Example of Rhetorical Analysis Essay

Secretary Clinton Statement on Benghazi Attack


Contrary to popular belief, rhetoric is not always for the liars. In most cases, speakers use rhetoric to appeal to their audiences as is seen in the case of Hillary Clinton’s opening statement before the House of Representatives. In her speech, Hillary Clinton does not set out to defend herself or necessarily lie to the American public. She only gets to separate the myths from the facts, about what happened as well as her role in the 2012 Benghazi attacks in which four Americans were killed. These attacks were followed by many accusations from the Republicans, most of whom were blaming Hillary Clinton for the attack. As the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton contends that she was responsible for the lives lost abroad while on active diplomatic duty. In this speech, Hillary Clinton emphasizes on lessons to be learnt to protect the lives of the diplomats and the interests of the American nation both at home and abroad. A pentad analysis of Secretary Clinton’s statement on Benghazi attacks shows that Clinton’s response was more of a call to Americans to ignore the accusations being hurled by the Republicans and focus on building a secure and peaceful world, not just within the US but also globally.

The Rhetorical Situation

When Hillary Clinton was called to testify before the House of Representatives, the major problem was not the Benghazi attacks per se. According to Shear and Schimidt “Members of the Republican Party have been making accusations at the Obama administration claiming that the attack may have been staged to give Obama political mileage”. The remarks by the Republican camp were causing an element of unrest amongst the members of the public, not only in America but also all over the world. In a rhetorical analysis, the exigence is the question of accountability in connection with the government’s role in protecting diplomats who work abroad in dangerous circumstances.

On the one hand, the primary audience is the House of Representatives committee. The former Secretary of State was trying to defend the government in the face of accusations about their efficacy in protecting the nation’s diplomats. Secretary Clinton also tried to get the House of Representatives to appreciate that while there are challenges in the issue of security for diplomats when in war-torn parts of the world, the diplomats are fully aware of the risks and thus take the job knowing what could happen. The secondary audience here is the United States citizens and the rest of the world. Aside from taking the blame for the Benghazi attacks, the former Secretary of State also used this speech to assure the public that the government of the United States will not retreat from critical locations like Benghazi in the face of such attacks. “She added that government learnt from these experiences and thus is working to improving the systems to ensure safety and security when working within countries that are considerably not safe”. As for the constraints, in this case, the situation presented a limitation for the Secretary. The emails sent to her daughter imply that she may have lied to the public about what happened in Benghazi. This is probably why she chooses to focus more on the way forward rather than on what happened.

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The Method

According to Fletcher, the pentad is a method of analysis that entails understanding the motives behind a symbolic action. This method was first explained by Burke, and he cited five elements that are used. These are act, scene, agent, agency and purpose. The act, in this case, focuses on what exactly happened, or, in this case, what may have happened in the Benghazi attack. In this context, however, the act is not necessarily the attack on Benghazi, but rather the reaction of the government to the attack and the ensuing attacks on the government by the Republicans. The scene, from one perspective, would be Benghazi originally. However, within this context, Benghazi can be considered as one of many locations in the world where American diplomats have to work despite the high levels of insecurity and the risks that they face. These settings define the contexts within which Chris Stevens and three of his colleagues died, and the problem, in this case, is not limited to the Benghazi attacks but rather to the hundreds of American lives that are consistently at risk while representing the interests of the American nation abroad. The agent, though, would be whoever is responsible for the act in question. The Al Qaeda affiliated group, Al Ansar, took responsibility for the attack but on a larger scale, the actual agent is not specified. Each region of the world has its set of challenges, and while, in the Muslim world, the perpetrators were the terrorist groups, in other parts of the world, it could be local rebels, armed militia groups or even national troops depending on the prevailing circumstances. The agent would thus be any one who is considered a danger to the life of the American diplomat abroad. The agency is also undefined, and for this particular speech, it will be considered that perpetrators of civil unrest and anti-democratic inclinations are responsible for the hostilities faced by the American diplomats abroad. In addition, as for the purpose, this attack did not have a specified purpose except for claims that it was a protest against an anti-Muslim video. As reported by Fishel “the attack in Benghazi was merely a protest against the alleged perspective that Americans may have when it comes to the Muslim world”. In actuality, the purpose may have been to discourage American diplomats from venturing into troubled regions to secure the peace-driven interests of the American government.

Report of the Findings of the Analysis

In the analysis, it was established that the American government did what it had to do in order to keep the diplomatic the Benghazi missions safe. In this case, while the Republicans may have been right in questioning the Obama administration response to Benghazi attacks, it must be appreciated that the US government only tried to appeal to the rest of the world to come together and fight divisive ideologies, and extreme religious beliefs. By claiming that the attack was due to an anti-Islam video on YouTube, it is evident that the government was not taking away the underlying facts on the situation. Rather, the government wanted to appear pragmatic without necessary being factual.

The problem, in a given scenario, was the religious intolerance that fuels the jihadist ideologies behind terrorism amongst the Al Qaeda affiliated groups, and it was represented in this case like a group of angry Muslims retaliating against anti-Muslim sentiments in the West. In the speech, it can thus be appreciated that Clinton’s decision to move past the above terror situation was a way of letting people know that the truth lies in what they can do to prevent another Benghazi, rather than what was done to create the situation in the first place. The motive is thus seen as calling the rest of the world into action against a religious division that escalates to wars and attacks like the one in Benghazi.

In addition, it also becomes clear now that working together was an underlying message. In this speech, the former Secretary of State gave many examples of situations in which she had worked successfully with members of the Republican Party. She was clearly trying to appeal to the Republican camp to consider collaborating with the government in order to deal with the security issue and thus keep the diplomats safe. This is as opposed to sitting back and hurling accusations that were only serving to divide a country that needed to be united owing to the prevailing security crises all over the world.

Conclusion and Evaluation of the Artifact

While Hillary Clinton was the Secretary of State, the diplomats were not hang out to dry by their own government, and that Chris Steven’s death did not take place because the government had rejected his requests for additional security at the American Embassy in Libya. In this case, the required answer was regarding how much the government can do in order to prevent other deaths of American citizens representing the government abroad. The speech given by the Secretary of State seems to have been aimed at shifting the blame and calling people to action regarding cooperating and dealing with the problem together as a nation.

Contribution to Rhetorical Theory

The speech given by Hillary Clinton during the House Hearing serves as a good example of rhetoric use to pass the same message to different audiences. Hillary Clinton got to appeal to the public to trust in the American government to continue pushing for peace as the main agenda even in the most war torn parts of the world. To the Republicans and other governments, this speech was a challenge to stop pointing fingers and instead join hands and attain peace together. To rhetorical theory, this speech and this study bring out a way of finding numerous different meanings in one speech such that different contexts and settings allow for different interpretations. This generates flexibility on many levels.


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