Power  /  Annotation

George W. Bush Declares a War on Terror

Bush’s 2002 State of the Union address kicked off a war that continued well into the 21st century.

Following the Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on the United States, the Bush administration launched a war in Afghanistan against the Taliban, the Al-Qaeda group, and its leader Osama bin Laden.  More than four months after the attacks, the Bush administration used the State of the Union address to make its case for a broader war on terror.  The speech was unique in its exclusive focus on foreign policy but consistent with other State of the Union addresses in its emphasis on three main areas: public rumination on American values; assessment of the current challenges before the country; and policy prescriptions.  

The seriousness of the moment and the unity of the nation behind the president is evident from watching the address.  On camera, Bush appears calm but determined.  He is the consoler-in-chief, sharing an emotional remembrance of the victims lost on September 11, and the commander-in-chief, rallying American patriotism and nationalism.  The television appearance allowed Bush to emotionally connect directly with the American people, and reassure them.  The president appeared unruffled after months of anxiety, and avoided verbal stumbles and gaffes that were generally characteristic of his speeches.  His appearance displayed to audiences around the world a confident leader in the home of democracy, supported by a united Congress. 

The television cameras also highlighted special guests, which added to the emotional appeal of the address.  The guests included the interim leader of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, sending a message to the world about America’s commitment to Afghanistan.  The audience also included the wife of the first U.S. soldier killed in Afghanistan, rallying the public to righteousness of American military action against terrorism.  In addition, Hermis Moutardier and Christina Jones, flight attendants on the failed shoe bomber attack on American Airlines flight 63 in December 2001, were present, stressing the heroism of everyday Americans against terrorism.  These images added to the emotional appeal of the speech, yet are absent in the text.  Bush used these special guests, and others, to connect directly with the American people and accentuated Bush’s passion and determination in confronting the terrorist threat.

In his remarks, President Bush first focused on the tragedy of September 11, 2001 and American resilience.  Describing the events as a tragedy, Bush emphasized the successes of the American military in attacking terrorism and defending American values.