Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Andrew King


The United States, as other nation-states, claims legitimacy as an agency for the expression of the aspirations of its people. This political structure appeared as part of a historical process that implied a transfer of authority from ruling elite(s) to the public. However, U.S. foreign policy discourse evidences an incomplete relocation of authority. In matters of sovereignty and national interests, the policy establishment considers itself more capable of decisions than ordinary people. The establishment tends to view citizens as masses disinterested in and incapable of understanding vital decisions of the state. The policy establishment assumes the public's role is best limited to a general endorsement of expert opinion. This study proposes a model for the analysis of U.S. foreign policy discourse to explain how popular opinion is constructed in that arena. 'Synnationalistic discourse' is used to name this rhetorical genre. This term is used because of a tendency of the discourse to produce mass confidence in and acceptance of foreign policy items as these are discursively situated in the nation state vision. This model of discourse analysis is used to discover how popular support was gained by the Reagan Administration for a particularly controversial agenda item, the Strategic Defense Initiative. This study suggests the Administration used synnationalistic discourse to recontextualize the Strategic Defense Initiative as the American mission. The result was that S.D.I. became a commanding persuasive symbol, a rhetorical icon, within the sphere of popular opinion. The benefits of this model are two-fold. Because the model proposed by this study does not presume rational standards embraced by the classical tradition, it should be more useful for the analysis of U.S. foreign policy discourse. Second, the model may have a restorative function, showing how the discourse subverts the rhetorical tradition by being an instrument for hegemonic control. By showing how this speech is constructed, it may suggest a site from which a citizen voice could enter foreign policy debate.