Between Rhetoric and Policies

By Grace Lange ’12


James Mann

On Thursday October 6, 2011, James Mann came to Dickinson College to give a talk at the Clarke Forum. The talk was titled “Political Parties and U.S. Foreign Policy.” Mann’s talk emphasized the distinction between rhetoric and policies. Does rhetoric stem from our policies, or contrarily do we justify policies with rhetoric? He questioned whether or not political parties actually stand by a set of beliefs, or rather they express different beliefs (using rhetoric) to justify their policies.

In our US Diplomatic History class, we have been dealing with a similar theme. We question, do policies and theories stem from values or rather are policies and theories used to justify our policy positions. The former seems to be logical: we make policies according to the issues we believe in. However, as I have learned this semester, sometimes policies are used as justification for an action.

Click Here to Watch President Bush's Declaration of War on Terror

For example, in the week after September 11th, Congress passed the law Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). This law gave the president the power to use military force in any country that harbored terrorists. The President, under the constitution, does not have the power to engage the military. However after the creation of this law, George W. Bush was able to act without the consent of congress.

In response to the AUMF, President Bush sent troops to Afghanistan to start fighting terrorism.  Later, the same law was used to justify sending troops into Iraq. This was more controversial (click here to read more about the controversy). The AUMF was passed without a specific end date to the law. It was intended to be used to facilitate fighting terrorists, specifically in response to the attack on September 11th and sending troops to Afghanistan. Was it correct for Bush to use the AUMF as justification for further military engagement. And furthermore, could the next administration use the AUMF to justify sending troops to another country? Technically yes.

This is an instance of how policies are sometimes twisted to justify actions. Sending the troops to Iraq deviated from some of the lawmakers original intent. As shown by the AUMF, sometimes policies are used by politicians to justify actions that were not intended by the lawmakers.

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