Tracing the Discursive Origins of the War on Terror: President Clinton and the Construction of New Terrorism in the Post-Cold War Era
Since September 11th, 2001, there has been considerable growth in the literature on the American-led war on terror, and work continues to focus on President George W. Bush’s ‘war on terror’ discourse. However, while there is a large literature on President Bush’s war on terror, there is a much smaller literature on President Clinton’s and President Reagan’s approaches to counterterrorism. The research gap raises several important questions. For example, did the Bush-led war on terror represent a discontinuity in U.S. foreign policy? Was terrorism not considered a serious threat for the United States before the 2001 World Trade Center bombings? What was Clinton’s interpretation of terrorism? What were the Clinton administration’s main counterterrorism initiatives? These questions demonstrate the need for an in-depth analysis of President Clinton’s counterterrorism initiatives in order to fully understand the current American-led war on terror. Adopting the methodology of critical discourse analysis (CDA), this research examines and analyses more than 200 official texts written and spoken by key figures in the Clinton administration, and illustrates how a counterterrorism ‘regime of truth’ was constructed and maintained through discursive practice during the Clinton presidency. This research shows that based on President Reagan’s first ‘war on terrorism’ discourse which focused on the threat of international terrorism and state-sponsored terrorism, President Clinton contributed to the discursive construction of ‘new terrorism,’ or ‘catastrophic terrorism,’ which is characterised by an emphasis on borderless threats, home-grown terrorism, cyberterrorism, terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction, and so-called ‘rogue states.’ In addition, in contrast to President Reagan’s and President George W. Bush’s ‘war’ rhetoric, President Clinton employed both a ‘crime frame’ and a ‘war metaphor’ to conceptualise terrorist attacks. The particular interpretation of terrorism and terrorists shaped the administration’s material practices of counterterrorism, which shifted from a law enforcement and legislation-based counterterrorism policy to a coercive military-based approach. Importantly, this research demonstrates that prior to September 11th, 2001, the Clinton administration had already established the discursive and institutional basis for the George W. Bush administration to respond to the 2001 World Trade Center bombings. Accordingly, there is indeed a clear continuity of the American-led war on terror from President Reagan, to President Clinton, and through to President George W. Bush.
Advisor: Jackson, Richard; Clements, Kevin
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: The National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: terrorism; counterterrorism; critical discourse analysis; new terrorism; catastrophic terrorism; War on Terror; Bill Clinton; George W. Bush; Ronald Reagan; critical terrorism studies; discourse; narrative; metaphor; rogue states; weapons of mass destruction
Research Type: Thesis