In 2009, right after President Barack Obama was elected into office, he produced a three minute video that urged America and Iran to put aside their differences and come together in a peaceful way. If unable to watch/hear the video, read the transcript here.
During the holiday of Nowruz, Iran’s New Year, Obama reached out to the country, giving them an olive branch, in a way, to cease so many years of feuding. In order to analyze this artifact rhetorically, we must look at five things:
- The use of symbols as opposed to brute force to exert change.
- The desire of the speaker to be regarded as a helper rather than an exploiter.
- The speaker convinces the audience that new choices must be made.
- The speaker then narrows these choices.
- The argument may be subtle and not specify the details of the policies.
Now, in this speech, it’s obvious that Obama uses symbols. Language itself is a symbol, and in this circumstance, his language is controlled and persuasive. Secondly, had he wanted to be seen as an exploiter rather than a helper, his language would have been significantly more brutal than it is. “It’s a future where the old divisions are overcome, where you and all of your neighbors and the wider world can live in greater security and greater peace,” Obama says, in a blatant effort to bring people together rather than separate them.
The choice he puts forth is simple and easily grasped by all watchers/listeners: “The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations.” The Islamic Republic can either accept this offer or deny it –– despite their decision, the ultimatum is clear. Iran can either continue to be estranged with America or side with us. In terms of subtlety, Obama doesn’t go into great detail about what will or will not happen if the Islamic Republic of Iran does not join the “community of nations.” I think this comes into play with the fact that he does not want to seem like a dictator. He is giving the Iranians an ultimatum, yes, but does not threaten damaging or negative repercussions should they choose opposite of what Obama desires.
Let’s analyze ethos, pathos, and logos. His ethos is strong, considering he was the President of the United States during the time of this speech. He worked hard to get to that position, and thus everything he says, to most Americans, should be credible enough. In terms of pathos and logos, Obama uses the unification of two nations in a peaceful relationship to persuade Iran. Peace is a desirable thing, both emotionally and logically. If anyone was asked whether they prefer war or peace, undoubtedly most would choose peace. I think that’s the appeal that Obama is grasping at and offering here.
Altogether, I think this speech is a great rhetorical piece to analyze. It’s persuasive, but not aggressive, and appeals to credibility, emotional responses, and logic. Like all great rhetoric writers, Obama seeks to achieve a positive and special effect by convincing the Islamic Republic of Iran to join this peaceful community of nations he speaks of.