A Visual Framing Analysis of French and US Political Cartoons on Trump's Withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal

Document Type: Original Article

Authors

1 Assistant Professor of European Studies, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran

2 Assistant Professor of American Studies, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran

Abstract

The present study examines how Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on May 8, 2018 was framed in political cartoons published in the American and French media. The paper offers a thematic analysis of cartoons published from May 8 to June 8, 2018, the peak period for publication of cartoons on the Iran nuclear deal, and accessed via Google images. The paper applies the five categorizations of news frames identified by Semetko and Valkenburg (2000)—the conflict frame, human interest frame, economic consequences frame, responsibility frame and morality frame—to the selected cartoons to identify whether the frames used in the political cartoons vary between the American and French news outlets. This comparative study shows both divergence and convergence in the issues and concerns covered in the media of the both countries.

Keywords

Main Subjects


1. Introduction 

While the examination of textual or verbal discourse has attracted much scholarly attention, visual news discourse is still a relatively under-studied realm of political discourse. The significance of political cartoons is identified in how they can justify a political act. As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and newspaper editorial cartoonists use this medium to communicate complicated political and social messages. Edwards and Winkler (1997, p. 360) define the political cartoon as a “graphic presentation typically designed in a one-panel, noncontinuing format to make an independent statement or observation on political events or social policy”. As a form of visual discourse, political cartoons typically combine humor, satire, hyperbole and artistic skill in order to highlight political and social events.

The purpose of a cartoon is to inform, sensitize, educate, persuade or pass on a message via a drawing, often accompanied by text, designed to impress the public. Meaning production in political cartoons is commonly communicated through “the humorous pictorial representation and the political butt or critical stance expressed in the cartoon” (Marín-Arrese, 2015, p. 1). Thus, the cartoon serves to reinforce or reshape the readers’ minds regarding their beliefs or points of view on specific sociopolitical issues, as well as their social and cultural attitudes (Schilperoord & Maes, 2009)

Conners (2005, p. 480) suggests that political cartoons “need not follow the principles of objectivity we expect in news stories; rather, they are expressing opinions in parallel with newspaper editorials and opinion columns”. They have different functions and are used in different contexts to further specific objectives. According to Kelly-Romano and Westgate (2007, p. 755), political cartoons “can function in a multiplicity of ways as commentary, critique, memorial, and criticism”. Thus, cartoonists use various tools to serve these purposes: they employ symbolic elements, use different colors and depictions of body positions, and exaggerate one or more characteristics of the personages shown in their cartoons. Medhurst and DeSousa (1981, p. 236) argue that political cartoons convey meaning and messages by ‘‘use of line and form, exaggeration of physionomical features, placement within the frame, relative size of objects, relation of text to visual imagery, and rhythmic montage’’. Conners (2010, p. 300) maintains that, “political cartoons provide humorous commentary, often using exaggeration of events or individual characteristics, on contemporary issues and events”.

Political cartoonists try to impress their audience and serve as a stimulus for public opinion. As Greenberg (2002, p. 185) puts it, “Political cartoons are both informative and persuasive. Cartoons render normative judgments about social issues by employing a variety of journalistic conventions, such as figures of speech, metaphors and irony”. In fact, they are representative of particular periods and events and contribute to social and political debates.

This study focuses on editorial cartoons concerned with Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA. A multilateral agreement between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, the JCPOA was supposed to resolve 'the Iran nuclear dossier' for the parties involved in the negotiations. Breaking decisively with US allies in Europe, Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA significantly impacted other parties including the leaders of the UK, France and Germany, who were parties to the agreement.

France, as Europe’s leading interlocutor and most intransigent party throughout the negotiations is worthy of study here: French companies were expecting considerable benefits from the opening of the Iranian market for foreign investment. Consequently, President Emmanuel Macron made several attempts to convince Trump to stay in the deal. Thus the present article examines how Trump's withdrawal was depicted in American and French cartoons, the type of frames chosen in these political cartoons and whether the use of frames varied significantly between the American and French news outlets.

All the cartoons which were affiliated with American and French newspapers and accessible via Google images from May 8, 2018 (the date of Trump's US withdrawal announcement) to June 8, 2018 were analyzed to study themes and patterns of framing. By conducting a comparative case study of political cartoons on Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in American and French media, this paper attempts to answer the following questions:

-    RQ1-What type of news frames—based on Semetko and Valkenburg's (2000) categorization—are chosen in these political cartoons, and why?

-    RQ2-Is there any correspondence between American and French concerns expressed in political cartoons relating to Trump’s withdrawal? Does the use of frames vary significantly between the American and French news outlets?

