Enemy Images America’s Perceived Threat of Saddam Hussein

America’s Perceived Threat of Saddam Hussein

How the enemy image of Saddam was used to justify the Iraq War in 2003

Table of Contents

  • Introduction…………………………………………………………………………………………2
  • Theoretical Overview………………………………………………………………………………3
  • Analysis……………………………………………………………………………………………..9
    • Who are “them” and “us” in the speech?………………………………………………………………………………………………..9
    • How are “they” described?……………………………………………………………………………………………10
    • What are our core values and assets and how do they (the enemy) threaten them?…………………………………………………………………………………………………..10
    • What are the solutions suggested by “us” to eliminate the threat and how legitimate are they?………………………………………………………………………………..11
  • Conclusion………………………………………………………………………………………….12
  • Reference…………………………………………………………………………………………..13
  • Introduction

The fear and hatred of strangers can be traced to our infancy (Post, 1999:337). Based on this intrinsic paranoia of the unknown, the creation of enemy images among the elite and masses has been a constant throughout history (Murray and Cowden, 1999:456). From when the Roman Empire referred to the barbaric Germanic tribes to more recent times in the way the Western countries saw the menace of the Fascism and Nazism during WWII, enemy images have always been a part of world political societies.

However, more recently, this same kind of rhetoric has been used by the Bush administration in the United the States to create a strong enemy image of Saddam Hussein and to demonstrate the threat he posed to their country. This menace to livelihood of the United States was then used to justify a preemptive war against Iraq, a term and a foreign policy that had never been used before by a developed country like the United States.

Therefore, the aim of this paper is to further explore how this enemy image was actually created, which tools were used to form this image, the consequences of these actions taken by the Bush administration, and the final result.

To do so, this paper will analyze two speeches by George W. Bush; the State of the Union of 2002 and 2003. The State of the Union is the annual address given by the President of the United the States to the American population, reporting on the conditions of the nation but also allowing the president to outline his national priorities. The context where these particular speeches were given was a very special one. These speeches were the first two State of the Unions delivered after the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York. Therefore, the American audience was both traumatized by this event as well as looking for answer on how the government would react to this tragedy and protect the American people by eliminating future attacks.

The 2002 State of the Union was the famous speech where the term “Axis of Evil” was coined, describing, according the Bush administration, the three states that supported terrorists and thus posed a threat to the security of the United States: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. This speech planted the first seeds for what was seen as a series of discourses used to justify the Invasion of Iraq. The second speech, in 2003, was delivered 2 months before the actual invasion of Iraq by the American lead coalition troops. It precisely outlined the specific threats posed by Saddam’s regime towards the United States, its friends, and its allies thus, cementing the justifications for the invasion that would follow 2 months later.

Both speeches are primary sources as they are the exact words spoken by George W. Bush. The speeches were given in English and are being analyzed by this paper in English, without any translation, exactly as they were delivered. They were chosen to be analyzed in this paper due to the importance they had in shaping the present state of affairs in the Middle East. The rise of the Islamic State is partially rooted in the destabilization of Iraq after the American invasion. Thus, we can observe the unforeseen and undesirable consequences of the use of an enemy image to justify a war more than 10 years later.

The task of analyzing both speeches and exploring how they are examples of enemy images will be organized by the use of four questions:

  • Who are “we” and “they” in the speech?
  • How are “they” are defined?
  • What are our core values and assets and how do they (the enemy) threaten them?
  • What are the solutions suggested by “us” to eliminate the threat and how legitimate are they?

However, before an analysis of the speeches will begin, a theoretical overview of the course literature will be done in order to better understand what an enemy image is and to compare this concept with related issues such as “othering,” prejudice, discrimination, and stereotyping. Furthermore, how enemy images were created throughout history and their consequences will also be examined.

  • Theoretical Overview

An enemy image is when a portrayal of an individual or a group of individuals is socially constructed to be seen as an existential threat to another group of people or society. The roots of this idea can be studied from the formation of groups and intergroup dynamics (Zur,1991:351). Furthermore, the concept of enemy images comes from psychological and social studies where the out-group has its image commonly stereotyped and dehumanized (Zur,1991:350). The image of the enemy is constructed by creating antagonistic feelings such as anger, suspicion, hatred, resentment, envy, and hostility towards it (Ahnaf, 2006:12). Usually, this enemy is seen as inferior and uncivilized (Boucher, 2002:12). Furthermore, it is seen immutable and unchangeable. Therefore, the only way to neutralize this enemy is by engaging in a war against it (Zur,1991:352). Thus, the existence of enemies can be used to justify wars or financial investment in military power, such as during the Cold War or the War on Terror. However, to do so, the psychological paranoia that individuals have against the foreign other has to be spread throughout the whole society. The spread of an enemy image is critical to understand how nations and societies can be mobilized to attack the enemy (Post, 1999:337).

