Department of unpalatable results

This new NBER working paper (ungated here) argues that media criticism of the U.S. war effort in Iraq leads to more U.S. troops being killed:

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.

Might Fox News be right after all?  Still I am not yet convinced.  First, I fear that the measurement of satellite TV access of different Iraqi districts is a proxy for some other measure of district quality and that the TV programs have no causal role in driving killings.  Is news access across Iraq really so different?  Can’t one district simply send an email to another district: "now is time to kill some more of them?"  Second, I worry that the authors decided not to include Baghdad in the results.  Still, if you want a jolt to your system, right now this paper is the place to go.


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