Bargaining and fighting in the moonlight

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Date

2011-08

Authors

Cohen, Matthew Leonard

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Abstract

"Audience costs" models of international relations suggest a purely informational role for domestic politics in conflict settings. Here, domestic politics serve as a rich signal of belligerents' true intentions, allowing them to more quickly resolve disagreements, decreasing the likelihood and duration of war. But if belligerents can have different beliefs about publicly available information, then domestic politics might confuse rather than clarify conflict situations, increasing the likelihood and duration of war. I present empirical evidence of conventional "audience costs" models' shortcomings in explaining the dynamics of the US counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq and the response of Iraqi insurgents to those efforts. I then develop a formal model to show how differences in beliefs between insurgents and counterinsurgents about domestic political audiences in Iraq may have contributed to the prolonged nature of the conflict. I argue that the underlying cause of the conflict's duration is disagreement between belligerents about whether and how Iraqi civilians contribute to a successful counterinsurgency, leading belligerents to disagree not only before fighting about who is likely to win, but during fighting about who is actually winning.

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