 

2. Theory and Method

A frame is the central organizing idea for making sense of events and suggesting what is at issue: “Framing is often considered as a necessary tool for reducing the complexity of an issue, given the constraints of their respective media related to news holes and airtime” (Scheufele & Tewksbury, 2007, p. 12). Entman defines framing as selecting “some aspects of a perceived reality” to enhance their salience “in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation” (Entman, 1993, p. 53). Todd Gitlin (1980, p. 6) explains framing as “principles of selection, emphasis and presentation” created to profile “what matters”. Frames set the parameters “in which citizens discuss public events” (Tuchman, 1978, p. iv) through “persistent selection, emphasis, and exclusion” (Gitlin, 1980, p. 7).

Dorman and Farhang (1987, p. 8) state that frames “are simply constructions of social reality” that select specific information, such as who is quoted in the article, what details are emphasized, and so on. According to Dorman and Farhang (1987: p. 44), facts are not often of prime significance, “but rather the interpretation that facts receive”, and the context which is given to a series of events. “Context and emphasis in journalism are everything, for they transform literal truths into reassuring and legitimate acts in one instance, or threatening and illegitimate behavior in another” (Dorman & Farhang 1987, p. 44). Framing occurs when the press chooses “what to present and what not to present in media coverage” (Dimitrova, 2006, p. 79). In addition to selection and exclusion of information “news framing can occur [...] through emphasis and elaboration” (Dimitrova, 2006, p. 79).

The present study examines how Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) on May 8, 2018 was framed in political cartoons published in American and French newspapers. The paper applies the five categorization of news frames identified by Semetko and Valkenburg (2000) to understand the nature of news in the US and Europe: the conflict frame, human interest frame, economic consequences, responsibility frame, and morality frame. The reason for choosing Semetko and Valkenburg's (2000) categorizations was that although other studies have provided significant information about the suggested types of frames as well as their effects, these studies do not provide a standard set of content analytic indicators that can be used to reliably measure the prevalence of common frames in the news (Semetko & Valkenburg, 2000).

In their analysis of news frames, Semetko and Valkenburg (2000, p. 94) argue that a deductive approach toward news involves predefining certain frames as content analytic variables to measure the extent to which these frames occur in the news. Thus, the researcher is provided with the types of frames so that the frames that are not defined a priori are not overlooked (Semetko & Valkenburg, 2000, p. 95). This approach has its own advantages: “it can be replicated easily, can cope with large samples, and can easily detect differences in framing between media (e.g., television vs. press) and within media (e.g., highbrow news programs or newspapers vs. tabloid-style media)” (Semetko & Valkenburg, 2000, p. 95). In this research, Semetko and Valkenburg's (2000) framing analysis is used as both theory and method as it possesses both elements of conceptual as well as practical tools for analysis.

Semetko and Valkenburg (2000) investigated the following five news frames identified in earlier studies:

 

Table 1. Semetko & Valkenburg’s (2000)

`Conflict frame

Human interest frame

Responsibility frame

Economic consequences frame

Morality frame

  •   illustrating   conflict/disagreement
  •   illustrating winners/losers
  •   illustrating parties blaming one   another
  • emphasizing the impact   on a group/individual
  • providing a human view   on the issue
  • using symbols showing   defamation/ empathy/pity
  • suggesting a party is   responsible for the problem
  • offering a possible   solution for the problem
  • referring to a financial   gain or loss
  • referring to costs and   benefits
  • referring to economic   consequences of the action
  • containing a moral   message
  • referring to social   conditions with respect to desired behavior
       

 

  • Inthe Conflict frame, the attention of the audience is captured via the portrayal ofconflictbetween individuals, groups, or institutions (Neuman et al., 1992, pp. 61–62). Semetko and Valkenburg (2000) argue that political elites tend to reduce complex political debates to excessively simplistic conflicts. As a result, the news media have been criticized for inducing public cynicism and mistrust of political leaders (Cappella & Jamieson, 1997).
  • The Human interest frame attempts to humanize and add an emotional aspect to the issue, event or problem (Neuman et al., 1992) to produce a product that captures and retains audience interest (Bennett, 1995).
  • The Economic consequences frame reports an event, problem, or issue in terms of its economic consequences on an individual, group, institution, region, or country (Neuman et al., 1992). The wide impact of an event is of important news value, and economic consequences are often considerable (Graber, 1993).
  • The Morality frame puts the event, problem, or issue in the context moral/religious prescriptions. This is often referred to indirectly—through quotation or inference—by having someone else raise the question (Neuman et al., 1992). Such a story may contain moral messages or offer specific social prescriptions about how to behave.
  • The Responsibility frame presents an issue or problem in such a way to attribute responsibility for its cause or solution to either the government or to an individual or group (Semetko & Valkenburg, 2000).

