is no justification of Saddam’s act. According to the international law, an aggression is a military act with no justification which requires an intervention of the United Nations Security Council. So Bush wants his recipients to think only of the Iraqi act as an international crime. He does not want to make the reasons of war a topic for discussion. Iraq gave the justification that Kuwait was stealing his oil. So if the recipients think about the invasion reasons, some may challenge Bush’s argument. So Bush defined the act as an aggression and built upon this presupposition his argument of the urgency of containing Saddam (by force).


President Bush uses presuppositions widely. It is observed that he is evading the use of direct propositions because they give the opportunity for recipients to challenge his argument. The analysis of the selected data suggests that the U. S. President Bush employs presuppositions to emphasize the ideologies that the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait is an aggression that represents a threat to the interests of the whole world and its peace and stability. Although many opponents may challenge these ideologies, Bush presents them as facts that cannot be challenged or negotiated. So Bush tended to express his concepts and intentions in an indirect way. This has the effects of (1) directing the recipients’ interpretation of events and shaping their viewpoints in the way he wishes, and (2) maintaining face while dealing with such a controversial issue.

The analysis suggests that the discourse of peace and democracy has taken on mythic properties in American political discourse during the Gulf Crisis. The peace and stability rhetoric of President Bush extends the ideas of peace and democracy beyond the realm of political discourse and into the realm of political deceit. He addressed the issues of peace and stability as a way to justify his war on Iraq, promote his political clout, or even to capture a vote in the presidential elections. In this way, he says something while implying really something else.


Beard, A. (2000) The Language of Politics. London: Routledge.

Bush, G. H. W. (1990) ‘ Address on Iraq’s Invasion of Kuwait ‘, [Online]. Available at: http://millercenter. org/scripps/archive/speeches/detail/5529 (Accessed:

Chilton, P. A. (2003) Analysing Political Discourse : Theory and Practice. London: Routledge.

Chilton, P. A. and Schäffner, C. (2002) Politics as Text and Talk: Analytic Approaches to Political Discourse. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Pub. Co.

Geis, M. L. (1987) The Language of Politics. New York: Springer-Verlag.

Grice, H. P. (1975) ‘ Logic and Conversation’, in Cole, P. and Morgan, J.(eds) Syntax and Semantics. Vol. 3 New York: Academic Press.

Gunnarsson, B.-L. (2009) Professional Discourse. London: Continuum.

Jeffries, L. (2010) Critical Stylistics : The Power of English. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Schäffner, C. (2004) ‘ Political Discourse Analysis from the Point of View of Translation Studies’, Journal of Language and Politics, 3, pp. 117-150.

Wodak, R. (1989) Language, power, and ideology : studies in political discourse. Amsterdam ; Philadelphia: J. Benjamins Pub. Co.

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