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Backing Down and Domestic Political Survival in Israel: Audience Costs and the Lebanon War of 2006

Polity

Abstract

A debate has emerged among international relations theorists over the importance and existence of audience costs in international politics. Yet tests of audience costs theory have focused mainly on a two-party presidential democracy, the United States, and have largely ignored multi-party parliamentary democracies. This article explores a case in a country previously ignored by proponents and critics of audience cost theory: the Second Lebanon War of 2006 in Israel. Consistent with the theory, this article finds that the general public disapproved of the Olmert government’s backing down after issuing threats against Hezbollah, and that public disapproval greatly weakened the government. However, this case study also shows that leaders can still retain office when they face multiple audiences (or principals), by cutting side deals with other parties in parliament.

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Notes

  1. Jack L. Snyder and Erica Borghard, “The Cost of Empty Threats: A Penny, Not a Pound,” American Political Science Review 105 (2011): 437–56; Marc Trachtenberg, “Audience Costs: An Historical Analysis,” Security Studies 21 (2012): 3–42.

  2. Alexander B. Downes and Todd S. Sechser, “The Illusion of Democratic Credibility,” International Organization 66 (2012): 457–89.

  3. Michael Tomz, “Domestic Audience Costs in International Relations: An Experimental Approach,” International Organization 61 (2007): 821–40.

  4. Alastair Smith, “International Crises and Domestic Politics,” American Political Science Review 92 (1998): 623–38; Alexandra Guisinger and Alastair Smith, “Honest Threats: The Interaction of Reputation and Political Institutions in International Crises,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 46 (2002): 175–200.

  5. James D. Fearon, “Domestic Political Audiences and the Escalation of International Disputes,” American Political Science Review 88 (1994): 577–92; Christopher F. Gelpi and Michael Griesdorf, “Winners or Losers? Democracies in International Crisis, 1918–94,” American Political Science Review 95 (2001): 633–47.

  6. Jessica L. Weeks, “Autocratic Audience Costs: Regime Type and Signaling Resolve,” 62 (2008): 35–64.

  7. Snyder and Borghard, “The Cost of Empty Threats”; Trachtenberg, “Audience Costs: An Historical Analysis” (see note 1 above for both sources).

  8. Christopher Gelpi and Joseph M. Grieco, “Competency Costs in Foreign Affairs: Presidential Performance in International Conflicts and Domestic Legislative Success, 1952–2001,” American Journal of Political Science 59 (2015): 440–56, at 440.

  9. For prominent examples of tests focusing solely on the United States, see Robert Trager and Lynn Vavreck, “The Political Costs of Crisis Bargaining: Presidential Rhetoric and the Role of Party,” American Journal of Political Science 55 (2011): 526–45; Matthew Levendusky and Michael Horowitz, “When Backing Down is the Right Decision: Partisanship, New Information, and Audience Costs,” Journal of Politics 74 (2012): 323–38; and Gelpi and Grieco, “Competency Costs in Foreign Affairs” (see previous note).

  10. Snyder and Borghard, “The Cost of Empty Threats,” 437 (see note 1 above).

  11. Jack S. Levy, “Coercive Threats, Audience Costs, and Case Studies,” Security Studies 21 (2012): 383–90, at 383.

  12. Kenneth A. Schultz, “Looking for Audience Costs,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 45 (2001): 30–60.

  13. Levy, “Coercive Threats, Audience Costs, and Case Studies,” 383 (see note 11 above).

  14. Schultz, “Looking for Audience Costs,” 52 (see note 12 above).

  15. Snyder and Borghard, “The Cost of Empty Threats,” 439–40 (see note 1 above).

  16. Schultz, “Looking for Audience Costs,” 53 (see note 12 above). Schultz also notes that case studies are also useful for determining the effects that audience costs have on interstate bargaining during crises and whether or not “politicians believe they exist.”

  17. “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Address to the Knesset During the Conflict in the North,” July 17, 2006, available at http://www.knesset.gov.il/docs/eng/olmertspeech2006_eng.htm.

  18. On the importance of these two groups as domestic audiences, see Fearon, “Domestic Political Audiences and the Escalation of International Disputes,” 581 (see note 5 above).