Moreover, an enemy image can be compared to “othering,” a social tool used by individuals due to psychological traits where one man or group defines themselves by defining another man or group (Boucher, 2002:12). However, unlike “othering,” the creation of enemies in not something coded in our genes. Instead, it is a relatively new phenomenon, tracing back to the first organized communities and societies in the Neolithic period (Zur,1991:346). Furthermore, “othering” does not necessarily means that “they” are better or worse than “us,” just different. On the other hand, an enemy image always implies that “we” are good and “they” are evil. Therefore, while an enemy is always an “other”, not all “others” are enemies. (Boucher, 2002:13).       

Just as with prejudice, discrimination, and stereotypes, enemy images also make use of a systematic tendency that individuals have to see its own group (and members of this group) as superior to other groups (or its members) (Dovidio et al., 2010:4). Prejudice, according to Dovidio (2010), is defined as “an attitude reflecting an overall evaluation of the group.” Often, this is not based on reason, facts, or actual experience. This emotional aspect used in one’s evaluation of another is essential for enemy image construction. Stereotypes are described by Dovidio in a similar way to prejudice in that they are “associations, and attributions specific characteristics to a group.” In the construction of enemy images, the target group is often seen as homogeneous, without being considered as different individuals with distinct values. For example, if one person of a certain group is a criminal, all other individuals of the group are seen as criminals, too. Finally, Dovidio describes discrimination as a “biased behavior toward, and treatment of, a group of its members.” All three of these concepts are essential in the creation of an enemy image.

Furthermore, they can also be seen to produce Structural Violence by forming (due to the opinions of the populace) second class citizens. Combining discrimination and stereotypes along with prejudice (something that is considered a form of Cultural Violence) can lead to the worst type of violence: direct violence. According to John Galtung’s theory of the Violence Triangle, all three sorts of violence (cultural, structural, and direct) feed from each other and lead to each other (Galtung, 1990:295). Therefore, it is possible to see a direct correlation between using prejudice, discrimination, and stereotypes to create an enemy image and which can later be used to justify violence or actions that cause violence, such as wars. This pattern is one that has been happening for a long time throughout history. As early as ancient Greece, the philosopher Aristotle described those who did not speak the Greek language (usually the foreigners) as “barbarians” (or, in other words, and “enemy”) and therefore inferior to people such as himself. Once marked inferior, enslavement seemed acceptable (Boucher, 2002:10). Later on, this same pattern of thought by describing the other as uncivilized was used to justify Atlantic slave trade in the Colonization period (Boucher, 2002:12).

Another characteristic of the enemy image is that, although inferior to “us,” they have the capacity to inflict great damage or plot “our” destruction. For the Nazis in the 1930s, the world was dominated by Jews and Freemasons who were secretly plotting their destruction (Boucher, 2002:14). By creating an enemy image of Jews and other social groups, Nazi Germany was able to galvanize popular support for the war effort and even validate the invasion of its neighbors. Furthermore, Hitler used divine rationalization for his acts by stating that he was following the will of God. Divine duty, thus, is a tool also used by skilled political actors to classify an effort against an “enemy” as a holy war by constructing an enemy image out of the definition of oneself as good (God) and the “other” as evil (the Devil) (Boucher, 2002:15).

However, it was during the Cold War that the creation of the enemy image followed a great number of patterns traditionally used in the past. The way the West (or, more precisely, the United States) described the Soviet Union was the best example of a perfect enemy.

To the West, the Soviet Union communist regime was characterized as everything that was evil and bad in the world whereas the capitalist United the States was the good opponent. While the USSR was the atheist aggressor, the USA was seen as the carrying the will of God on earth in defense against such aggression (Entman, 1993:52). Furthermore, the communist regime posed an existential threat to the United States due to its expansionist characteristic. One of the justifications for the American government to intervene in Vietnam was that if the Southeast Asian country would fall to communism, other countries in the region would do the same in the form of a chain reaction until the whole region was communist. By using this logic and formulating an enemy image of the Soviet Union and communism, the fourteen year war in Vietnam was viewed as legitimate by many of the elite and by parts of the masses (Murray and Cowden, 1999:459).

