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Is There an "Emboldenment" Effect? Evidence from the Insurgency in Iraq

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  • Radha Iyengar
  • Jonathan Monten

Abstract

Are insurgents affected by new information about the United States' sensitivity to costs? 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 that in periods after a spike in war-critical statements, insurgent attacks increases by 7-10 percent, but that this effect dissipates within a month. Additionally, we find that insurgents shift attacks from Iraqi civilian to U.S. military targets following new information about the United States' sensitivity to costs, resulting in more U.S. fatalities but fewer deaths overall. These results suggest that there is a small but measurable cost to open public debate in the form of higher attacks in the short-term, and that Iraqi insurgent organizations - even those motivated by religious or ideological goals - are strategic actors that respond rationally to the expected probability of US withdrawal. However, the implied costs of open, public debate must be weighed against the potential gains. We conclude that to the extent insurgent groups respond rationally to the incentives set by the policies of pro-government forces, effective counterinsurgency should prioritize manipulating costs and inducements, rather than focus simply on search and destroy missions.

Suggested Citation

  • Radha Iyengar & Jonathan Monten, 2008. "Is There an "Emboldenment" Effect? Evidence from the Insurgency in Iraq," NBER Working Papers 13839, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13839
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Nicholas Bloom, 2009. "The Impact of Uncertainty Shocks," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 77(3), pages 623-685, May.
    2. Michael Greenstone, 2007. "Is the "Surge" Working? Some New Facts," NBER Working Papers 13458, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Isaac Ehrlich, 1996. "Crime, Punishment, and the Market for Offenses," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 10(1), pages 43-67, Winter.
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    Cited by:

    1. Radha Iyengar & Jonathan Monten & Matthew Hanson, 2011. "Building Peace: The Impact of Aid on the Labor Market for Insurgents," NBER Working Papers 17297, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Christopher Blattman & Edward Miguel, 2009. "Civil War: A Review of Fifty Years of Research," Working Papers id:2231, eSocialSciences.
    3. Jaeger, David A. & Klor, Esteban F. & Miaari, Sami H. & Paserman, M. Daniele, 2012. "The struggle for Palestinian hearts and minds: Violence and public opinion in the Second Intifada," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(3), pages 354-368.
    4. Eric D. Gould & Esteban F. Klor, 2010. "Does Terrorism Work?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 125(4), pages 1459-1510.
    5. Jo Thori Lind & Karl Ove Moene & Fredik Willumsen, 2014. "Opium for the Masses? Conflict-Induced Narcotics Production in Afghanistan," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 96(5), pages 949-966, December.
    6. Lakshmi Iyer & Noel Maurer, 2008. "The Cost of Property Rights: Establishing Institutions on the Philippine Frontier Under American Rule, 1898-1918," Harvard Business School Working Papers 09-023, Harvard Business School, revised Apr 2009.
    7. Christopher Blattman & Edward Miguel, 2010. "Civil War," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 48(1), pages 3-57, March.
    8. Luke N. Condra & Joseph H. Felter & Radha K. Iyengar & Jacob N. Shapiro, 2010. "The Effect of Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq," NBER Working Papers 16152, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Beath,Andrew & Christia,Fotini & Enikolopov,Ruben & Beath,Andrew & Christia,Fotini & Enikolopov,Ruben, 2012. "Winning hearts and minds through development ? evidence from a field experiment in Afghanistan," Policy Research Working Paper Series 6129, The World Bank.
    10. Andrew Beath & Fotini Christia & Ruben Enikolopov, 2011. "Winning Hearts and Minds through Development Aid: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Afghanistan," Working Papers w0166, Center for Economic and Financial Research (CEFIR).

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • F51 - International Economics - - International Relations, National Security, and International Political Economy - - - International Conflicts; Negotiations; Sanctions
    • J18 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Public Policy

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