  19. A notable recent examination of the United States is Gelpi and Grieco, “Competency Costs in Foreign Affairs,” (see note 8 above); notable experimental tests of the United States include Tomz, “Domestic Audience Costs in International Relations” (see note 3 above); Trager and Vavreck, “The Political Costs of Crisis Bargaining” (see note 9 above); and Levendusky and Horowitz, “When Backing Down is the Right Decision” (see note 11 above). For recent case studies that test for audience costs during the Cold War (the United States and India), see Snyder and Borghard, “The Cost of Empty Threats” (see note 1 above); on late nineteenth-century and interwar Europe, see Trachtenberg, “Audience Costs: An Historical Analysis” (see note 1 above).

  20. See Schultz, “Looking for Audience Costs,” 34 (see note 12 above).

  21. I thank one of the anonymous reviewers for making this point. See the sources in footnote 19 for other examples of studies concerning multi-party systems.

  22. Robert Powell, “War as a Commitment Problem,” International Organization 60 (2006): 169–203.

  23. See Tomz, “Domestic Audience Costs in International Relations” (see note 3 above); see also Jack S. Levy et al., “Backing Out or Backing In? Commitment and Consistency in Audience Costs Theory,” American Journal of Political Science 59 (2015): 988–1001. The exception is extreme pacifists.

  24. Gelpi and Grieco, “Competency Costs in Foreign Affairs,” 442 (see note 8 above); see also Christopher Gelpi, Peter D. Feaver and Jason Reifler, Paying the Human Costs of War: American Public Opinion and Casualties in Military Conflicts (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2009), 15, 78–80.

  25. Jack Levy points out that the democracy hypothesis is not integral to audience costs theory, but, instead, is an auxiliary hypothesis. See Levy, “Coercive Threats” (see note 11 above).

  26. See Tomz, “Domestic Audience Costs in International Relations” (see note 3 above).

  27. Fearon, “Domestic Political Audiences and the Escalation of International Disputes,” 579–80 (see note 5 above).

  28. Weeks, “Autocratic Audience Costs,” 38 (see note 6 above).

  29. Branislav L. Slantchev, “Politicians, the Media, and Domestic Audience Costs,” International Studies Quarterly 50 (2006): 445–77, at 449.

  30. Fearon, “Domestic Political Audiences and the Escalation of International Disputes,” 585 (see note 5 above).

  31. Guisinger and Smith, “Honest Threats” (see note 4 above).

  32. Smith, “International Crises and Domestic Politics,” (see note 4 above).

  33. Snyder and Borghard, “The Cost of Empty Threats” (see note 1 above); Levendusky and Horowitz, “When Backing Down is the Right Decision” (see note 9 above).

  34. Guisinger and Smith, “Honest Threats” (see note 4 above).

  35. Daryl Press notes, “What is striking about the documents, however, is that in more than six hundred pages of transcripts from ExComm meetings and thousands of pages of other documents from the archives of at the Kennedy Presidential Library, I could only find three statements in which decisionmakers referred to past Soviet actions as they discussed what the Soviets would likely do in the future. None of the statements referred to Khruschev’s inaction toward Berlin, and they all occurred in a single conversation between the president and Joint Chiefs of Staff.” See Daryl G. Press, Calculating Credibility: How Leaders Assess Military Threats (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2005), 134–35.

  36. I thank one of the anonymous reviewers for pointing this out to me.

  37. Gelpi, Feaver and Reifler, Paying the Human Costs of War, 1–22 (see note 24 above).

  38. Anne E. Sartori, Deterrence by Diplomacy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005), 50.

  39. Michael Tomz, “Democratic Default: Domestic Audiences and Compliance with International Agreements,” Paper Presented at the Annual Meetings of the American Political Science Association, Philadelphia, August 29–September 1, 2002.

  40. Joe Clare, “Domestic Audiences and Strategic Interests,” Journal of Politics 69 (2007): 732–45.

  41. Levendusky and Horowitz, “When Backing Down is the Right Decision,” (see note 9 above).

  42. Tomz, “Domestic Audience Costs in International Relations” (see note 3 above).

  43. Fearon, “Domestic Political Audiences and the Escalation of International Disputes,” 581 (see note 5 above).

  44. See Anthony Downs, An Economic Theory of Democracy (New York: Harper and Row, 1957).

  45. Miles Kahler, Decolonization in Britain and France (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984), 68–69; Hendrik Spruyt, Ending Empire: Contested Sovereignty and Territorial Partition (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2005), 29–30.