In order to address its research questions, the present paper applied this deductive framework to a comparative case study of Trump’s withdrawal from Iran nuclear deal as depicted in the American and French news media. Political cartoons analyzed in the present research were collected through the following process: The first selection of cartoons was made by searching Google images using a combination of the keywords 'cartoon Iran-US nuclear deal' published from May 8, 2018 (the date announced by Trump for US withdrawal) to June 8, 2018. The same process was repeated in the case of French newspapers by searching similar phrases in French, 'caricature Iran-États-Unis accord nucléaire', published in the same period. This period was chosen to provide a corpus of cartoons illustrating the perspectives of both American and French news outlets on the then-very recent issue. The media covered the Iran nuclear deal and Trump’s withdrawal from it extensively during this particular period.

In accordance with its thematic focus, this study focused on cartoons concerned with the Iran nuclear issue. Further, the division of cartoons by country was taken into consideration given the research is concerned with American and French news depictions. Thus, the initial selection included all cartoons affiliated with American and French newspapers: those that belonged to unaffiliated or non-American/non-French sources were then excluded. Cartoons that appeared in the Google images search but were not published during the time period specified in this study were also excluded. As a result, 35 American cartoons and eight French ones were chosen and categorized thematically.

 

3. Literature Review

A significant amount of research has been carried out with respect to political cartoons of historical events, both singular events and more regular occasions such as elections. The scope of this research includes cartoons of relevance to both France and America. American presidential elections and campaigns are the subject of considerable research and numerous articles. For instance, Bormann et al. (1978, p. 317) examined the rhetorical fantasies of the 1976 US presidential campaigns “among various types of voters, and the relationships between these fantasies and those dramatized by various groups during the political campaign”.

De Sousa et al. (1982, p. 84) presented the significant symbols of the 1980 US presidential campaigns arguing that the genre is often neglected in political communication studies. In a similar vein, Edwards (1997) studied the political cartoons of the 1988 presidential campaign and Lamb and Burns (1996) and Koetzle and Brunell (1996) examined the Bush-Clinton competition in the 1992 presidential campaign.

Sewell (1998) analyzed editorial cartoons of the 1996 presidential campaign. Edwards (2001) examined the 2000 US presidential campaign in editorial cartoons identifying the rhetorical fantasies advanced by cartoonists in their metaphors about Al Gore and George W. Bush. Conners examined visual representations of the 2004 presidential campaign (2005), the 2008 primaries presidential campaign (2010), the 2012 presidential debates (2014) and the 2016 presidential primaries (2017).

Other papers have analyzed particular issues and challenges facing US presidents: Benoit et al. (2001) considered the Clinton-Lewinsky-Starr affair; Kelley-Romano and Westgate (2007) analyzed the cartoons implying George W. Bush mismanaged the Hurricane Katrina crisis; Mazid (2008) compared the political construction of George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden images in political cartoons using semiotic-discursive analysis; and Calogero and Mullen (2008) focused on the facial prominence (depiction of a person’s head vs. portrayal of the rest of their body) of George W. Bush in cartoons published during his presidency.

A number of studies have been carried out which focus on French editorial cartoons. These include Delporte’s (1995) examination of the Dreyfus affair and the friction between the right and left wings in French society. Delporte (2001) also considered the effect of cartoons from 1944 in terms of how they were used as propaganda tools. Doizy and Dupuy (2013) studied political cartoons of presidents, covering the period from 1848 till 2012.

Significantly, most of the existing literature has paid particular attention to the depiction of the personality of the presidents as captured in political cartoons, as presidents are key players in the running of a country: domestically and internationally. Accordingly, presidents are generally subject to the blame, criticism and accusations of cartoonists relating to their behaviors, actions and deficiencies.

 

4. US-France Relationship Ebbs and Flows: A Historical Perspective

Franco-American relations have experienced changing oscillations in response to various issues and politicians coming to power on both sides of the Atlantic. Bilateral relations date to the memory of the effective contribution of the mythical French General Marquis La Fayette in the American wars of independence in the 17th century after the British and Spanish seizure of the French New World possessions along the Mississippi (Moisy, 2008). Even the US commitment to the liberation to end the Nazi occupation of France during the World War II strengthened the bonds of “unbreakable friendship” between the two countries.

However, relations began to change with General de Gaulle, the first President of the Fifth French Republic. The rivalry between the two countries commenced post-World War II. Considered as a loser in WWII and subsequently ignored at the Yalta conference, France nevertheless found its place among the ‘Greats’ by obtaining a position in the UN Security Council (Bozo, 2012). Present in Europe to help Europeans rebuild their countries through the Marshall Plan, the United States then strengthened its position in Europe through the installation of US military bases on European soil as part of the NATO to counter the Soviet danger.

