Talking past each other

Ken Parish has posted on the depressing blog debate over the war, saying

Apparently thoughtful, rational people on both sides interpret exactly the same facts in diametrically opposed ways to fit their preconceived and immovable viewpoints, or choose to believe only those press reports that suit their ingrained prejudices.

Kevin Drum at Calpundit discusses the same issue, linking to Arthur Silber who says

Since the war began two weeks ago, I have noticed the following (it began well before then, but has become much more noticeable recently): almost every strongly prowar blog that I read references many stories which support the rosiest scenarios about how this war will play out, and what will happen in a post-war Iraq (and beyond). Similarly, most antiwar blogs I read link to many stories raising questions about the positive scenarios, stories which may show serious troubles arising, both now and in the future.

While there is some truth in this, the basic problem is more fundamental – the two sides are no longer interested in each others’ arguments.

Roughly speaking the prowar bloggers are concerned to argue that Bush was right in asserting that the US could and would crush its enemies. Their main concerns are that the Coalition should win quickly and suffer minimal casualties.

Conversely, summarising drastically, the antiwar bloggers are concerned to argue that Blair was wrong in presenting the war as an emergency exercise in international law enforcement. Their main concern is that the war has been justified on the basis of legal and political arguments that have now been exposed as largely spurious and on the basis of promises about the conduct of the war that have now been abandoned.

For a brief period, the Iraqi attacks on Coalition supply lines and resistance to the occupation of Southern cities produced an intersection of these two sets of concerns. Prowar bloggers mostly saw the question in more strictly military terms – was the Rumsfeld strategy being proved wrong? Antiwar bloggers saw this as evidence that both the war and the subsequent occupation would be bloodier and crueller than had been claimed and some hoped that an enforced pause in the US advance might lead to some sort of reconsideration.

The picture of mutual incomprehension was completed with the US military successes of the last week. From the prowar viewpoint these represented proof that the critics had been wrong all along. From the antiwar viewpoint, the relevant facts were the escalation in the number of civilian casualties, the further relaxation of restrictions on targeting, the use of weapons like cluster bombs and the massive death toll among Iraqi troops most of whom are conscripts.

In these circumstances, it’s scarcely surprising that the same facts are interpreted in diametrically opposite ways.