Furthermore, this extraordinary power attributed to the Soviet Union is one of the patterns often seen in the creation of enemy images. In order to create an all-powerful opponent, political entities try to influence the population’s perception of reality. An example of this can be seen when, at the end of the 70’s, the then US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was giving speeches on how the Soviet Union was getting stronger every day, while in reality it was starting to collapse. However, the necessity of having a powerful enemy to justify the financial expenditure in defense led the US government to influence its population towards a false interpretation of reality. Furthermore, in the creation of an enemy image, normally any sort of information about the enemy that contradicts the characterized ideal-typical enemy (such as the fact that the USSR was starting to collapse), is ignored or given little consideration (Blanton, 1996:26). Likewise, any criticism to “us,” (in this case, the American government) such as disapproval for the American support of dictatorships in Latin America or proxy wars around the globe, is ignored, minimized, or deemed necessary to keep on fighting the evil enemy.

Besides the Vietnam War, other proxy wars were fought during the Cold War using the justification of wanting to stop the spread of communism. An example of this was in El Salvador where the USSR was supporting the government and the United States was supporting the Contras (rebel group). In this case, the United States was personified by Ronald Reagan, the US president in service during most of the civil war in El Salvador. The president had a strong national self-image, believing that intervention in El Salvador was necessary due to the democratic values for which the United States stood (Blanton, 1996:32). Moreover, it was a moral duty of the American people to spread such democratic values throughout its sphere of influence. Reagan also saw the United States as a beacon of hope to all oppressed people in the world. To do this and create such a positive image of oneself, it is necessary to have a strong negative image of the enemy which, in this case, was the Soviet Union (Blanton, 1996:33).

With the end of the Cold War and the termination of the dichotomy of Capitalism against Communism, a different instrument started to be used to differentiate “us” from “them,” helping in the formation of enemy images: identities. A pertinent example was the division of ex-Yugoslavia, where different ethnic groups lived peacefully under the communist rule without distinct national identities. When the system collapsed and the exterior enemy disappeared, new, interior enemies were created and old differences and disagreements led up to a bloody civil war in the 90s. Additionally, political leaders from all sides used these different national identities to create an enemy image of the other identities and fuel hatred (Post, 1999:343).

Since the terrorist attacks on September 11th 2001 and the subsequent reaction of the American government with the War on Terror, a similar effect has been made in that enemy images have been made by both sides to incite more violence and hate. From the side of the Islamic fundamentalists, an enemy image was created of the United States and the West. To create this image, the discourse used followed, in general, four different patterns:

1) Ideologization: difference between Muslims and non-Muslims

           2) Demonization: the West as evil or the devil

3) Insistence on the idea of “clash of civilizations”: the Christian world against the Muslin world in a war of ideologies

4) Imagining the victory of Islam: “Islamization” of the world (Ahnaf, 2006:23).

At the same time, the West would use the same dichotomy when comparing itself to the Muslim world: good versus evil, civilized against the uncivilized, freedom as opposed to tyranny, and superior in human rights. Furthermore, by considering the enemy immutable, some might suggest that the only way to deal with the enemy would be through force. This discourse is quite often adopted by the more conservative media, as be currently seen in Sweden where some publications make comparisons between Europe taking the fight against Nazism during WWII and the modern necessity of Europeans to take the same action against Islamists (Steiner, 2014:21). The same has been happening in other countries in Europe, especially now when most of them are struggling economically and immigrants (many of which are Muslim) get marked as scapegoats. This is a typical pattern followed when creating enemy images, by choosing someone to blame for internal problems (Post, 1999:344).

However, since it is politically unacceptable to justify a war based on religion, other excuses can be used, such as a preventive war against an enemy that poses an existential threat to “our” society. Although this paper is not suggesting the Iraq war was fought solely due to different ideologies, George W. Bush did describe a “clash of civilizations” in one of his speeches (his address to the nation in September 2006) when talking about the War on Terror and even mentioned a “crusade” against the Muslim perpetrators of the September 11th attacks.

With the numerous examples of enemy images and the tools used to create them described above, the main issue are the consequences this process might have when generally accepted by societies. There are several consequence the might happen with an effective creation of enemy images:

