“President Obama’s Public Diplomacy/Foreign Policy and Society’s Wavering Opinions,” Ellie Broaddus (2015) — Inquiry 2


Currently in our country, there are increasing tensions between the United States and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, commonly known as ISIL. Despite our country’s efforts, our nation still faces terrorist threats, and we as a country depend on our Commander-in-Chief, President Barack Obama, and his Administration to stop the terrorist group known as ISIL in order to keep our people safe. I analyzed numerous texts brimming with rhetorical devices utilized to either praise or condemn President Obama’s public diplomacy, and I also analyzed President Obama’s own use of rhetorical devices in regards to his plan to degrade ISIL. Regardless of each writer’s personal opinion or political affiliation, President Obama has proven himself to be a rhetorically effective speaker, and has improved his overall rhetorical strategy over his past two terms serving as President of the United States.

The texts I chose to analyze are President Obama’s Address to the Nation on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Amitai Etzioni’s “All Style, No Substance”, Joseph Nye’s “Barack Obama and Soft Power”, and Philip Seib’s “Obama’s Hardball Public Diplomacy.” The rhetorical situations in which these texts are placed are all in regards to The Obama Administration’s efforts towards public diplomacy and foreign policy. More recently, the exigence of this rhetorical situation has heightened due to the recent crisis of possible terrorist threats from ISIL, creating kairos, and no other more appropriate time than currently to speak on this situation.

The intended audience for each of these texts are for primarily adults in the United States, of voting age and older, and more specifically, for those who are politically affiliated. Each of these texts extensively discuss current and past issues in our nation’s public diplomacy and foreign policy efforts, assuming that audience members already obtain enough knowledge on both subjects to have formed an opinion. Therefore, each text is filled with rhetorical devices utilized to sway audience members’ opinions to match the writer’s own opinions.

President Obama’s Address to the Nation on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is dominantly filled with rhetorical devices such as speaking to exigence with the use of aggressive tone, in addition to an appeal to ethos. The exigence President Obama responds to in his recent address is the increasing concern over the safety of our nation from ISIL attacks. President Obama delivered his address on his plan to degrade ISIL on September 10, 2014, a day before the 13th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks launched by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda. In terms of rhetoric, President Obama senses the opportunity of kairos, which is defined as discourse that responds effectively or appropriately to the opportunities in a situation (Longaker and Walker 2011), uses the date of his address to his advantage. The possibility of another similar attack causes many in our nation to recoil in fear, and those within the Obama Administration know that they obtain the power and authority to devise a plan to save our nation and prevent similar attacks from occurring.

President Obama also utilizes an appeal to ethos by building his credibility as Commander-in-Chief of our nation. Even before President Obama begins delivering his address, the setting of where the delivery of the address took place enhances his credibility, as well, including the presence of the Seal of the President of the United States on the podium, the Flag of the President of the United States, and the United States flag, all placed behind where President Obama delivered his address. He also reminds audience members his past successes as President by discussing “taking out” Osama bin Laden and much of al-Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The emotional tone President Obama utilizes in his address is a bit aggressive, which proves to the American people that he is serious and determined about degrading ISIL. His use of aggressive tone and clarity heighten the validity in his arguments, which can be summarized into the objective of his address: “Our objective is clear:  We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy” (Obama 2014).

During this address, President Obama also utilizes clarity along with powerful imagery with the American people to explain just how brutal these terrorists are. President Obama states, “They execute captured prisoners. They kill children. They enslave, rape, and force women into marriage. They threatened a religious minority with genocide. And in acts of barbarism, they took the lives of two American journalists—Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff” (Obama 2014). Although utilizing clarity to emphasize the terrorists’ violence does not ease the minds of the American people, by doing so, President Obama emphasizes the exigence and urgency to put a stop to their violence as soon as possible, subliminally persuading Americans to agree with his proposed plan of action.

In addition, similar to numerous other public addresses made by past Presidents, the theme of patriotism is applied. During his address, President Obama states, “This is American leadership at its best: We stand with people who fight for their own freedom, and we rally other nations on behalf of our common security and common humanity” (Obama 2014). President Obama goes on and adds:

My fellow Americans, we live in a time of great change. Tomorrow marks 13 years since our country was attacked.  Next week marks six years since our economy suffered its worst setback since the Great Depression.  Yet despite these shocks, through the pain we have felt and the grueling work required to bounce back, America is better positioned today to seize the future than any other nation on Earth (Obama 2014).

By applying the theme of patriotism to his address, President Obama reestablishes the love for our country in the American people, ultimately persuading them to support his plan in protecting our country. However, there is more applied to this statement than solely the theme of patriotism. In this quote, President Obama alludes to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which is especially impactful in considering the date this address was given, September 10, 2014, which once again shows President Obama sensing the presence of kairos in this rhetorical situation.

