Harvard economists’ study: Media’s anti-war rhetoric emboldens Iraqi insurgents

Via Hot Air:

Are insurgents affected by information on US casualty sensitivity? Using data on attacks and variation in access to international news across Iraqi provinces, we identify an “emboldenment” effect by comparing the rate of insurgent attacks in areas with higher and lower access to information about U.S news after public statements critical of the war.  We find in periods after a spike in war-critical statements, insurgent attacks increases by 5-10 percent. The results suggest that insurgent groups respond rationally to expected probability of US withdrawal. As such counterinsurgency should consider deterrence and incapacitation rather than simply search and destroy missions.

Well, my first reaction here is DUH!  That being said, these are Harvard economists, with no apparent dog in the hunt, they simply had a hypothesis, looked at the data, crunched the numbers, and analyzed them.  God Bless them, looking at their paper, it’s a whole lot of data, a whole lot of formulae.  More math than this puny brain can handle. 

Now, on to the meat of the matter.  Reading the paper, there are quite a few relevant parts that jump out at you.  Things that seem like common sense, that we on the Right have been trying to tell the MSM (heretofore to be known as the dinosaur media), the Democrats, and the Hate America First Lefties like Code Pink for some time now. 

Is there evidence for an emboldenment effect in Iraq?
 snip
We find that in periods immediately after a spike in anti-resolve statements, the level of insurgent attacks increases. Among provinces matched on a broad set of social and economic indicators, insurgent attacks increase between 7-10%.

These results suggest, first, that there is a small but measurable cost to open public debate in the form of higher attacks in the short-term, and, second, that insurgent organizations – even those motivated by religious or ideological goals – are strategic actors.

As I said, we’ve been trying, rather unsuccessfully, to tell the Left this for years now.

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.10 The 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 counter-insurgent forces cannot credibly protect them from future reprisals from insurgents.

This point is huge.  The ‘fence sitters’ have been crucial to the success of the Surge.  Our military successes have been essential, of course, but the locals have learned a number of things in the last year.  Among them, we are not the enemy, but their friends.  They’ve learned to shut AQ, the Baathists and other insurgent groups out.  They’ve learned that they were damned tired of being bullied, and formed local militias and to fight them, right along side our guys many times.  They’ve learned to work with the local government, giving up the bad guys.  Most importantly, they’ve learned to form local governments.  One of the mistakes that the left has always made is that good government is from the top down.  The federal government is all, and all that.  We on the right have always understood that good government starts at the local level.  They’re doing that over there, and it’s beginning to trickle up.

The perception of declining resolve may also improve insurgent recruitment, as individuals seek to bandwagon with what appears to be the winning side.

Again, they’ve been bandwagonning (is that a word?  It is now…) like crazy.  To our side. 

However, reports indicate that insurgents in Iraq are particularly watchful of the media, and that the tactics used by al Qaeda in particular heavily rely on the propaganda potential of large media sources. According to Bruce Hoffman, a counterinsurgency expert and director of the RAND office in Washington, D.C., “What I think has made the insurgency in Iraq so different from previous ones is the insurgents’ enormous media savvy.”27  Others have documented, based on insurgent-generated media such as websites, the extent to which Iraqi insurgent groups are detailed consumers of news on U.S. politics and policy.28

Get that?  They pay attention to our media, and use them for propaganda purposes.  These aren’t cave-dwellers, and they ain’t stoopid.

On average, high mention weeks have more attacks and fatalities than low mention weeks in all periods.

The ‘mention’ in ‘High mention’ is regarding times in which anti war polls and statements receive media attention.

…comparing high satellite (television dish access, ed.) to low satellite regions in the week after high mentions, there appears to be a sizable increase in the number of attacks in high satellite regions relative to low satellite regions.

Again, these people are media savvy.  They pay attention to our media.   The regions with lots of access to our media increase their attacks after the polls, or statements by Democrat elected officials, or Cindy Sheehan goes on another stunt.

The main effect of greater access to satelliteTV is positive, consistent with the expectation that higher satellite regions will experience more attacks. There is no significant difference following high and low mention weeks across regions in the pre-election season, but there is a significant difference in the election and post-election season, with the coefficients implying once again a relatively large increase of 30-40 percent.

