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 Chutzpah and Hubris 

March 23, 2004

You know the excellent but now tired old joke about “chutzpah”: that it’s best exemplified by the guy who kills both his parents, then begs the court to have mercy on him as an orphan.

Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.Well, that orphan has been topped by the state of Israel. It used a missile fired from a helicopter to take out an old, half-blind quadriplegic in a wheelchair — and claimed self-defense.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, President Bush’s idea of “a man of peace,” says he will continue ordering assassinations of anyone he considers a terrorist, excluding Jews of course. His country doesn’t officially have capital punishment, which means that an Arab who gets as far as a courtroom has a reasonable chance of survival. Sharon means to see to it that they never get to the courtroom.

Bush says he is “troubled” by this policy. But how can he object to it? He too assumes the power to kill terrorists without a trial, along with the authority to decide who counts as a terrorist.

It’s often said that the Israelis have had long experience fighting terrorism. Well, they also have had long experience committing it. What they don’t have much experience of is defeating it. In cracking down on it, they kill more innocent people than their enemies do, which makes the problem worse.

Bush seems determined to follow the Israeli example. His crackdown on terror has taken the form of making war on the wrong enemy, and it’s now clear that his victory over Saddam Hussein was in no way a victory over the 9/11 killers. He’s like a tough-talking district attorney who, with great fanfare, arrests the wrong suspect — only to find that the real killer is still at large.

The March 11 bombings in Madrid told the world that Bush had claimed victory prematurely. The Iraq war not only wasn’t a victory; it wasn’t even progress. In fact it has made things worse, wasting resources, causing innocent suffering, making us more enemies, and alienating old friends.

[Breaker quote: America got the wrong cowboy.]The Spanish voters who threw out their Bush-friendly government weren’t “appeasing the terrorists,” as we are now hearing; they were saying that Bush and his coalition don’t know what they’re doing, and those voters want no further part of this enormous fiasco.

Bush’s war on Iraq gave illusory satisfaction to Americans who wanted to strike back for the 9/11 horrors, just as Sharon’s crackdowns give emotional release to Israelis enraged by unpredictable violence. Such blind fury is understandable, but it doesn’t really get you anywhere. It only increases the chaos, rewarding the very enemy it’s supposed to defeat.

Does anyone imagine that Osama bin Laden has been disappointed by the results of the Iraq war? America has only created new problems for itself, including a costly occupation that will go on for years. Even if the real purpose of the war was to secure American control of Iraq’s oil, was it worth it? To whom?

Bin Laden hates America, but he may be ironically thankful for the removal of Saddam Hussein, clearing the way for al-Qaeda and its allies to operate in Iraq unimpeded by a nasty dictator. The idea that terrorists hate freedom may be a consoling platitude for Bush, but of course the truth is that they know how to use freedom for their own purposes. Bush might realize this himself, if he ever reflected on his own clichés, which he seems indisposed to do.

Terrorism isn’t an enemy, and it can’t be defeated with the methods of war. It’s more like a form of organized crime adapted to the modern state, whose peculiar weaknesses it exploits while avoiding confronting its strengths. Analogies with World War II, beloved of the Bush faction, are singularly inappropriate to the new situation. So is playing Franklin and Winston with belligerent we-will-never-surrender posturing. Bush and Tony Blair are never more absurd than when they suppose they’re being inspiring.

Spain has now rejoined what the Bush crowd calls “Old Europe,” the Europe that can’t be bought with American money — France, Germany, Belgium, and yes, the Vatican. Bush’s trigger-happy approach has failed, completely missing the target.

Many Europeans snort that Bush is a “cowboy” president. A cowboy might be tolerable if he were more like, say, Gary Cooper, dealing with the varmints with patient cunning. But why did we have to get Yosemite Sam?

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2004 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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