After analyzing President Obama’s Address, I conducted further background research on The Obama Administration’s (as well as previous administrations’) past efforts towards public diplomacy and foreign policy, and not all of the American people are quick to favor President Obama and his Administration’s rhetorical efforts.

Amitai Etzioni, author and Director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies at George Washington University, criticizes The Obama Administration’s (in addition to previous administration’s) efforts in public diplomacy in his essay “All Style, No Substance,” and he deemed their efforts in President Obama’s first term as a failure. However, fallacies, which are common errors in reason that render an argument invalid (Longaker and Walker 2011) were frequent in his essay.

Etzioni writes in a harsh tone throughout the entire essay, especially when he describes how President Obama has “set a much lower standard for good citizenship in the world community: refraining from violence” (Etzioni 2010). However, from this statement it’s evident that Etzioni utilizes the bandwagon appeal, which is taking wide acceptance of an idea as proof of its truth (Longaker and Walker 2011), to imply that most Americans must believe that refraining from violence is always a bad solution for the well being of our country, with no factual evidence to support this claim—this can be deemed as a sweeping remark.

Etzioni also criticizes Judith A. McHale, a former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Administration for the Obama Administration. Etzioni utilizes an ad hominem (Longaker and Walker 2011) in his essay, referring to a few quotations McHale has made: “The following quotations from her two major statements on public diplomacy may seem to have been selected in order to make her out as someone seeking the prize for most vacuous pronouncements ever made by a public official” (Etzioni 2010). By attacking McHale’s character instead of the quality or reasoning in the quotations she made, Etzioni attempts to demean the credibility of The Obama Administration and it’s members, therefore leading some to believe his arguments as more valid.

However, some authoritative, credible members of society do favor President Obama’s rhetorical strategy and efforts towards public diplomacy. Joseph Nye, Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard University and author of The Future of Power, praises President Obama and his rhetorical use of “soft power,” while utilizing an appeal to ethos to build his credibility as an author and credible speaker on political issues.

Nye defines soft power as “the ability to obtain the outcomes one wants through attraction rather than using the carrots and sticks of payment or coercion” (Nye 2008). In this article, Nye refers to his new book The Powers to Lead, and in this book he describes, “in individuals soft power rests on the skills of emotional intelligence, vision, and communication that Obama possesses in abundance. In nations, it rests upon culture (where it is attractive to others), values (when they are applied without hypocrisy), and policies (when they are inclusive and seen as legitimate in the eyes of others.)” (Nye 2008). Nye approves and supports President Obama’s use of soft power, deeming it an acceptable way of persuasion, as well as an overall effective basis for his rhetorical strategy.

Philip Seib, Professor at University of Southern California, praised President Obama’s rhetorical efforts towards public diplomacy, more specifically, in regards to his wavering relationship with Israeli Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Seib states, “So while visiting Israel, Obama did not limit himself to the standard rhetorical niceties. He went over the heads of politicians and appealed directly to the Israeli public, especially the young, to make his case for a more flexible approach to negotiating with the Palestinians” (Sieb 2013). Seib goes on to say, “This is a good example of public diplomacy: reaching out directly to people rather than connecting with them through their government” (Sieb 2013). Due to Seib’s credibility, his appraisal of President Obama’s rhetorical efforts is intended to persuade others to agree with his own argument.

The most prominent use of a rhetorical device in Seib’s article is the use of phronesis, the practical wisdom required for good judgment and prudent thought. Seib acknowledges the altering practice of public diplomacy, and he states “this is the kind of hardball public diplomacy that is becoming more common in international affairs. With the ability to receive information from a huge number of sources, ranging from satellite television to social media, publics around the world are accessible as never before. They expect to be spoken to, and not solely through their governments” (Sieb 2013). Regardless of audience members’ favorability or dislike towards our President and his practice of public diplomacy, by utilizing phronesis, Seib persuades audience members to acknowledge the changing ways of public diplomacy and our President’s adaptability to it, further establishing him as an effective leader.

After comparing each text and rhetorical device used by each author, including President Obama’s recent address, I’ve identified the most commonly used rhetorical devices, as well as similarities and comparisons amongst each text.

In each text, an appeal to ethos is applied. The authors of each text apply their high level of status in society to each of their arguments, therefore becoming more rhetorically effective due to their extensive knowledge on public diplomacy, foreign policy, and political issues in general.

A few fallacies were applied, however only present in Etzioni’s “All Style, No Substance.” Although Etzioni’s arguments in his essay appeared as strong, it’s possible that audience members who oppose his viewpoint may identify fallacies used, and ultimately question the validity of his entire essay as well as his credibility as an author.