Thus, the United States created the context for the East-West duality of the Cold War, unacceptable for France, for half a century. Denounced by France, because it was considered too dominated by the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxons, the Alliance became a point of divergence between Paris and Washington for decades. In February 1966, de Gaulle announced the French withdrawal from NATO's integrated command, a decision that endured until the 2000s. During this period, Americans “denounced the French leader as rude and malicious” and his policies as “dishonest and disastrous” (Graebner et al., 2010, p. 300).

The relationship between the two countries was still experiencing a challenging period when in the 1990s, the US engaged itself in the Balkans, to the detriment of the France and Britain. Another crucial moment of Franco-American conflict happened in the 2000s when President Jacques Chirac opposed the American invasion of Iraq, an endeavor largely supported by the Anglo-Saxon camp (Garcin, 2003). Once again, the Americans did not appreciate this opposition and virulent criticism was directed by the George W. Bush administration towards France, including one Republican’s suggestion that the name “French fries” should be replaced by “Freedom Fries”[1] (Faure & Ribaut, 2016, p. 165).

Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency brought the two countries closer, as “Sarko the American” (Lepri, 2010, p. 121) affirmed the will of France to return to the integrated command of NATO. Sarkozy is considered the “most pro-American” president of the Fifth Republic according to correspondence from the American Embassy in Paris revealed by Wikileaks (Ourdan, 2010; Chrisafis, 2007). Lepri (2010), however, argues that there was a paradox in Sarkozy's Americanism insofar as the two countries retained many differences on various issues of international politics including global warming and relations with Turkey and Iran.

The period between the presidency of Hollande and Obama did not experience any episodes of serious confrontation between Washington and Paris with the two statesmen repeatedly declaring Franco-American friendship. However, the Iranian nuclear negotiations was a time of doubt regarding mutual understanding between the two countries. Having felt put aside, French diplomacy was uncompromising during the nuclear negotiations from 2013 until 2015 when the agreement was concluded, to the extent that the Iranian press spoke of “the Fabius obstacle”, referring to then Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (Arefi, 2015). At the time, France rejected any step towards turning the multilateral framework into a series of bilateral negotiations between Iran and the United States. In November 2013, the French intransigence led to a “psychodrama” (Hourcade, 2015) in Geneva when the French delegation announced its rejection of the drafted Iran-US agreement. It was another two weeks before a more “French pleasing text” was reached. Fabius consistently declared that the negotiations were not progressing, while other members tried to minimize intra-group differences.

With the advent of Donald Trump’s presidency, the France-US relationship experienced some divergence as well as a certain closeness. Two particular issues were of prime importance in France-US relations: Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement, and the Iranian nuclear deal. The climate pact is one of the issues that keeps the two leaders apart. Having hosted the COP21 summit in 2015, the French government supports the Paris Agreement aiming to control the effects of global warming, and hopes to take on the leadership of global climate efforts. The Yellow Vests (Gilets jaunes) crisis, which pleaded for the abolition of the carbon tax in France in November 2018, gave Trump an opportunity to attack Macron's environmental policies (King, 2018). Franco-American relations with respect to Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, which is the main concern of the present paper, will be discussed further in the following section.

 

4.1. Iran Nuclear Deal: The French Perspective

Trump's decision to pull the US out of the nuclear deal with Iran and re-impose sanctions hit a number of French businesses working in Iran significantly. As many French companies had triumphantly returned to the Iranian market, Trump’s decision caused a problematic episode in Franco-American relations.

The French president repeatedly expressed his regret about Trump’s policy toward the Iran deal, as French companies’ cessation of exchange with Iran will in the long run cause significant losses for French industry. These departures were costly for the French economy. For instance, Airbus had to cancel its $25 billion contract with Iran Air (Lawder, 2018), Renault did the same with its $780-million agreement with the country (Nussbaum, 2018) and the PSA Group canceled its $818 million investment (Rosemain, 2018). Total left the giant South Pars gas field and its $4.8 billion project there (Selby-Green, 2018).

The mismatch between the economic power of the United States and Iran explains France’s desperate abandonment of Iranian market: with the US’s GDP approximately thirty times greater than that of Iran (Nation Master), and the EU economy more or less comparable to that of the US, multinational companies are likely to be reluctant to exclude themselves from the US market. The US dollar is also the world's dominant currency reserve and the main medium for international trade. As a result, the prospect of even minor sanctions is unbearable for US allies (Rosenberg, 2018).

 

4.2. Iran Nuclear Deal and Trump’s Presidency 

Since his presidential campaign, Donald Trump has been harshly critical of the Iran nuclear deal, expected to lift “all UN Security Council sanctions as well as multilateral and national sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program, including steps on access in areas of trade, technology, finance and energy” (JCPOA Preamble and Provisions, Article V). During his campaign, Trump promised that renegotiation of the deal would be one of his main foreign policy priorities as president (Jacobson, 2017), stating that “this deal, if I win, will be a totally different deal” (Trump, 2015).