  46. In principal–agent relationships, multiple principals attempting to constrain the same agent face a similar problem. See Darren G. Hawkins et al., ed. “Delegation Under Anarchy: States, International Organizations, and Principal-Agent Theory,” in their Delegation and Agency in International Organizations (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 3–38, at 8, 31.

  47. Deborah Avant, Political Institutions and Military Change: Lessons From Peripheral Wars (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994), 13.

  48. Tomz, “Domestic Audience Costs in International Relations,” 32 (see note 3 above).

  49. Snyder and Borghard, “The Cost of Empty Threats,” 50 (see note 1 above).

  50. Schultz, “Looking for Audience Costs,” (see note 12 above).

  51. Tomz, “Domestic Audience Costs in International Relations,” 822 (see note 3 above).

  52. Schultz, “Looking for Audience Costs,” 52 (see note 12 above).

  53. Aaron Rapport, “Hard Thinking About Hard and Easy Cases in Security Studies,” Security Studies 24 (2015): 431–65.

  54. “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Address to the Knesset During the Conflict in the North,” July 17, 2006 (see note 17 above). UN Resolution 1559 called for the disarmament of Hezbollah and the removal of all foreign forces from Lebanon.

  55. In his seminal article on audience costs, Fearon discusses members of parliament as well as the general public as relevant domestic political audiences; see Fearon, “Domestic Political Audiences and the Escalation of International Disputes,” 581 (see note 5 above).

  56. I am grateful to one of the anonymous reviewers for raising this point.

  57. Tomz, “Domestic Audience Costs in International Relations: An Experimental Approach,” 828, 829 (see note 3 above).

  58. Ibid., 821, 828.

  59. Zeev Maoz, Defending the Holy Land: A Critical Analysis of Israel’s Security and Foreign Policy (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006), 215.

  60. Colin Shindler, A History of Modern Israel (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 341.

  61. Maoz, Defending the Holy Land, 256 (see note 59 above).

  62. August Richard Norton, Hezbollah: A Short History (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2007), 116–17.

  63. Shindler, A History of Modern Israel, 344–45 (see note 60 above).

  64. Stephen Biddle and Jeffrey Friedman, The 2006 Lebanon Campaign and the Future of Warfare: Implications for Army and Defense Policy (Carlisle, Pa.: Strategic Studies Institute, 2008), 31; Avi Kober, “The Israel Defense Forces in the Second Lebanon War: Why the Poor Performance?” The Journal of Strategic Studies, 31 (February 2008): 3–40.

  65. Biddle and Friedman, “The 2006 Lebanon Campaign and the Future of Warfare,” 31–32 (see previous note).

  66. Ibid.

  67. Ibid., 33; Norton, Hezbollah, 142 (see note 62 above).

  68. Norton, Hezbollah, 142–43 (see note 62 above).

  69. “PM Olmert: Lebanon is Responsible and will Bear the Consequences,” July 12, 2006, available at http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/pressroom/2006/pages/pm%20olmert%20-%20lebanon%20is%20responsible%20and%20will%20bear%20the%20consequences%2012-jul-2006.aspx.

  70. “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Address to the Knesset During the Conflict in the North,” July 17, 2006 (see note 17 above).

  71. “PM Olmert’s Remarks From the Start of the Weekly Cabinet Meeting,” July 17, 2006, available at http://www.pmo.gov.il/English/MediaCenter/Spokesman/Pages/spokestart160706.aspx.

  72. Political Security Cabinet Meeting. July 19, 2006, available at http://www.pmo.gov.il/English/MediaCenter/Spokesman/Pages/spokekab190706.aspx.

  73. “PM Olmert’s Remarks at the Start of the Weekly Cabinet Meeting,” July 30, 2006, available at http://www.pmo.gov.il/English/MediaCenter/Spokesman/Pages/spokestart300706.aspx.

  74. In a separate incident on June 24, 2005, Hamas kidnaped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit from an Israeli town near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip; see Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, 34 Days: Israel, Hezbollah, and the War in Lebanon (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 8–10.

  75. “Address by PM: Conference of Heads of Local Authorities,” July 30, 2006, available at http://www.pmo.gov.il/English/MediaCenter/Spokesman/Pages/spokestart300706.aspx.