  • Legitimate war: If the enemy becomes a threat to “our” survival and is unchanging, then only way to deal with it is through force. This is an instrument used to mobilize the population to support a war. Example: The Iraq Invasion in 2003
  • Legitimate Structural Violence: Although murder on behalf of oneself is wrong, murder on behalf of a country can be seen as right.
  • Influence norms, values and ethics: If “we” see an enemy as barbaric, “we” can also allow ourselves to be barbaric, justifying, for instance, going against “our” moral values and using torture to extract information from prisoners.
  • Influence of perception and interpretation of reality: We create the enemy according to what is suitable for us, not according to the reality. We over exaggerate their negative aspects and ignore the positives ones. Example: Rumsfield describing the USSR as getting stronger when, in reality, it was falling apart.
  • Influence decision-making: The existence of an enemy can justify policies claiming to protect us from the menace or to neutralize the menace. The way we see another actor will influence our policies toward that actor.
  • Influence behavior and conduct: Believing in an enemy can relieve yourself from the burden or your own behavior, such as a soldier who kills another. If he believes that enemy was truly evil, his actions seem justified.
  • Influence behavior and conduct of the target – This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If a certain community feels targeted, it can start to incorporate some of the characteristics imposed on them. If a peaceful muslim feels a strong “islamophobia” throughout his community, he or she might take up arms as protection against attacks.
  • Legitimate political measures in “here”: “We” accept policies that reduce some of “our” civil liberties in order to achieve security. We believe these policies will protect us against the “enemy.” The Patriot Act, NSA (National Security Agency) mass surveillance, and the creation of Homeland Security are political measures taken in the United States that restrict civil liberties in order to bring security.
  • Legitimize the nation, form an “us”: Having an enemy creates social cohesion and exalts the leader. As humans are all social creatures, the group, not the individual, is the unit of survival. Humans can only survive as members of organized groups. Groups provide protection against hostile environments and external enemies, and provide a sense of psychological security. It is common for leaders to rise in approval rates when their nation is engaged in a conflict and the nation is united against a common enemy. Example: the increase in Vladimir Putin’s ratings in Russia after the clashes with Ukraine.
  • Analyses

The objective of this section is to analyze the discourse of the American president George W. Bush (and thus the view of the American government at that time) in the two selected speeches; this paper will make use of the four operational questions mentioned in the introduction.

  • – Who are “they” and “we” in the speech?

The “we” in both speeches is the same: The United States of America, its friends, and allies. He mentions these exact words many times in the speech which can be seen in phrases like “…together with friends and allies from Europe to Asia and Africa to Latin America, we will demonstrate that the forces of terror cannot stop the momentum of freedom…” and “…America will not accept a serious and mounting threat to our country, and our friends and our allies…”

The “them” are terrorists who pose a threat to the United States. In both addresses, they are named as “terrorists” in general, regimes that support terrorists or, specifically, an entire country, such as Iraq. However, in the second speech, the one from 2003, George W. Bush is more specific, mentioning Saddam Hussein 19 times, therefore, singling out the threat to one man and not the population of Iraq. A description of “they” can be seen in the following phrases: “…Thousands of dangerous killers, schooled in the methods of murder, often supported by outlaw regimes, are now spread throughout the world…,” “…eliminate the terrorist parasites…,” and “…In Iran, we continue to see a government that represses its people, pursues weapons of mass destruction, and supports terror.” When talking about Hussein specifically he uses rhetoric like “A brutal dictator, with a history of reckless aggression, with ties to terrorism, with great potential wealth…” as well as vivid descriptions of possible weapons in that “…Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent…”

  • – How “them” are defined?

“Them” are defined as those that pose a threat to the United States and its friends. Furthermore, a series of derogatory words are used to describe the enemy, such as “killers,” “parasites” that are “evil,” and “are fuelled by hatred.” These lines appear in these passages: “…eliminate the terrorist parasites…” and “…I know we can overcome evil with greater good….” Furthermore, as opposed to simply calling the “enemy” as uncivilized, the president says they pose a menace to the “civilized word,” incurring a dichotomy between civilized and uncivilized and implying that the adversary is uncivilized without actually saying it with phrases such as “…the civilized world faces unprecedented dangers…” Finally, he states that the “enemy” is crazy in a direct way as he believes that “…trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam is not an option…”

In a certain instance, the enemy is even compared to other past enemies such as Hitlerism and communism when Bush states that, “…the ambitions of Hitlerism, militarism, and communism were defeated by the will of free peoples, by the strength of great alliances, and by the might of the United States of America…” thus, equating the danger they pose. By engaging in the memory of past enemies, Bush searches to facilitate popular support for his cause against the enemy. This pattern was seen again when Time Magazine used the same type of cover for Saddam Hussein as the one it used in the past for Hitler.

  • – What are our core values and assets and how do they (the enemy) threaten them?

