Politics Thursday: Rand studies support for wars

Working for the United States Army under Contract No. DASW01-01-C-0003, the Rand Corporation produced this peer-reviewed report this summer:

American Public Support for U.S. Military Operations from Mogadishu to Baghdad

The researchers found four factors which they found correctly predicted support or opposition to a given conflict between 60-80% of the time, depending on the conflict. The factors they found were:

  • Importance of the stakes. Beliefs about the importance of the U.S. stakes in a situation are systematically associated with support and opposition for military operations there: those who believe the United States has important stakes—whether in terms of vital national interests, security interests, or moral or humanitarian interests—are more likely to support the operation than those who don’t believe the United States has important stakes involved.
  • Prospects for success. Beliefs about the prospects for a successful outcome in the operation are also systematically associated with support or opposition: those who are more confident in a successful outcome are more likely to support the operation than those who are less confident.
  • Expected and actual casualties and other costs. Beliefs about the likely costs, especially in casualties, are also associated with support: those who expect few casualties typically are more likely to support the operation than those who expect many casualties.

Additionally, leadership and what we call “followership�—the tendency to follow one’s natural party or ideological leaders—was consistently associated both with beliefs about the merits of the operation—the stakes, prospects for success, and likely costs—and with support and opposition: individuals who are members of the president’s party are more likely to support a president’s use of force than those who are not, and within each party, those who are the best informed are more likely to take the same positions as their partisan leaders than those who are less well informed.

I think these factors work for me:

  • Stakes – Although our invasion has opened a recruitment and training center for al-Qaeda, the initial invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 or fighting terrorists of global reach. I also agree with this war supporter who dismisses the the flypaper theory. I believe that we would get much better results shutting down al-Qaeda's proven finance and support centers in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
  • Prospects for Success -Since we have failed to dent attacks against troops and innocent Iraqis after a two and a half year occupation and there is no expected change in methods, I am very pessimistic about our success. However, I also believe that the insurgents will NEVER succeed in taking over Iraq. The insurgency is too small a piece of the population and the Shia and Kurds are now well armed. I see stalemate as long as we are willing to stay. If the numbers start to prove me wrong, I'll reconsider.
  • Expected Causalities and Costs – I never believed that we could wage war and reconstruction on Iraq's nickel, and now that we have spent over $200 Billion in Iraq, I see it as a vast waste and diversion of resources from our actual pressing needs, including the need to dismantle al-Qaeda, which will not be done in Iraq as they still seem to be headquartered along the Afghan/Pakistan border. The cost in lives for such an optional, low stakes venture is also unacceptable.
  • Party – As an independent, I am not a member of the President's party, but neither am I a Democrat, so I don't think this factor applies to me.

Do you think these factors explain your position on the Iraq War? Why or why not?

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