Rhetoric expert analyzes Obama's speech on the death of Osama bin Laden: A speech with terror potential?


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rhetoricExpert Michael Moesslang has taken a closer look at Barrack Obama's speech on the death of Osama bin Laden and finds: A masterpiece of rhetoric. In his text, he explains why!

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Michael Moesslang michael-moesslangMichael Moesslang is a lecturer at St. Gallen Business School, BAW and Munich University of Applied Sciences, Top 100 Excellence Trainer, Coach and Author.

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Politically correct, morally questionable?

It was not an easy task for Barrack Obama. On the one hand, he was allowed to tell the Americans the victory over the National Enemy No. 1, which will significantly increase his prestige and his electoral chances in the US - even if this was about the targeted killing of a man, which is morally certainly questionable.

On the other hand, it is very clear that the Islamic and, above all, Islamist world will not enjoy this act with great joy, and as a result, the terrorist threat will increase worldwide. Before you read the analysis, think for a moment about how you would have acted in such a situation yourself.

25 minutes before midnight

The speech took place 25 minutes before midnight, a time when many Americans are already sleeping. A time when everyone is aware when the President of the United States is now appearing, something significant has happened.

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He does not mention when the killing took place - in the early evening, yesterday? Obama enters the lectern and begins the nine-minute speech. If you look closely at the video, you will notice the following:

  • Hardly any facial expressions
  • Very little gesture
  • The view always fixed on the audience

A man who knows what he is doing?

Or not? Here I have inserted a picture of the audience, as published by the White House.

W

As always, Obama knows how important the fixed eye contact with the audience is, as always he lets it film exactly as it looks. For this firm look makes him feel powerful and determined, a man who knows what to do. Exactly that expects everyone from a president, right?

View to camera and teleprompter

What does he actually do? You see on the audience photo that the few who are there look from the speaker's perspective to the right, so to the left of him. Obama, however, looks in exactly the other direction in the official video of the Whitehouse.

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Because there is the camera of NBC (the version can be seen on Youtube) and with her the teleprompter, the projection device in front of the camera lens, from which he reads the text. Since the seers of the video do not get to see the teleprompter, we think he looks into the audience.

To neutrality endeavors

Obama usually shows little mimicry and gesture. In this speech it is very little. He even folds his hands, as if for prayer, and places them on the lectern. His mimicry is serious and immovable. He wants to avoid deliberately or interpretably emotions.

There should be no more satisfaction or joy at the Islamists, no regrets or repentance may offer the political opponents in the country attack area in the election campaign. Obama is trying to achieve this neutrality. Please remember that the Americans have different values ​​than we Germans and the killing of a state enemy in Germany would surely be absorbed by politics, the media and the people.

Here is the copy of the speech, as the White House has published it, with remarks from me:

Obama is painting pictures

11: 35 PM EDT Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who's responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children. He mentions that bin Laden was a leader, but the emphasis is on the terrorist and killer, a killer who killed thousands of innocent men, women, and children. It was nearly 10 years ago that a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people in our history. The images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory - hijacked planes cutting through a cloudless September sky; the Twin Towers collapsing to the ground; black smoke billowing up from the Pentagon; the wreckage of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the actions of heroic citizens saved even more heartbreak and destruction.

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Obama is painting pictures. He not only lists the disasters, he talks about how airplanes cut through the bright September sky and how the heroes in flight 93 avoided even more heartbreaks.

Memory of losses

And yet we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child's embrace. Nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts. On September 11, 2001, in our time of grief, the American people came together. We offered our neighbors a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and our love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.

As dramatic as possible he tells in pictures of the emotions that the attacks of 11. September 2001 caused and have left traces in the people. He addresses the gaps in the families and again the children.

And from the one great American family that unites all ethnic and religious groups. So early on, he began to build the first signs of an important message: it is not against Islam.

The heroic deeds of the USA?

We were also united in our resolve to protect our nation and to bring those who committed this vicious attack to justice. We quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda - an organization headed by Osama bin Laden, which had openly declared was on the United States and was committed to killing innocents in our country and around the globe. And so we went to war against al Qaeda to protect our citizens, our friends, and our allies. Over the last 10 years, thanks to the tireless and heroic work of our military and our counterterrorism professionals, we've made great strides in that effort. We've disrupted terrorist attacks and strengthened our homeland defense. In Afghanistan, we removed the Taliban government, which had given bin Laden and al Qaeda safe haven and support. And around the globe, we worked with our friends and allies to capture or kill scores of al Qaeda terrorists, including several who were a part of the 9/11 plot. Yet Osama bin Laden avoided capture and escaped across the Afghan border into Pakistan. Meanwhile, al Qaeda continued to operate from along that border and operate through its affiliates across the world.

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Now the President lists the efforts and heroic deeds of the United States. Not Al Qaeda has become known for terror, but the US has quickly found out. He justified the war against Afghanistan, however, the war against Iraq, the US under Bush allegedly also because of complicity to 9 / 11 began.

Obama is not the kind

And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to the killing or capture of bin Laden defeat his network.

And here Obama shows clearly that it was him who commissioned the CIA. Although the CIA presumably had this mission years in advance, Obama shows that he is not only the nice guy, but also proves the harshness and strength that many Americans have missed him so far. Important, after all, Obama has recently opened the election campaign.

Laurels for the hunt

Then, last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground. I met repeatedly with my national security group as we developed more information about the possibility that we had bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside of Pakistan. And finally, last week, I've got enough intelligence to take action and get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice. Today, at my direction, the United States launches a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carries out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.