That ‘election and post-election season’?  The 2006 elections, folks.  The ones where the Democrats ramped up their rhetoric dramatically.  The one where the media wing of the Democrat party played along and showed nothing but bad.  You wind up with a viscous cycle.  The Left wails, and knashes their teeth about how bad the war is going, and the dinosaur media splashes it all over the airwaves.  Our friends in Iraq see this, see the chance to alter the course of events here, so they ramp up the violence.  This higher violence leads to more squealing, more media coverage, more violence, and round and round we go.  The violence continued after the elections because the bad guys obviously thought they’d found their ‘hope’ for ‘change’, and could force the squeamish Democrats into pulling out.  Well, not for lack of trying.  What are they up to now, 58 defunding bills?  59?  Every single one has gone down in flames.  Despite the taste for defeat that the Democrat ‘leadership’ has, enough of their membership at least still has some sense that America isn’t a loser.  They pulled that crap with Vietnam, and it hurt us.  Badly. 

Table 4 presents the effect of media mentions and poll releases on fatalities. There appears to be an increase in the number of fatalities of U.S. military forces and a decrease in the number of non-U.S. fatalities.

The perceived increase in returns after poll releases or media mentions may increase the willingness of insurgents to try to target U.S. military personnel.

Get that?  When the media mentions fatalities, and they do result driven polls (yes, they do that by how they ask the questions. duh.), our soldiers and marines get killed in higher numbers!  It encourages them to go after our brave guys and gals, in order to effect policy!  Spit.  Effers.

For example, debate about the vulnerability of unarmored vehicles to IED attacks, and criticism of the inability of the DOD to produce more, gives information about a specific U.S. military vulnerability and thus may increase in attacks relative to areas not exposed to the new information as quickly. This is consistent with high satellite areas should experience an increase in attacks on U.S. targets relative to other targets in comparison to low satellite areas.  Overall the evidence from Tables 3 and 4 are consistent with those in Table 5 and present evidence that there is a spike in attacks after information regarding US sensitivity to insurgent imposed
costs is available. This spike is consistent with strategic behavior by insurgent groups:  when the returns to insurgent attacks are higher, and in particular when the returns to inflicting U.S. military fatalities are higher, Iraqi insurgent groups increase efforts to attack US targets.
This increase lasts for about 2 weeks, after which there is no significant difference between high and low satellite regions.34 The number of fatalities appears to significantly increase in the week after information on casualty sensitivity is released and is higher but insignificant in future weeks.

The media runs a flurry of stories about, say, how our soldiers are soooo unprotected in unarmored Hummvees.  (Never mind that the Hummvee was never intended to be armored, nor were IEDs a problem early on)  The stories flood the airwaves.  The dinosaur media are just concerned for our soldier’s safety, you know.  The Democrats run to hold press briefings about how eeeville Booooshhhhh is for not protecting them.  (that Hummvee thing is still quite the meme for the left today)  The bad guys, who at that point, hadn’t been doing that many IED attacks, see CNN running the stories about how our soldiers in Hummvees are vulnerable to IED attack. 

“Hey, Achmed!  Yes, Muhammed?  Guess what?  These fools on CNN are showing us how to kill the infidels!  Allahu Akhbar!!”

Yeah, Allahu Akhbar is what they also cry as they set off the damned bombs.  I’ve seen some of the video.  These monsters kill not only our soldiers and marines, but women and children with their God on their lips.  Praise God and pass the ammo.

Overall, the results presented in this paper suggest several important facts. First, the findings suggest that there is an explicit and quantifiable cost to public debate during wartime in the form of increased attacks. Based on these results, it appears that Iraqi insurgent groups believe
that when the U.S. political landscape is more uncertain, initiating a higher level of attacks increases the likelihood that the U.S. will reduce the scope of its engagement in the conflict.

The bad guys believe that when there is squalling and wailing about how eviiiille the war is, and how we need to ‘end it now’, and when you have political ‘leaders’ rushing in front of every camera telling the world that the war is illegal and it needs to stop now, they believe we will bail out.

