Bloggers and pundits on the right are often accused of making the unpleasant claim that those on the left who criticize the Iraq War are encouraging terrorist attacks on US troops — in effect saying that to oppose the war is to be on the side of the terrorists. It's not a claim which is actually voiced that often by any but the most extreme elements on the right. It may fly with Freepers, but it's an argument which is a little too extreme for more reasonable commentators to state, even if they secretly believe it in their heart of hearts.
Now evidence has arrived in the form of a study (PDF) from Harvard scholars Radha Igengar (a quantitative sociologist) and Jonathen Monten (an international affairs expert) which makes a very strong argument that opposition to the Iraq War which is heavily promoted in the American and international media does have a direct effect in encouraging terror attacks against US troops and the civilian population.
The paper is a brief but thorough statistical analysis based on data from neutral sources and on direct interviews with about 1,400 Iraqis in major urban areas. It correlates specific news events and coverage in the international media with increases in violence in Iraq and finds direct relationships which are so numerous and so consistent that they establish a pattern which is very hard to dismiss or ignore. It also confirms those findings by surveying Iraqi citizens and assessing their reaction to news reports of American and international criticism of the war. Basically, when the US and international media plays up war opposition, Iraqis are highly aware and perceive it as weakness. As a result, the level and intensity of violence in Iraq increases measurably.
The explanation is fairly obvious and goes back to the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War. When the enemy looks like it is weakening from within, the insurgent aggressors see an opportunity to further demoralize the enemy and accelerate them towards capitulation with heightened violence. The Viet Cong pretty much wrote the book on the insurgent war of terror, and al Qaeda and other terrorist groups have certainly learned their lessons from history. What we sometimes forget is how modern the environment in which this war is being fought is. Our enemies in the Middle East and even average citizens in war-torn Iraq have high-speed internet access, satellite TV, cell phones. and they're a literate and pretty well educated population. They know what's going on around the world, and they can see opportunity when it's put in front of them.
The news constantly reminds them that they are not facing an implacable enemy which will grant no quarter and stay until the job is done, whatever the cost. The media drives home to them every day that there is a limit to what the American people and the international community will accept in this conflict, and every time they are reminded of that, they look for ways to push us over that limit, either in gross numbers of casualties and dollars or in excesses of retaliatory violence. This dynamic should make obvious sense to anyone who isn't a blinkered ideologue, but with this study it gains the weight of clear statistical support.
Long ago, in a more popular war, the catch phrase was 'loose lips sink ships', and a similar principle seems to apply here. Enough vocal protest does get attention, but it isn't always the right attention and it could very well be costing the lives of coalition soldiers and innocent Iraqis. Rather than ending the war it seems likely that excessive protest and highly visible dissent drags out the conflict and keeps hope for capitulation alive among the insurgents and encourages them to keep on fighting. If that's your goal, then keep making a big noise and cheering them on. But if your goal is fewer casualties and a shorter war then presenting a facade of solidarity is probably more effective, though it's a bit late to shut the barn door after that horse.
The authors of this study don't come right out and point any fingers or quantify the cost of our lack of national unity, but the study certainly raises the question of how many lives and how many billions of dollars and how many years of additional conflict can be chalked up as the cost of the free speech and dissent which we so cherish. It also makes very clear that the media and their confederates in the anti-war left have a great deal of blood on their hands for which there should eventually be a reckoning. It's easy to place blame on those who make war, but perhaps it is time to start holding those who encourage violence in the name of peace accountable as well.