Again and again, Obama emphasizes his own role, showing that it was his initiative, his instructions and his decisions. As a president, he has to sell himself confidently in America, modesty would be out of place and would immediately be construed as a weakness.

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To conceal it, or leave it to others, would have been possible, but unwise in the election campaign and against the critics, especially from the Republican camp. Of course, he completes the fact that he praises the team from Americans, who have endangered without the wrongs - civilians and American soldiers - have ultimately brought Osama bin Laden on track - and I think that this expression from the hunt is quite true.

Differentiate and reduce prejudices!

For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda's leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies. The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation's effort to defeat al Qaeda. Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort. There's no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must - - and we will - remain vigilant at home and abroad. As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not - - and never will be - - at war with Islam. I've made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our was is not against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.

Now it is time to emphasize how much it is about the terrorist bin Laden, not about the Muslims. He also slapped thousands of Muslims, Obama painted a clear picture of Bin Laden's atrocities. He calls on Muslims to stand by the side of peace and human dignity, not to the side of the murderer.

Sadly, this will not do much, and it is well known how the media in the Islamic world are the cause. But it is an important sign in the Western world. And how important it is, he shows that he even mentions his predecessor, Bush, who has also emphasized this. It is very unusual, especially in America, to mention the predecessor of the other political tendency at all.

The Republicans win?

Normally, this is no longer present in the consciousness of the current president. Does he want to win the Republicans? With the following paragraphs, Obama also stresses how much he supports Pakistan and sees on the US side. He telephoned personally with the Pakistani president, almost as if they were old mates.

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Over the years, I've always said that was bin Laden was. That is what we've done. But it's important to note our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan. Indeed, bin Laden has been declared as Pakistani, and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people. Tonight, I called President Zardari, so my team has spoken with their Pakistani counterparts. They agree that this is a good and historic day for both of us. And going forward, it is essential that Pakistan continues to join us in the fight against Qaeda and its affiliates. The American people did not choose this fight. It came to our shores, and started with the senseless slaughter of our citizens. After nearly 10 years of service, struggle, and sacrifice, we know the costs of war. These efforts weigh on me every time I, as Commander-in-Chief, have a gravely wounded life.

The downside of the medallion

So Americans understand the costs of it. Yet as a country, we will never tolerate our security being threatened, nor stood idly by when our people have been killed. We want to be relentless in the defense of our citizens and our friends and allies. We want to be true to the values ​​that make us who we are. Qaeda's terror: Justice has been done.

Obama now addresses the other side of the fight for justice, the costs on a financial and, above all, human level. Again he paints pictures. So he signs letters and looks wounded in the eyes. But he also emphasizes that this war has been imposed on the Americans and it is necessary to defend themselves, not to put up with it.

The patriotism and the freedom love of the Americans is more strongly addressed with this way of using the words, than the fear of struggle and danger. This also has to do with the American values ​​and would not be so fruitful in Germany.

The end

Tonight, we give thanks to the countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who have worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome. The American people do not see their work, nor know their names. But tonight, they feel the satisfaction of their work and the result of their pursuit of justice. Patriotism, and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country. And they are part of a generation that has borne the heaviest share of the burden since that September day. 9 / 11 that we have never forgotten your loss, nor wavered in our commitment to see that it takes any other action on our shores. And tonight, let's think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9 / 1. I know it has, at times, frayed. Yet today's achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people. The cause of security is not complete. But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we want. That is the story of our history, whether it be the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values ​​abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place. Let us remember that we can not do any of these things just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. May God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

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END 11: 44 PM EDT

In the last part he addresses those directly affected. Does he argue that the fight must go on and that, in principle, every American is patriotically committed to participating or supporting the just cause?

With these words he engages the people and in a country of patriots he will achieve exactly what he wants: with a common enemy you stick together inside, even if there are differences. He motivates the people, the people, to fight together for freedom and justice: "... because we are who we are: an indivisible nation before God, in which freedom and justice rule for all."

Mastery of rhetoric

All in all, Obama and his team have delivered a masterpiece of speeches. It is not a speech that would send out roaring applause - that has caused the fact that Osama is dead - it is also not a speech that challenges the opponent massively. It was precisely this balancing act that Obama did with his words.

He has used the speech to demonstrate to the political opponents his strong side, to motivate the Americans and to show them what they are doing to the world that America is committed to peace and against terrorism and the Muslims that it is a struggle against terrorism and not against Islam.

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Sovereign and emotional

Obama once again showed what his strength is: to win people for themselves through speeches, which are sovereign and contentally emotional (pictures!) And excellently worked out. His firm eye contact is evidence of a total strength that no president has shown before him.

Bush, Clinton, Reagen and Co. had also repeatedly read from the built-in teleprompter in the lectern and thus the view lowered. A decisive difference.

Obama once again proves that the art of rhetoric, the right words, and the right nonverbal communication is more important than anything done behind the scenes. He reaches the people and so I am also firmly convinced that he will win by his performances and speeches people - including many Republicans - again in the election campaign for the next term.


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  1. Thorsten

    Wow, I always wanted to know more about Obama's rhetoric. Thank you for spending so much time on so many great posts on your blog.

  2. Michael Moesslang

    Keep a direct view of camera + teleprompter in public speeches for a truly convincing performance - Very interesting!4LZMl

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  4. Holger Froese

    Rhetoric expert analyzes Obama's speech on the death of Osama bin Laden: A speech with terror potential? Commented on Twitter

  5. Competencepartner

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  11. Simone Janson

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