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March 23, 2004


by Joe Sobran


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.


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.


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 cliches, 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?




Read this column on-line at


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