The core assets of the United States are described as positive and good, one that any country and people in the world would aspire for. Such aspects described in the speech are “democracy,” “freedom,” “rights,” “civilized,” and “peace.” Some of these passages are: “…freedom is at risk…,” “… arming to threaten the peace of the world…,” “…for … peace of the world…,” and finally, the president also evokes divine qualities, “…The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity…”

The enemy threatens these values in “unprecedented” ways, mostly in catastrophic methods and “destructive weapons” posing an existential menace to America, its population, way of life, and values. The example are as follows: “…the civilized world faces unprecedented dangers…,” “…preventing sudden and catastrophic attacks…” and, “…one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known…”

By giving specific targets and describing all the ways that the enemy can attack them, the sense of fear and insecurity is amplified: “…depth of our enemies’ hatred…We have found diagrams of American nuclear power plants and public water facilities, detailed instructions for making chemical weapons, surveillance maps of American cities, and thorough descriptions of landmarks in America and throughout the world…” and, “…Saddam Hussein had biological weapons sufficient to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax — enough doses to kill several million people…”

            Look back in perspective, it is possible to see how these threats were over exaggerated, creating a much-distorted enemy image, far from reality, but efficient in gathering popular support for the Invasion of Iraq in 2003 and imposing some measures that limited civil liberties for issues of security.

  • – What are the solutions suggested by “us” to eliminate the threat and how legitimate are they?

Although no specific solutions were given by the United States in the 2002 address to neutralize the threat the “enemy” poses, the speech made clear that the American government would do whatever was necessary to protect its country, allies, and friends. These are the passages in the address that touched this point: “…answer every danger and every enemy that threatens the American people…”, “…America will do what is necessary to ensure our Nation’s security…”and, “…Evil is real, and it must be opposed…”.

However, in the address of 2003, although Bush was still vague about specific actions, he was even more determined in his affirmation that the United States would do whatever it takes to neutralize the enemy by stating that “…Whatever action is required, whenever action is necessary, I will defend the freedom and security of the American people…” and “…We will do everything in our power to make sure that that day never comes…”

Finally, by the end of the speech, Bush was clear about what measures the United States would take against his enemy, basically stating that Saddam Hussein would be removed from power, leaving no options besides military action as in the following passages “…If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him…” and “…And if war is forced upon us, we will fight with the full force and might of the United States military — and we will prevail…”.

In regarding of the legitimacy of the actions proposed in the speech, it was clear that in the 2002 speech and in most of the 2003 speech, no specific actions were mentioned. However, by the end of the 2003 address, George W. Bush was explicit in stating the United States would make use of military force to remove a leader of sovereign state out of power. As this is actually an illegal action under international law, the actions proposed and actually executed by the United States were illegitimate by all standards.

  • Conclusion

To conclude, this paper has analyzed two of the main speeches given by the president of the United States that constructed an enemy image of Saddam Hussein, an image which necessary to justify the Iraq invasion of 2003 by the American troops.

A series of tools used for the formation of this enemy image were exposed in the theoretical overview and shown to have been used in other moments of history. Comparisons such as defining “us” and “them,” how “we” are superior to “they,” and the qualities “we” have and the flaws “they” have, and showing the assets “we have” and how the enemy threaten these assets are all used to create an enemy image. Ultimately, the creation of an enemy image can then be used to convince the greater population that an enemy exists and acquire for support for actions to neutralize such an opponent.

George W. Bush was very successful in the creation of an enemy image of Saddam Hussein. On the eve of the Iraq invasion of 2003, a great majority of the American population believed that Saddam actually posed an existential threat to the United States and only his removal of power through military action would defuse such menace.

Enemy images have been used throughout history. Some more effectively than others, however, due to recent successes, there is no doubt that they will keep being used in future by political agents to advance their agendas.


  • References

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Blanton, S. (1996). Images in Conflict: The Case of Ronald Reagan and El Salvador. International Studies Quarterly, 40(1), p.23.

Boucher, D. (2002). The Enemy with a Thousand Faces: The Tradition of the Other in Western Political Thought and History. By Vilho Harle. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000. 232p. $59.95. Am. Pol. Sci. Rev., 96(01).

Bush, G. (2002). State of the Union.

Bush, G. (2003). State of the Union.

Dovidio, J., Hewstone, M., Glick, P. and Esses, V. (2010). The SAGE Handbook of Prejudice, Stereotyping and Discrimination. London: Sage Publications.

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Murray, S. and Cowden, J. (1999). The Role of “Enemy Images” and Ideology of Elite Belief Systems. Int Studies Q, 43(3), pp.455-481.

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Steiner, K. (2014). Images of Muslims and Islam in Swedish Christian and secular news discourse. Media, War & Conflict.

Zur, O. (1991). The love of hating: The psychology of enmity. History of European Ideas, 13(4), pp.345-369.

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