Masaryk university faculty of education


Barack Obama, Civil War in Libya, 2011



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Barack Obama, Civil War in Libya, 2011


Bombing of Libya occurred two years into Obama’s presidency and was his first armed conflict. It was also the first war conflict to be followed by the Internet social networks Twitter and Facebook. Interestingly, Obama was basically repeating the same military attack carried out by Reagan fifteen years prior, only Obama’s speech is over 3 times longer than that of Reagan’s. Obama wanted little to do with the Civil War in Libya but was pressured into action by European Allies, angered at the human rights violations being perpetuated by the Quadafi regime. Ultimately, as part of a NATO action, the U.S. provided weaponry, intelligence and air support, but no ‘boots on the ground.’ Even so, Obama had to convince an American public, already weary over involvement in two wars and suffering in the midst of a global economic crisis, that involvement in a Libyan internal conflict was the right thing to do.

This pressure is well visible linguistically, as Obama spends a large portion of his speech on justification of the war. According to CNN polling director Keating, Obama’s approval ratings after the speech remained the same, at 50 percent, indicating an ambivalent reaction by the public. "On the other hand, President Obama has not taken on the trappings of a commander-in-chief as previous presidents have done when launching military action," adds Keating, commenting on his reluctant approach. (CNN Political Unit)

Practical Part

The theoretical part explained what will be examined and why it matters. The practical part will present actual results of analysis. Firstly, each speech will be described thoroughly and all applicable sections of the theoretical part will be discussed. For example, the first analysis is dedicated to Lincoln’s speech, where step by step, syntax, semantics and pragmatics will be discussed, including all applicable subsections, followed by McKinley’s speech and so on, chronologically. Once all speeches have been discussed individually, a compare and contrast section will follow, showing differences or similarities between selected speeches. At last, a final section with overall data will be presented, supported by graphs and charts. In evaluating the corpus, the following nine topics have materialized as being present in practically all speeches. This topicalization will be tracked by counting the words in each speech, to determine the level of importance in percents that each speaker decided to dedicate to each topic.



  • The issue and its impact

  • Steps that failed

  • We are good

  • They are bad

  • Our plan

  • Actual declaration or ultimatum

  • Justification

  • Appeal to American values

  • The future

The criteria for dividing the text into the nine topics are as follows: the issue and its impact will cover all text dedicated to description and details regarding the crisis itself; steps that fail will encompass all preventative actions that did not succeed. We are good will include all positive talk about the United States with the exception of topics covered under the appeal to American values. We are bad will be dedicated to negative statements about the adversary, excluding direct cases of justification. As for our plan, the text has to refer to plans and goals pertaining to solving the issue. Justification will cover specific reasons for declaring a war or an ultimatum. Appeal to American values will track concrete mention of American exceptionalism, valiant leader, city upon a hill. The future as well as actual declaration and ultimatum are self explanatory.


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