Kairos, the opportune moment in rhetoric, is often an elusive element. Very seldom do the circumstances of a situation coincide perfectly; however, certain times are certainly better suited for particular rhetorical arguments than others. Such was the case in the months preceding the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United States.
With the start of the twenty-first century came many changes, including changes in the nature of conflict. Wars between well-defined nations were no longer common. Instead, attacks on nations were originating not from other nations, but from multinational terrorist and militant groups. These organizations had no borders; they operated in many areas, shifting constantly and evading detection.
Following the 2001 attacks on the United States homeland by the extremist group al-Qaeda, an extensive pursuit of the group’s leader (Osama bin Laden) was undertaken. However, this manhunt embodied the new (and largely unfamiliar) nature of conflict. Al-Qaeda operated throughout several countries, and even when its primary bases of operation throughout Afghanistan were attacked, many key leaders (including bin Laden) managed to escape.
Here is where Kairos played its part. Americans had suffered from an unprecedented attack, and now had nowhere to turn for closure. There was no enemy state to invade, no name on map that could be targeted; traditional warfare was innately expected, but could not be applied. Politicians, however, would seize the Kairotic moment and use rhetoric to change the situation.
Iraq was painted as a target for Americans’ anger. The nation and its leader, Saddam Hussein, were tied to al-Qaeda. Iraq posed a potential threat with dangerous weapons; Hussein was known for using chemical weapons on his own people. And a merciless dictator has never been looked on kindly by Americans. Politicians found what the people wanted: an enemy country. They presented a bordered nation where traditional warfare could be applied, and the people welcomed it as an alternative to the unfamiliar and unconventional war against al-Qaeda.
In retrospect, of course, opinions on the invasion of and subsequent war in Iraq vary much more widely. Nevertheless, the situation preceding U.S. involvement there was a near-perfect Kairotic moment, a time when national attitudes and fears aligned to receive the rhetoric supporting an invasion.