Overall, history has shown that President Obama has always been a rhetorically effective speaker, and it’s especially evident in the fact that he was reelected as President in 2012, despite any alleged mistakes made during his first term. Although some in society may criticize President Obama as a leader as well as deem most of his public addresses as “empty rhetoric,” his recent address is brimming with plans and promises to protect our country against ISIL. President Obama may have experienced hardships and harsh criticism during his time serving as President; however, it’s evident that his overall rhetorical strategy has improved since his first term as President due to the positive reviews present in the media.

It’s clear that there have been mixed positive and negative reviews from the media surrounding President Obama and his practice of rhetoric, public diplomacy, and foreign policy during his first term serving as President of the United States. However, President Obama’s rhetorical strategy has improved substantially due to his reelection to a second term as President of the United States.

Works Cited

Etzioni, Amitai. “All Style, No Substance.” The American Scholar:. Phi Beta Kappa Society, n.d. Web. 11 Sept. 2014.

Longaker, Mark Garrett, and Jeffrey Walker. Rhetorical Analysis: A Brief Guide for Writers. Boston: Longman, 2011. Print.

Nye, Joseph. “Barack Obama and Soft Power.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 12 June 2008. Web. 11 Sept. 2014.

Obama, Barack. “Address to the Nation on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” Address to the Nation on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The White House, Washington, D.C. 10 Sept. 2014. American Rhetoric: Online Speech Bank. Web. 11 Sept. 2014.

Seib, Philip. “Obama’s Hardball Public Diplomacy.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 23 Mar. 2013. Web. 11 Sept. 2014.

Project 1 Evaluation Criteria

With your first and final drafts, you should fill out and submit the following criteria response. For each criterion, write a brief response that reflects on how your essay addresses that objective. Include in your response any future revisions that you believe still need to happen, and any questions that your professor or peers could help you answer with regard to that particular objective.


Evaluation Criteria Author Response
Situate the texts in relation to the contexts in which they were composed and delivered (i.e. exigence/kairos/rhetorical situation). Draw on secondary sources, as needed. Each text that I analyzed spoke to the exigence on the terrorist group ISIL and President Obama’s wavering rhetorical effectiveness. I also analyzed numerous secondary sources in order to conduct more research and gain more insight on these topics. However, after receiving instructor and peer feedback, I decided to remove one of my secondary sources form my analysis, because I feel that the content of the analysis did not entirely match the content of the rest of the texts (this source discussed issues in the economy more, not necessarily diplomacy and international relations).
Analyze the rhetorical strategies utilized within the texts. Employ specific rhetorical terms appropriately (avoid simplistic or vague references to terms like logos, ethos, pathos). The rhetorical strategies I identified and analyzed from each text includes: numerous appeals to ethos and logos, exigence and kairos, emotional tones, clarity, themes (such as patriotism), phronesis, validity, erotema, ad hominem, and fallacies in general.
Cite and analyze specific evidence and quotes from the text to support your claims, offering intensive analysis of particular uses of rhetorical strategies. Primarily, I analyze each primary and secondary source extensively in order to identify the most commonly used rhetorical devices in each. After receiving instructor and peer feedback, I realized there were a few places in my analysis that could have used more in-depth analysis, primarily in the first source I analyze, President Obama’s Address to the Nation on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Demonstrate complexity of analysis (i.e. note how multiple appeals work together in one quote; consider how diverse audiences might respond; hypothesize about the unstated presuppositions that undergird the rhetors’ arguments). I feel that I successfully demonstrate complexity in my analysis. Aside from identifying the most commonly used rhetorical devices in each source, I also discuss possible hypothetical responses from audience members, especially when discussing the fallacies and how the use of fallacies might lead audience members to distrust the writer. I also explore how each varying use of tone amongst the different writers might effect the audience’s emotions.
Articulate a clear thesis that offers creative insights that work beyond commonsense/obvious interpretations. I briefly state the main arguments of my analysis in my thesis. And compared to my first draft, I do feel that my thesis now connects better to each of the arguments I state in my analysis.
Write in a clear, artful style using MLA format. I organized my analysis by first analyzing my primary source, followed by a secondary supporting source, then two additional primary sources, and finally the last secondary supporting source. After analyzing each source, I summarized all of the texts by identifying similar rhetorical devices in each, then providing insight as to which devices appeared as more credible and which devices appeared as not so credible. And compared to my first draft, I also removed a secondary source that I now realize was not as necessary to the rest of the texts I analyze in my analysis and the arguments I state.
Be at least 2,250 words (and ideally no more than 3000). Completed.