After Donald Trump assumed office, he commenced efforts to dismantle the deal which he repeatedly called “terrible” and “one of the worst deals” in US history; eventually on May 8, 2018, the United States officially withdrew from the deal and issued a new round of sanctions against Iran. The 2018 measures, labeled by Trump as the “toughest ever”, are believed to be the strongest sanctions regime imposed by Washington against a foreign country (Kenyon, 2018). A few months after Trump’s withdrawal, the US not only reinstated all sanctions that were lifted by the 2015 deal, but also blacklisted 300 Iranian individuals and entities, and sanctioned crucial oil, banking, and transportation sectors.

While the withdrawal was greeted with admiration and cheer by US conservatives, various European countries that were among the signatories of the deal, including the UK, France, and Germany, as well as China and Russia expressed concern and remorse at the decision. During the period when Trump was considering his decision to withdraw, French president Emmanuel Macron tried hard to convince Trump to stay in the nuclear deal with Iran, not only because of French economic interests contingent on the JCPOA, but also because the deal was an example of the success of multilateral negotiations and diplomacy in an international context where American is the sole superpower. However, Macron’s efforts did not succeed and Trump implemented what he had promised to do since his presidential campaign.

 

5. Findings and Discussion

Trump’s withdrawal decision was criticized not only by politicians but also in the media. Critical newspaper articles and editorials were published and cartoonists all over the world expressed opinions about the event. The following section offers a thematic analysis of the French and American political cartoons published from May 8, 2018 (the date announced by Trump for US withdrawal) to June 8, 2018, and accessed via Google images, selected using the process described above and comprising the corpus of the present analysis.

 

5.1. Main Themes of American Political Cartoons on Trump’s Withdrawal  

5.1.1. Destroying Obama’s Legacy

 

                       

Figure 1. Why Trump Hated the Iran Deal, source: (Chappatte, 2018 a)

 

The cartoon depicts Trump ripping up the Iran nuclear deal; his lowered face and stooped physical features, as well as his closed eyes, show that Trump is not open to conversation. The conflict frame is the most prominent one within the American set of cartoons: the major conflict is between Trump and Obama as well as between the United States and the European Union. A man with an EU briefcase (representing the European signatories) is illustrated in the foreground taking responsibility for countering the US leader who is behaving irresponsibly. In the background, behind the EU representative, the Chinese and Russian presidents, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin (implying they are lower in rank and position compared to their European counterparts) are listening to the conversation rather passively waiting for the EU representative to react and take action against the decision. The man representing the EU asks Trump with frustration and anger about his reasons for ripping up the deal, to which the latter responds “Obama’s signature”, referring to Trump’s determination to demolish Obama’s legacy, a domestic conflict within the United States. Similar motifs are found in other cartoons such as Nate Beeler’s (2018, in The Week) cartoon appearing in The Week, depicting the Iran deal as a small sand castle built on “Obama realty” land about to be demolished by a huge Trump wave.

 

5.1.2. Trump Will Withdraw from Other International Agreements

 

 

Figure 2. President Trump Torches the Iran Nuclear Deal,
 source (Horsey, 2018 a)

Another set of cartoons depicts Trump’s pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal as the latest in a series of Trump withdrawals from multiple international agreements and treaties. The cartoon portrays the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and Paris Climate treaty as being burned to the ground already. Trump, with a burning torch in one hand (alluding to the statue of liberty) and a gas canister in the other, is running joyfully towards his next possible target. The cartoon’s text “the pyromaniac strikes again” refers to Trump’s impulse to start fires deliberately, a metaphor for warmongering. The background of the cartoon, black, gray and gloomy, shows an apocalypse scenario envisaged to continue throughout Trump’s term in office. In similar cartoons, Trump is depicted as an active volcano, which happily burns various international treaties, including the Iran deal, with his destructive magma (Sack, 2018 in The Week) and a nuclear explosion with a mushroom cloud showing Trump’s face burning the Iran deal (Hands, 2018). The sense of joy in his facial features and failure to accept responsibility for the destruction of US credibility (Zyglis, 2018) are common motifs in most of these cartoons.

5.1.3. Trump and Bolton’s Iran Policy Inching Toward a War

 

Figure 3. 7 Explosively Funny Cartoons about Trump's Withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal, source: (Fitzsimmons, 2018)

The Trump-Bolton collaboration is a common theme in many of the cartoons. In addition to the cartoon shown in Figure 3, a cartoon by Chappatte (2018, May 12) in the New York Times depicted the two holding a “war” announcement statement and characterizing it as the “new Iran deal”.

