The Enigmatic Paradox Of A QuagmireMarch 13, 2008
Are insurgents in Iraq emboldened by voices in the news media expressing dissent or calling for troop withdrawals from Iraq? The short answer, according to a pair of Harvard economists, is yes.
In a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the authors are quick to point out numerous caveats to their findings, based on data from mid-2003 through late 2007.
Put aside the obvious confusion over why a pair of Harvard economists would be doing this sort of study, ’cause I think this could be interesting. Let’s see where it goes…
The paper “Is There an ‘Emboldenment’ Effect in Iraq? Evidence From the Insurgency in Iraq” concludes the following:
–In the short term, there is a small but measurable cost to open public debate in the form of higher attacks against Iraqi and American targets.
–In periods immediately after a spike in “antiresolve” statements in the American media, the level of insurgent attacks increases between 7 and 10 percent.
–Insurgent organizations are strategic actors, meaning that whatever their motivations, religious or ideological, they will respond to incentives and disincentives.
That treasonous MSM and those anti-American dissenters! They’re getting our troops KILLED!
Wait a second though. This piece said something about caveats. I better continue…
But before partisans go wild on both sides of the aisle, here are just three of the important caveats to this study:
–The city of Baghdad, for a variety of reasons, was excluded from the report. The authors contend that looking at the outside provinces, where 65 percent of insurgent attacks take place, is a better way to understand the effect they have discovered. Other population centers like Mosul, Basra, Kirkuk, and Najaf were included in the study.
–The study does not take into account overall cost and benefit of public debate. Past research has shown that public debate has a positive effect on military strategy, for example, and, in the case of Iraq, might be a factor in forcing the Iraqi government to more quickly accept responsibility for internal security.
–It was not possible, from the data available, to determine whether insurgent groups increased the overall number of attacks against American and Iraqi targets in the wake of public dissent and debate or simply changed the timing of those attacks. This means that insurgents may not be increasing the number of attacks after all but simply changing the days on which they attack in response to media reports.
In other words, this story really doesn’t tell me much of anything, other than maybe I shouldn’t start listening to economists’ conclusions on the effect that stories in English-language mass media have on the minds of angry armed foreigners on the other side of the world in a war zone. How many Iraqis outside of Baghdad have a subscription to the New York Times or access to CNN, anyway? Thanks U.S. News & World Report, L.P. , I am now enlightened. Did they study the effect of “bring ’em on”, too?
Anyway…the inescapable reality is the fact that, without a war (as is implied by “anti-war”), there are no insurgents to embolden. But without at least talking about ending a war, it is very unlikely to…end.
What to do?