How do military tactics shape civilian support for foreign intervention? Critics contend that invasive tactics undermine popular support by alienating the civilian population. Counterexamples suggest that civilians will support invasive tactics when foreign counterinsurgents are willing and able to mitigate a proximate threat. I reconcile these divergent findings by arguing that civilian support is a function of threat perception based on three interacting heuristics: social identity, combatant targeting, and territorial control. To evaluate my theory, I enumerate a survey among Iraqi residents in Baghdad during the anti-ISIS campaign. Respondents preferred more invasive tactics when foreign counterinsurgents assisted the most effective local members of the anti-ISIS coalition. Across sectarian divides, however, respondents uniformly opposed the deployment of foreign troops. These findings suggest that in regime-controlled communities, civilians will support counterinsurgents who are invasive enough to mitigate insurgent threats, but not too invasive as to undermine local autonomy.
This was originally published on SAGE Publications Ltd: Journal of Peace Research: Table of Contents.