The Trump-Bolton duo are almost always shown as on a path to war. Bolton is depicted as leading and cheerleading Trump’s consideration of military action against Iran. Similar to the previous theme, Fitzsimmons’ cartoon identifies Trump’s motivation for burning the Iran nuclear deal as “get[ting] Obama’s goat”. Bolton, apparently more sophisticated, refers to Trump’s policies of alienating US allies, siding with [backing and arming] the Sunni against Shias and encouraging Iran to move toward the acquisition of a nuclear weapon. Showing a globe with fire and explosions, and Trump starting a fire with a cigarette lighter, the cartoon creates an impression that Trump with Bolton at his side will create further conflict and destruction. 

 

5.1.4. Lack of Reasonability and Mental Stability

In several cartoons Trump is depicted as an infant, a clown or a crazy man. The cartoon in Figure 4 shows Trump as an infant in his diaper (implying a lack of self-control) playing dangerously with a hammer, hitting a bomb labelled “Iran nuke deal”. Trump is shown shouting “bad”, in a reference to his “vocabulary and grammatical structure [believed to be] ‘significantly more simple, and less diverse’ than any President since Herbert Hoover” (Factba.se cited in Shugerman, 2018). In similar cartoons he is depicted as a clown (Hands,2018) or as someone who requires a stable genius test[2] to evaluate his mental capabilities as illustrated by Chappatte(2018).

 

 

Figure 4. Editorial cartoons for Sunday, May 13, Mother’s Day,
 source: (Anderson, 2018)

 

5.1.5. Trump Losing Allies

As discussed earlier, many cartoons refer to Trump alienating US partners while aligning himself with “hardliners” in both US and Iran (Horsey, 2018 b). Accordingly, Figure 5 shows “European allies”—represented by the French President Macron—and a Boeing employee as the losers of the deal withdrawal, referring the expectation of several parties that economic and political ties with Iran would be expanded after the JCPOA. The despairing Boeing figure is a reference to the largest of Boeing’s deals with Iranian airlines—announced in December 2016, worth about $20 billion, and envisaged to replace Iran’s old commercial airplanes (Sheetz & Josephs 2018)—cancelled after Trump’s withdrawal.

 

 

Figure 5. Boeing and European Allies Lose in U.S. Cancellation
of Iran Deal, source: (Horsey b, 2018)

 

On the other side, Bolton and a stereotypical turbaned man are shown representing the hardliners on both sides as winners. The Iranian hardliner, depicted as a sheik in a black turban, clerical robes and beard, looks very similar to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, former leader of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militant terrorist organization. It thus appears that the cartoonist cannot differentiate between Muslim clerics wearing traditional clothing.

 

5.1.6. Iran is Building and/or Testing Missiles

 

 

Figure 6. Iran Silo, source: Ramierz (2018)

 

Other cartoons show Iran as untrustworthy, even while criticizing Trump’s policy toward Iran. The latter is depicted as a theocratic state (accentuated by depicting Iranians solely as clerics, even in a nuclear silo) and a state sponsor of terrorism which is either making a nuclear bomb or a missile. The cartoon shown as Figure 6 creates the impression that Iran is making a nuclear bomb (a claim the country has rejected several times and refuted by the IAEA’s repeated confirmations that Iran is meeting its JCPOA commitments) despite the deal and that it has not ceased its alleged former activities. In a similar vein, other cartoons portray the Iranian supreme leader standing on a Persian carpet, holding missiles with the Iranian flag imprinted on them, as Trump pulls on the carpet to cause him to fall (Cagle, 2018) or a similarly turbaned figure carrying a nuclear bomb ready to explode while Trump foolishly and playfully burns a document labelled “Iran deal” (Chappatte cited by Heraldnet Editorial Staff, 2018).

 

5.2. Common Themes of French Political Cartoons on Trump’s Withdrawal

5.2.1. Frustration of the French President

Among the caricatures identified, the frustration of France, represented by the French president, has a prominent place. Frustrated and deprived of the advantages acquired by France through the JCPOA, the French president is depicted as finding himself in a weak position, facing a Trump who ignores Macron and does as he pleases. In the drawings, Trump is presented as bold and blunt, indifferent to his entourage, and indifferent to the considerations of “his allies”: the closed eyes of the character representing Trump in several drawings clearly testifies to this interpretation. But as unthinking as the decision of Trump may appear, the cartoons suggest that he derives benefit from it.

In a cartoon from the website of the French newspaper Présent, cartoonist Françoise Pichard (Chard) portrays three characters: Macron, Trump and a woman who appears to be representing and personifying France insofar as she wears a red Phrygian cap, associated with both French revolutionaries and the symbol of Marianne, the latter which appears on the official logo of the French government. The woman in the cartoon also wears a tricolor skirt in the colors of the French flag. Behind her, Trump, standing tall, eyes closed, tears up the nuclear agreement with total composure, as the woman challenges and reproaches the character of Emanuel Macron. “I thought he was listening to you,” she says, an affirmation showing that the woman, representing the French nation and therefore the interests of France, relied on the vigilance and conviction of Macron to avoid this disaster. With his legs together and arms by his hide, showing discomfort and frustration, Macron replies that Trump only listens to him when he says “the same thing as him [Trump]”.

