Vicarious Retribution in U.S. Public Support for War Against Iraq

Recommended citation: Peter Liberman and Linda J. Skitka, “Vicarious Retribution in U.S. Public Support for War Against Iraq,” Security Studies, forthcoming.

Abstract: U.S. public anger and desires to avenge the 11 September 2001 terror attacks were redirected toward Iraq partly because of its identity as an Arab and Muslim state. Online panel survey data reveal that citizens who were relatively angry about the terror attacks were more belligerent toward Iraq, and that this effect was strongest among those who perceived Arabs and Muslims in monolithic terms. Angry desires to avenge 9/11 were more persistent for those who saw Arabs and Muslims in that light, and their effects on war support were partially mediated by worsened feelings about Arabs and Muslims in general. These findings help explain why public belligerence toward Iraq shot up right after 9/11, before President George W. Bush began alleging that Iraq was pursuing weapons of mass destruction and had ties to al Qaeda.