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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 13:10 GMT
Analysis: Rhetoric reminiscent of Reagan
President George W Bush
Mr Bush is keeping his enemies guessing
Paul Reynolds

President George Bush is trying, in his language and action, to take over the mantle of Ronald Reagan as the United States realigns its battle line away from the old enemies of the Cold War and towards its new enemies in the war on terrorism.

One of the phrases which leapt out of his first State of the Union address to Congress was his description of America's new enemies as "an axis of evil."

Ronald Reagan
Mr Bush is adopting the rhetoric of Mr Reagan
He specifically mentioned North Korea, Iran and Iraq and their "terrorist allies", among which, he said, were Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Jaish-i-Mohammed.

He did not have to mention by name the "evil one", as he has called Osama Bin Laden before.

Bellicose language

The use of the word "evil", of course, is taken straight from Mr Reagan's depiction of the Soviet Union as the "evil" empire.

It signals a similar attempt to portray the current struggle as less of a campaign than a war and, as Mr Bush also put it in his speech, a "decisive decade in the history of liberty."

However, language is one thing and action is another. He did lay down objectives, not means. The objectives, he declared, were:

  • To prevent the terrorists and regimes who seek chemical, biological or nuclear weapons from the threatening the United States and the world.
  • To prevent regimes that sponsor terrorism from threatening America and its friends with weapons of mass destruction.


The world should take these objectives seriously, but Mr Bush did not say in detail how they were to be achieved.

The hint of war is there, but he might prefer to try other means first to reach the same end - economic pressure, diplomatic isolation, sanctions, limited military operations and support for opposition groups.

Our war on terror is well begun but it is only begun

George W Bush

"We will be deliberate, yet time is not on our side," Mr Bush said. Keeping your enemies guessing is a traditional tactic. They are still guessing.

Mr Bush's major speeches are always well crafted. It is when he speaks off the cuff that he gets into trouble and his speech writers in the White House have developed quite a sharp style to reflect a sharp policy.

Speech techniques

It depends on the use of short sentences and pointed phrases, such as:

"Terrorist leaders who urged followers to sacrifice their lives are running for their own."

"You will not escape the justice of this nation."

Mr Bush and White House colleagues prepares for the speech
The president's speeches are carefully scripted

"Our war on terror is well begun but it is only begun."

"We began to think less of the goods we can accumulate and more about the good we can do."

There is also a use of emotion: "After America was attacked, it was as if our entire country looked into a mirror and saw our better selves," Mr Bush said.

And religion is not far away - towards the end of his speech, Mr Bush declared, as Mr Reagan might have done: "Many have discovered that even in tragedy - especially in tragedy - God is near."

Mr Bush made his mark on America with his speech to Congress on 20 September, overcoming memories of his uncertain start.

His State of the Union speech seeks to maintain that impact.

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