 

 

Figure 7. Trump torpille l’accord sur le nucléaire iranien [Trump torpedoes Iran's nuclear deal], source: Diasug (2018)

 

5.2.2. Denunciation of American Unilateralism

The cartoons identified in the French corpus clearly denounce American unilateralism. The Echo cartoonist used an animalization metaphor by presenting Trump as a shark with blond hair, moving forward at full speed with its eyes closed, and biting its Iranian flag prey with its sharp teeth. A small fish representing France with a face like Macron’s and carrying a French flag tries to catch the shark, saying, “The important thing is that he heard the voice of France”. However, despite France having made several efforts to prevent Trump from taking a decision endangering French interests, the Trump shark does not hesitate to follow its own intuition in attacking Iran.

 

 

Figure 8. Trump Déchire l'Accord sur le Nucléaire Iranien
[Trump Tears up Iran’s Nuclear Deal], source: (Placide, 2018)

 

This unilateralism is also visible in drawings in which cartoonists portray the nuclear agreement as a “USA-Iran agreement”, contrary to the multilateral nature of the agreement between Iran and the P5+1. Thus, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonist uses the title “Iran rejected by Trump” on the occasion of the American withdrawal from the JCPOA. This drawing depicts Iran as a country trying to mimic America’s policies in order to please Trump. From the explicit slogan “Make Iran great again” to members of the Pasdaran[3] shown with Trump’s hairstyle, and references to the US President’s constant use of Twitter, this drawing abounds with features not only of Trump, but also of American culture (Mc Donald’s, Hollywood) and American personalities (Steven Spielberg, Harvey Weinstein). According to the cartoon, even though Iran has attempted to assimilate with the American way of life and conform to Trump's obsessions, the cleric representing its leaders in the middle of the drawing has nonetheless failed to prevent Trump from “rejecting” Iran. The cleric-styled character considers the United States as his main interlocutor and the exit of Trump is considered as an American rejection vis-à-vis Iran; France is absent in all these transformations.

 

Figure 9. Les Nègres Ne Savent Pas Faire de Deals [Black People do not Know How to Make Deals], source: (Biard & Littauer, 2018)

5.2.3. Trump’s Bellicosity

The French depiction of Trump seeking war is reflected in a number of cartoons attributing warlike characteristics to the current US president. On the cover of the Courrier International, Trump's face, recognizable from the blond hairstyle, is covered in the middle by a bomb, apparently dropped by an airplane. The placement of the bomb in the middle of Trump’s face—the upper part of the bomb having two “wings” where the eyes should be, and the lower part of the bomb where the nose should be—gives the impression of a face with closed eyes and a long nose. The long nose created by a bomb shape is reminiscent of the famous story of Pinocchio, whose nose extended when he indulged in lies. The arrangement of the bomb on the face also gives the impression of a clown face, which constitutes a virulent criticism of Trump who is designated the dynamiter (le dynamiteur) by the cartoon title.

 

 

Figure 10. Trump Le Dynamiteur [Trump the Dynamiter], source: Courrier International, 2018.

Another drawing found on the TV Libertés website illustrates Trump and Macron standing side by side. Trump is positioned as a cowboy with his outstretched hand forming a finger gun gesture, his open mouth shouting “Bâââm!”. The title makes it clear that his target is the Iranian nuclear deal. Trump's body posture, yelling and grimacing, as well as the fear expressed by the character representing Macron who does not dare to look ahead, hiding his eyes with his hands, shows the danger that the withdrawal from the nuclear agreement brings for world peace in general. Moreover, the expression on Trump's face shows that he feels no pity when he shoots and a war is thus a predictable outcome.

 

 

 

Figure 11. Far West au Proche-Orient [Wild West in the Middle East], source: (Ignace, 2018)

 

6. Concluding Remarks

As shown above, Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal was illustrated by the French and American media outlets using a variety of frames and showing both similarities and differences between the concerns and priorities of each country.

In the American corpus, numerous themes and motifs were raised attempting to explain the reasons for and consequences of Trump’s withdrawal. Some of the cartoons dealt with the trends and concerns of international opinion toward Trump’s decision (reflecting global concern about the ‘Trump phenomenon’) while others addressed the domestic politics of the United States (such as Trump destroying Obama’s legacy).

On the other hand, the French cartoons were mostly focused on criticizing the unilateral decision of the US under Trump as well as highlighting the economic consequences of the withdrawal for French companies. The French cartoons often applied the conflict frame—between the US and Iran as well as between the US and France—and related it to Trump’s bellicose character. Thus, from the French perspective, Trump’s decision is considered as ignoring French interests.