  76. Sarah E. Kreps, “The 2006 Lebanon War: Lessons Learned,” Parameters 37 (2007): 72–84.

  77. Kober, “The Israel Defense Forces in the Second Lebanon War,” 5 (see note 64 above).

  78. Asher Arian and Michal Shamir, eds. “Introduction,” in The Elections in Israel 2006 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 2008), 1–15.

  79. Aaron Lerner, “Poll: Public Opposes Olmert’s Convergence Plan,” June 9, 2006, available at http://www.imra.org.il/story.php3?id=29549 (N=515, margin of error=+/−4.4 points).

  80. “Public Backs Olmert, Misses Mofaz,” July 18, 2006, available at http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3277959,00.html (Poll conducted by Rafi Smith Institute for Yedioth Ahronoth; N=500).

  81. Tali Zinn, “Poll: 40 Percent Support Negotiations with Hizbullah,” August 10, 2006, available at http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3289506,00.html (Poll conducted by B.I. Cohen Institute for Public Opinion at Tel Aviv University; N=600).

  82. “73% Say Government Failed on Home Front,” August 11, 2006, available at http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3289628,00.html (Poll conducted by Dahaf for Yedioth Ahronoth; N=500).

  83. Ilan Marciano, “52 Percent of Israelis: IDF Failed,” August 14, 2006, available at http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3291214,00.html (Poll conducted by Globes-Smith).

  84. “69 Percent: Establish Inquiry Committee,” August 16, 2006, available at http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3291898,00.html (Poll conducted by Yedioth Ahronoth and Mina T’Zemach).

  85. “Poll: Majority Wants Olmert Out,” August 25, 2006, available at http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3295576,00.html.

  86. Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman had 15%, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni 14%, Shimon Peres 12%, Shaul Mofaz 5%, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak 3%, and Defense Minister Amir Peretz 1% support. “Poll: Only 7 Percent Want Olmert to Stay,” September 21, 2006, available at http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L03306587,00.html (Poll conducted by Yedioth Ahronoth and Mina T’Zemach of the Dahaf Institute; N=499 adults; margin of error=4.5%).

  87. “PM, Lieberman Sign Coalition Deal,” October 23, 2006, available at http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3318674,00.html.

  88. Jeremy Sharp, “Lebanon: The Israel-Hamas-Hezbollah Conflict,” CRS Report for Congress (September 2006): 1–47.

  89. “Poll: 71 Percent Say Use Greater Force in Lebanon,” July 28, 2006, available at http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3282592,00.html (Poll conducted by Dahaf Institute: N=513).

  90. “73% Say Government Failed on Home Front,” August 11, 2006, available at http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3289628,00.html (Poll conducted by Dahaf Institute. N=500).

  91. “69 Percent: Establish Inquiry Committee,” August 16, 2006, available at http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3291898,00.html (Poll conducted by Yedioth Ahronoth and Mina T’Zemach of the Dahaf Institute).

  92. “Poll: Majority Wants Olmert Out,” August 25, 2006, available at http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3295576,00.html (Poll conducted by Yedioth Ahronoth).

  93. “Sources in Labor: We Won’t Be Able to Oppose Lieberman Joining Coalition,” October 7, 2006, available at http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3312147,00.html.

  94. In Israel, budget votes represent a first step toward a vote of no confidence.

  95. Fearon, “Domestic Political Audiences and the Escalation of International Disputes,” 581 (see note 5 above).

  96. Sharp, “Lebanon: The Israel-Hamas-Hezbollah Conflict,” 13.

  97. “Winograd Commission Submits Interim Report,” April 30, 2007, available at http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/pressroom/2007/pages/winograd%20inquiry%20commission%20submits%20interim%20report%2030-apr-2007.aspx.

  98. Ibid.

  99. “Olmert Under Fire,” May 3, 2007, available at http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1617518,00.html.

  100. “Roughly 100,00 People Rally in Tel Aviv to Call on PM, Peretz to Quit,” May 2, 2007, available at https://web.archive.org/web/20100926113450/http://www.haaretz.com/news/roughly-100-000-people-rally-in-tel-aviv-to-call-on-pm-peretz-to-quit-1.219572.

  101. “Israelis Call on Olmert to Resign,” May 3, 2007, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6621337.stm.

  102. “Olmert Survives War Report Debate,” May 3, 2007, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6618193.stm.