Second, the insurgent response to low resolve periods may not represent an overall increase in the total number of attacks, but rather a change in the timing of attacks.38 Because it may be difficult and costly to increase the frequency of attacks in a particular time period, insurgent groups may only seek to do this when the returns are sufficiently high. New information about U.S. cost-sensitivity increases the perceived return to violence and thus insurgent groups condense the violence they would have committed over several weeks into a shorter time horizon. To the extent that these additional attacks represent timing decisions
designed to manipulate U.S. public opinion, simply recognizing this fact reduces some of the strategic value of that substitution.

They don’t actually increase the number of total attacks, but squeeze them all into a short period of time, because of the ‘shock and awe’ effect on our squeamish Democrats and gullible, non-informed public.  They realize they can get the best bang for the buck, in other words.

Third, regardless of whether the observed effect represents an overall increase or intertemporal substitution, the evidence in this study indicates that insurgent groups are strategic actors that respond to the incentives created by the policies and actions of the counterinsurgent
force, rather than groups driven by purely ideological concerns with little sensitivity to costs.  There appears to be a systematic response of Iraqi insurgent groups to information about the U.S.  willingness to remain in Iraq and/or public support for the war.

Again, these aren’t dumb cave-dwellers.  They respond to incentives, good or bad.  We give them the stick, backed up by a spine, they back off and less of our guys die.  We give them a sign that we’re weak, and have no spine?  They amp up the attacks and more of our guys die.  One would have thought we’d learned that lesson after all of the increasing attacks of the 1990s, culminating in September 11, 2001.

The arguments and evidence presented in this paper suggest that insurgent groups do appear to respond to U.S. cost-sensitivity(e.g. our public willingness to continue the war – ed.). The result is that insurgents attack more frequently and kill or injure more U.S. service men and women.

I sure hope the authors of this study are prepared for the vitriol that’s about to be coming their way.  The Left doesn’t like it too much when they get news they don’t like, and they tend to get kinda ugly when they don’t like something.  Trust me.  I’ve seen over on their sites.  It ain’t purdy.

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6 Responses to “Harvard economists’ study: Media’s anti-war rhetoric emboldens Iraqi insurgents”

  1. writerchick Says:

    Unfortunately, the people who really need to read this probably won’t. If they do read any of it, it will be after Arianna Huffington and Kos has a go at their interpretation of the facts – and of course the usual ‘It was written by the NeoCons, so you know it’s a lie’ approach to anything that violates their reality.

    All that being said, it’s good to know that we who believe it was not a mistake to go into Iraq, have been vindicated – at least to some degree.

    Writer Chick

  2. bikermailman Says:

    It’s already all over the blogosphere, which means that talk radio will be on it maybe by the end of the week. The left won’t care, they’ll say these two authors are just shills, blah blah blah, but as you said, it’s good to know you’re right.

    But it’s not even about vindication about having gone in, or not. It’s about staying and finishing the job. That’s the most important thing now. All the people who want to have the discussion (though they NEVER discuss) about whether we should have gone in or not… We don’t have a time machine. That discussion is moot now. What do we do now? Do we win? Do we let them win?

  3. writerchick Says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. The time to talk about whether or not we should have gone in is long past. Though, I’m telling you ol’ shillery and obama worry me. If either of them get in, they could easily (and it seems likely) undo the good and turn a definite win into a lose.
    WC

    PS: Thanks for dropping by – and for your great comments.

  4. Nickdfresh Says:

    Gee, I thought we were paying insurgents not to kill our servicepeople now as part of the “surge?”

  5. bikermailman Says:

    Paying the locals who were identified in this study as ‘fence sitters’ is indeed ONE of the strategies of the surge, part of the whole counter-insurgency strategy.

    Go to my blogroll and go read Michael Yon and Michael Totten. Those guys have gone over there, mostly on their own dime plus donations from schlubs like us, and gotten on the ground. They go out with the military, but also get with the locals. They call it like they see it, the good, the bad, and everywhere in between. IMO, they give a better view of the situation on the ground than the MSM or the military’s releases, because they have no agenda to grind. Just go and give it a look-see.

  6. Iraq As the Central Front In the Fight With Jihad « The Mailman’s Bag Says:

    […] wrote in a previous post about hard facts supporting the idea that our enemies pay attention to our media, and react […]

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