Moreover, a common characteristic in the analyzed political cartoons is a complete absence of the Iranian people. Iran is framed within the dominant western ideology toward the Islamic Republic and its established political and ideological stereotypes: in depicting the Iranian side, all cartoon images revolve around mischievous and untrustworthy clerical figures (even within a nuclear silo, where nuclear scientists would appear more realistic characters) and the plight of and pressure on ordinary Iranians is not referred to by the cartoonists.

However, it can be argued that ‘the Trump administration’s threat to world peace’ was the most accentuated theme in both the French and American cartoons. Many depicted the current US president setting fire to and tearing down international agreements one after the other.

The following thematic pairings from the comparative case study of the cartoons in the French and American newspapers show the similarities between the French and American cartoonists:

-    The theme ‘Trump losing allies’ in the American corpus and the theme of ‘French frustration’ in the French cartoons reflect the shared concerns of Franco-American cartoonists over Trump’s presidency.

-    Trump ‘ditching of international agreements’ in the American corpus can be paired with the French’s ‘denouncing Trump’s unilateralism’, reflecting concerns over the potentially increasing distance between the two countries.

-    ‘Trump’s policy inching toward war’ motif from the American corpus can be paired with ‘Trump’s bellicosity’ characteristic of the American president in the French cartoons.

As discussed above, the majority of the frames identified in the French cartoons related to bilateral relations between France and the United States and the potential for further conflicts of interest between the two countries, a concern that has roots in the historical relations of the two allies. Even the Iran-US confrontation is perceived by the French to be the result of American unilateralism, which has the potential to further complicate France’s relations with the United States as well as endanger French economic interests.

 

 

The paper also applied the five categorization frames of Semetko and Valkenburg (2000) to the cartoons about Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA:

-    Conflict frame: Almost all themes identified in the analyzed cartoons could be categorized within this frame and almost all criticized Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal. The conflict is depicted as taking place on different levels and between Trump and different parties i.e., Trump in conflict with Obama, the European Union, the French president, Iranian leaders, China and Russia.

-    Human interest frame: Interestingly, the human interest frame is almost exclusively applied to the Euro-American side, ignoring the severe consequences of subsequent sanctions on Iran’s economy, companies and ordinary citizens. In the French cartoons, the impact of Trump’s decision on French interests is illustrated by depicting Emanuel Macron in a state of despair. A similar frame can be identified in the American corpus where Trump is compared to an infant playing with a bomb or igniting a fire. The only exception to the Euro-American human interest frame in the analyzed cartoons was the one which used the shark symbol ripping through the Iranian flag (representing the Iranian nation) as an action deserving reproach and its target pity.

-    Responsibility frame: Many cartoons depicted Trump as being responsible for potential security concerns either in form of a war or failure in future negotiations. However, almost all the cartoonists have made it clear that Trump cannot be trusted with world leadership and the responsibility should be hand over to the other ‘adult in the room’, i.e. the European Union. In this implied solution, Russia and China are depicted as marginal players and Iran is completely absent. 

-    Economic consequences frame: The use of this frame was identified both implicitly and explicitly in some of the cartoons showing confrontation between the US and France. This frame was used by both French and American cartoonists, including the one which identified the Boeing worker along with Emanuel Macron as losers from Trump’s decision.

-    Morality frame: This frame remained almost untouched in this series of cartoons. A possible reason is that political cartoons relating to international concerns often have the intention of conveying information or comment rather than being persuasive, although accentuating the ‘threat of war’ and urging the Trump administration to reconsider their policies was reflected in many of the cartoons.

In the French cartoons analyzed, Trump’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA is considered as an act against French interests which requires a reaction from French politicians who appear powerless in this matter. It can be argued that the JCPOA, an agreement negotiated by P5+1 countries, was framed mostly in the French media as a Franco-American interaction, including in the reaction of the French president vis-à-vis Trump’s withdrawal. This shows how concerning American unilateralism is for the French media and dominant conflict is in Franco-American relations, particularly in the Trump era.

Thus, a multilateral agreement between Iran and the P5+1 countries which was dismantled by Trump’s unilateral withdrawal is framed in the analyzed cartoons from a bilateral perspective. While the European group is composed of France, the UK and Germany, only the French president is considered a loser in Trump’s decision to exit the JCPOA. This is also evident in the American cartoons, though on a much smaller scale. 



[1]. The Washington Post reported on February 11, 2019 that “In early 2003, Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. (R-N.C.) sent a letter to Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) with a trite topic: renaming French fries to “freedom fries.”” (Bella, 2019).

[2]. A proposed Act of Congress unveiled on 9 January 2018, “to require presidential candidates to have a medical exam and publicly disclose the results before the general election.”

[3]. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)

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