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Moral Exclusion and the Justification of U.S. Counterterrorism Strategy: Bush, Obama, and the Terrorist Enemy Figure


We analyzed speeches made by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to reveal how each president justified post-9/11 U.S. counterterrorism policy. Our analysis revealed that both Bush and Obama delegitimized terrorists by distinguishing them from other legitimate political categories, by emphasizing the morally condemnable and apolitically motivated form of violence they inflict. This vilification facilitated the portrayal of terrorism as a problem transcending national interest. U.S. counterterrorism strategies were thus justified as a necessary and rational solution to the scope and severity of the terrorist threat. This study illustrates how the "complex discursive accomplishment" of moral exclusion (Tileagǎ, 2007) emerges within presidential rhetoric to frame the relations among groups and legitimizing particular actions, namely, harsh antiterror measures (e.g., indefinite detention, preemptive war, and torture). Our study also illustrates the similarities between how Bush and Obama have talked about terrorism, thus indicating the overall naturalization of a "war on terrorism" discourse following the 9/11 attacks. © 2014 American Psychological Association.

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