The Iran-US Nuclear Standoff in American Newspaper Opinion Pieces: A Study in Critical Discourse, Classical Rhetoric and Securitisation Theory
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Achievement of the 2015 nuclear agreement deal between Iran and the world powers was officially praised as a remarkable victory in the history of diplomacy by most of the world. However, elites’ reactions to it within Iran and the U.S. were contradictory. This study was launched to investigate opinion discourses in four prominent American newspapers with the aim of finding out how they constructed different versions of the nuclear deal. The first objective sought to identify discursive and rhetorical mechanisms through which authors represented and promoted their versions of reality. The second objective intended to place the newspaper opinion discourses in their context of production and consumption and examine them from cultural and socio-political perspectives. To achieve the above, I drew on three frameworks: Critical Discourse Studies, Classical Rhetoric, and Securitisation Theory (the first time, I believe, that these had been integrated in a single study of opinion discourses). In light of the first objective, I designed a three-dimensional model of analysis examining representational, dialogical, and argumentative features of the opinion pieces by drawing on classical rhetoric, and to accomplish the second objective regarding the relationship between discourses and context, I drew on securitisation theory to demonstrate how these discourses and their context constituted each other. My findings showed that all newspapers, except one (USA Today), took stances of either fully supporting or entirely opposing the nuclear deal, and depending on their positions towards the nuclear deal, they pursued particular patterns of representation and argumentation. Thereby, there were two opposite sets of representative and argumentative strategies employed by the two groups of anti-deal and pro-deal articles. Anti-deal articles, no matter which newspaper they belonged to, portrayed the deal, the negotiations and the countries involved in it in the same way. Pro-deal articles were similarly uniform. All articles in each group applied similar discursive strategies of representation, made similar judgements and predictions regarding the deal, and employed similar argumentation schemes to defend their claims. However, in regards to dialogical features, choice of interactional strategies appeared to be more associated with the newspapers’ statuses and professional principles than with their critical or supporting positions on the deal. While articles from the elite papers (The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal) opted for a more formal style of writing and a modest authorial voice, those from less prominent papers (New York Post and USA Today) tended towards a more conversational style and a strong voice. Investigating the opinion pieces from a political perspective, I found that they worked systematically towards either treating Iran’s nuclear programme as an urgent security matter (securitisation) or taking it into the realm of normal politics (desecuritisation). Anti-deal articles attempted to keep Iran and its nuclear programme securitised through representing the situation as urgent and threatening, and claiming the inefficacy of the deal in halting the threat. Pro-deal articles, on the other, endeavoured to de-securitise Iran or at least its nuclear programme through picturing the achievement of the deal as a victory for the U.S. and a measure to control Iran and halt its threat. Overall, this research showed that the newspaper opinion pieces studied here actively participated in political debates regarding the nuclear deal and appeared to attempt to influence the American foreign policy in line with their ideological beliefs and political interests.