Watching a recent episode of Fareed Zakaria GPS— by eons the most substantive cable news program—I was horrified, but ultimately not surprised to hear the following:
"Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have all been involved in the campaign against ISIS in Syria but look at their contributions. The United States has carried out over 2,000 air strikes against ISIS in Syria, the military says. Meanwhile, the Arab allies have flown just over 100 strikes combined. Airwars.org estimates that Denmark, which has conducted missions against ISIS in Iraq, has flown as many air strikes as those Arab allies have flown in Syria combined. The Netherlands has conducted almost twice as many strikes against ISIS as the combined total of Arab strikes in Syria."
That the Danes (FY15 military budget of ~$4.4 billion) and Dutch (FY15 military budget of ~$8.8 billion), are exerting greater direct military pressure to contain ISIS than the entirety of the Arab coalition (Saudi Arabia alone spent $80.8 billion in FY14) raises serious questions about the long-term effectiveness of the coalition. Fareed Zakaria suggests that the discrepancy in contributions, despite the supposed danger resulting from proximity to the caliphate, is the result of the free rider problem. The free rider problem states that those who benefit from an expenditure are not those who are paying for them (accounting for differences in ability to pay)— this problem can be solved, in theory, by restructuring incentives or by creating new mandates. Unfortunately, Zakaria doesn't include details on how we can alter the incentives to contribute militarily in this example.
The Defense Department has an awesome website!
I plan to explore the respective national contributions to Operation Inherent Resolve—the coalition mission to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS—and offer an alternative political explanation to Arab reluctance to confront ISIS, but was delayed in doing so after stumbling upon the Defense Department's "Targeted Operations Against ISIL Terrorists" website (the US Govt. prefers to call ISIS, ISIL). Beyond being aesthetically pleasing, it provides a remarkable amount of data on target destruction, costs, and bombings per day, as well as including 'photo essays', videos, and stories.
The website includes an interactive map where you can learn about ongoing operations in Iraq and Syria, updated daily. For example, on August 5th, coalition military forces conducted 7 airstrikes in Syria and 22 airstrikes in Iraq. This information is further broken down by individual bombing. You can learn that near Fallujah in Iraq, 1 airstrike destroyed an ISIS excavator, or that near Mosul, 5 airstrikes destroyed six bunkers!
While I am a fervent proponent of government transparency, I am not sure how to feel about the website. Rather than solely providing the data for the public to parse, the website has a clear narrative which is documenting the mission's positive progress—without seeming to provide the necessary strategic context to what are obviously tactical strikes. Of course, if the website were a bleak and unattractive data dump of excel files, I would be far less likely to have explored them (thus my ambivalence).
Please fill in the contact form below to have new articles emailed to you directly!