Chutzpah and Hubris
March 23, 2004
You know the excellent but now tired old joke
about chutzpah: that its best exemplified by the guy
who kills both his parents, then begs the court to have mercy on him as an
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
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon,
President Bushs idea of a man of peace, says he will
continue ordering assassinations of anyone he considers a terrorist,
excluding Jews of course. His country doesnt 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.
Its often said that the
Israelis have had long experience fighting terrorism. Well, they also have
had long experience committing it. What they dont 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 its now clear that his victory over
Saddam Hussein was in no way a victory over the 9/11 killers. Hes
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 wasnt a victory; it wasnt even progress. In fact it
has made things worse, wasting resources, causing innocent suffering,
making us more enemies, and alienating old friends.
Spanish voters who threw out their Bush-friendly
government werent appeasing the terrorists, as we
are now hearing; they were saying that Bush and his coalition dont
know what theyre doing, and those voters want no further part of
this enormous fiasco.
Bushs war on Iraq gave
illusory satisfaction to Americans who wanted to strike back for the 9/11
horrors, just as Sharons crackdowns give emotional release to
Israelis enraged by unpredictable violence. Such blind fury is
understandable, but it doesnt really get you anywhere. It only
increases the chaos, rewarding the very enemy its supposed to
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 Iraqs 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 isnt an enemy,
and it cant be defeated with the methods of war. Its 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 theyre being
Spain has now rejoined what the
Bush crowd calls Old Europe, the Europe that cant be
bought with American money France, Germany, Belgium, and yes,
the Vatican. Bushs 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?