  103. “Winograd Submits Final Report,” January 30, 2008, available at http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/mfa-archive/2008/pages/winograd%20committee%20submits%20final%20report%2030-jan-2008.aspx.

  104. Helene Cooper, “Olmert Backs Mideast Peace Conference,” November 5, 2007, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/05/world/middleeast/05mideast.html.

  105. Isabel Kershner, “Israelis Press Plan to Block the Division of Jerusalem,” November 15, 2007, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/15/world/middleeast/15mideast.html?_r=1&oref=slogin.

  106. Reuters and Aluf Benn, “PA Rejects Olmert’s Offer to Withdraw from 93% of West Bank,” August 12, 2008, available at http://www.haaretz.com/news/pa-rejects-olmert-s-offer-to-withdraw-from-93-of-west-bank-1.251578.

  107. Jeffrey Heller, “Israeli Police to Investigate Olmert House Purchase,” September 24, 2007, available at https://web.archive.org/web/20090111192245/http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSL2487421920070924; “Ehud Olmert: Corruption Allegations,” January 5, 2012, available at https://web.archive.org/web/20120105181216/http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16426018.

  108. Jeffrey Heller, “Israeli Polity to Investigate” (see previous note).

  109. These allegations followed Olmert after he left office. In 2014, he was sentenced to 6 years in prison for bribery charges, but this was reduced to 18 months in December 2015. An additional month was added to his term in January 2016 for obstruction of justice; he is the first Israeli prime minister to be sentenced to prison. See: “Ehud Olmert Jail-Term: Ex-PM Begins Sentence for Bribery,” February 15, 2016, available at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35576495.

  110. In January 2007, Barak challenged Amir Peretz, the leader of the Labor Party and defense minister during the Second Lebanon War, for the party leadership. Like Olmert, Peretz’s approval ratings sank as a result of his handling of the Second Lebanon War. See “Former Israeli PM Barak in New Leadership Bid,” January 7, 2007, available at http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-israel-barak-idUKL0776362420070107.

  111. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni won the Kadima Party leadership on September 17, 2008, defeating Shaul Mofaz, a former IDF head and former Defense Minister. Livni was unable to form a government, leading to early elections on February 10, 2009. Kadima won 28 seats while the main right-wing party, Likud, led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, won 27. However, conservative parties held the most seats, leading Israeli President Shimon Peres to invite Netanyahu to form the next government. See: Ashraf Khalil and Batsheva Sobelman, “A New Leader for Kadima,” September 18, 2008, available at http://articles.latimes.com/2008/sep/18/world/fg-kadima18; Ethan Bronner, “Netanyahu, Once Hawkish, Now Touts New Pragmatism,” February 21, 2009, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/21/world/middleeast/21netanyahu.html.

  112. One poll did find that the public wanted to go further. “Poll: 71 Percent Say Use Greater Force in Lebanon,” July 28, 2006, available at http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3282592,00.html (poll taken by Yedioth Ahronoth and Mina T’Zemach of the Dahaf Institute; N=513). See also: “73% Say Government Failed on Home Front,” August 11, 2006, available at http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3289628,00.html (poll conducted by Mina T’Zemach of Dahaf Institute. N=500); “69 Percent: Establish Inquiry Committee,” August 16, 2006, available at http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3291898,00.html (poll conducted by Mina T’Zemach and Yedioth Ahronoth); “Poll: Majority Wants Olmert Out,” August 25, 2006, available at http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3295576,00.html, accessed August 25, 2006 (poll conducted by Yedioth Ahronoth).

  113. I searched for Israeli public opinion data in high-circulation Israeli daily newspapers in the relevant period; these are the leading source of public opinion data in Israel.

  114. I am grateful to one of the anonymous reviewers for raising this point.

  115. See Gelpi and Grieco, “Competency Costs in Foreign Affairs” (see note 8 above).

  116. William G. Howell and Jon C. Pevehouse, While Dangers Gather: Congressional Checks on Presidential War Powers (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2007), 155–92.

  117. Tomz, “Domestic Audience Costs in International Relations: An Experimental Approach,” (see note 3 above).

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I would like to thank the three anonymous reviewers for Polity for their comments, as well as the journal’s editor, Roger Karapin, for his comments and suggestions on previous drafts.

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Wolf, A. Backing Down and Domestic Political Survival in Israel: Audience Costs and the Lebanon War of 2006. Polity 48, 414–439 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1057/pol.2016.13

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