Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"Withdrawal" promises fuel Iraq violence
Harvard study: The Emboldenment Effect

Researchers at Harvard say that public debates about the rights and wrongs of the U.S. occupation of Iraq have a measurable "emboldenment effect" on insurgents there, and periods when there is a lot of media coverage about the issue are followed by small rises in the number of attacks.

The researchers, a political scientist and a health economist, studied data about insurgent attacks and U.S. media coverage up to November 2007, tracking what they called "anti-resolve statements," either by U.S. politicians or in the form of reports about American public opinion on the issue.

The study, published this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research, uses quantitative analysis, a statistical tool employed by economists, to empirically test for the first time the widely held nostrum that public criticism of U.S. policy in Iraq encourages insurgents there.

"We find that in periods immediately after a spike in anti-resolve statements, the level of insurgent attacks increases," the study says. In Iraqi provinces that were broadly comparable in social and economic terms, attacks increased between 7 percent and 10 percent.

Gee, ya think? Should be obvious, but it takes Harvard researchers, Radha Iyengar, Jonathan Monten, to confirm the obvious to the oblivious - noted in Shaun Waterman's UPI article, "Analysis: Debate on Iraq fuels insurgency".

Anti-resolve... meaning the commitment to bear the cost to succeed. Or, to clarify with their own words, I'll quote from the introduction to the report itself,
"Is There an "Emboldenment Effect? Evidence from the Insurgency in Iraq"

A rational terrorist model suggests that insurgent actors should increase attacks on an occupying country when that country is closer to the margin of withdrawal.1 Researchers have identified the general importance of credible commitments in the initiation and termination of conventional and civil wars and parallels have been made to the case of counterinsurgency campaigns.2 In the context of insurgency, this “resolve” refers to the perceived commitment of the counterinsurgent to bearing the costs of defeating insurgency.

An excerpt from the report gives clue to how the insurgents may use US withdrawal rhetoric in their strategy.

How might the perceived level of US resolve influence an insurgent organization’s choice of violence?

First, declining resolve might directly raise the level of anti-government violence initiated by the insurgents as insurgents respond to information that increasing the costs of engagement will force the US to withdraw.8

Second, declining resolve might reduce support among the wider population for the incumbent government increasing the number of individuals willing to participate in the insurgency. These “fence-sitters” are the critical population for victory.9

The key point of contention is security - creating the belief among the population that pro-government forces can offer better protection than anti-government forces.10The perception of declining resolve can reduce support for the government among the population if it places the commitment to population protection in doubt. Fence-sitters no longer feel safe remaining loyal to the government and are less likely to collaborate with the government if the counterinsurgent forces cannot credibly protect them from future reprisals from insurgents.

In short, the global Islamic jihad movements not only use violence to keep the American citizens and media in a chasm over costs of the war** (and the doubt of success), but to force the Iraqis into a state of constant distrust. A distrust in the continued US assistance, plus instilling doubt about their own government's ability to provide security.

**Consider the references to the war's cost vs commitment, on the heels of the Ben Feller AP story today, "Bush defiantly defends war in Iraq", ... an article where Bush states the complaints now turn to economic cost. Since news from Iraq is no longer filled with daily escalating violence, a new excuse is needed to keep the anti-war movement motivated. Whether the argument is the justification for OIF, deaths of US soldiers or Iraqi citizenry, labels of "civil war", slow progress by the Iraq Assembly, or the costs of the war, the end result is the same. A changing goal post of reasons for withdrawal.

And if this report holds true to form, the increasing new "withdrawal" cry for reasons of US dollars should lead to yet another increase in Iraq violence in it's wake.

Since choosing particular coverage and labeling it inflammatory came down to a subjective judgment, the researchers used two kinds of news stories for their foundation.

In addition to "the release of major polls regarding American attitudes towards the war in Iraq," their index includes mentions by senior Bush administration officials of "statements or actions by other U.S. political figures that might encourage violent extremist groups in Iraq."

But hold on... the Harvard researchers aren't so all fired anxious see the aftermath of it's release, fearing the supporters for the Iraq cause will seize on it, and try to silence war critics.

"We are a little bit worried about that," Jonathan Monten of the Belfer Center at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government told United Press International in an interview. "Our data suggests that there is a small, but measurable cost" to "anything that provides information about attitudes towards the war."

But he added the cost was outweighed by the benefits of vigorous debate about military undertakings.

"There's a body of research, which we cite … that suggests that public debate about strategy helps the military to fight wars more effectively," he said.

Allow me point out something to those brilliant minds at Harvard. It is *not* the anti-war crowd that is being silenced. It is the voices of those who support success for Iraq. The media, dictating public opinion and hanging on Pelosi and Murtha's every anti-war utterance, are overwhelmingly negative in balance. So who is silencing whom?

Needless to say, this study should be an interesting foray into the headlines... assuming the MSM picks it up at all.

Mind you, I am not advocating a restriction on freedom of speech and dissent. It is the very heart of our country. However I am saying that, considering the effects of the vile and venomous remarks of our Congress and media, the rhetoric should be toned down to civil discourse, and the media coverage far more balanced. After years of accusations that our mere US presence is the cause of the Iraq increased violence, it appears some responsibility for that violence can be laid directly at the feet of the Congress, pollsters and the media, who insist upon fueling the terrorists with promises of withdrawal.


UPDATE March 22, 2008. This Jan 2008 article from Arthur Chenkoff, appearing in Pajamas Media, shows a study by Sacred Heart University echos the Harvard study.

Nearly three-quarters of all Americans surveyed, 70.7%, indicated they strongly or somewhat agreed that negative media reporting damages troop morale. Over half of all survey respondents, 59.8%, agreed (strongly or somewhat) that negative media coverage damages prospects for success in Iraq because it encourages terrorists, and about half, 49.1%, agreed (strongly or somewhat) that things are likely going better for the U.S. than the U.S. media portrays.

1 comment:

Mike's America said...

Mata Harley: Thank you for sharing this with me at Flopping Aces. I hope you don't mind, but I reprinted your post in the comments section.