It didn't take six months. Yet President-elect Barack Obama has been tested, to use the words of Vice President-elect Joe Biden. Last week's terrorist attack in Mumbai, India, was aimed at America, its allies and democracy. Attacking tourist hot spots, a Jewish center and Bombay's business district, a group of Muslim extremists has claimed responsibility.
Surely, the attack was along the lines of the "testing" Mr. Biden proclaimed in October campaign remarks. He assured us that an "international incident" was going to test Mr. Obama's "mettle" upon taking office. Does the terror attack in Mumbai count, Mr. Biden? Is this what you were referring to? If so, how should we measure Mr. Obama's reaction to this "test?"
Certainly, an attack of this kind could be predictable by any measure, so too could Mr. Obama's response to it. Some would argue that his cool, measured, "diplomatic" approach to addressing such heinous acts is what's in order. It is the "change" that is needed. Others see it for what it is - an uncertain, novice approach to managing national security.
In a pat response, Mr. Obama said he was "monitoring the situation." Aside from offering condolences, there wasn't much of a condemnation of these ruthless murderers or what they are capable of beyond the India attacks, or just what "monitoring" means.
Mr. Obama's reaction ran in contrast to the direct, succinct and sobering reminder of the evil we face that was offered by President Bush: "The killers that struck this week are brutal and violent. But terror will not have the final word," he said. "As the people of the world's largest democracy recover from these attacks, they can count on the world's oldest democracy to stand by their side." And he commissioned the FBI to aid in the investigation, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to visit India this week. That is the kind of leadership that brought us through September 11 and has kept us safe ever since.
Homeland Security experts warned of heightened vigilance during the presidential transition period, as it generally marks a time of vulnerability in the eyes of terrorists who seek to send a message. The Washington Times reported Sunday that the attackers "wanted to create an Indian 9/11 and kill 5,000 people."
Bodies could be seen strewn about the streets of Mumbai like rag dolls and included innocent citizens, foreigners and police security forces taken up in battle to protect the besieged city. A terror analyst told The Washington Times' Ashish Kumar Sen that the group responsible is likely Taliban trained in Afghanistan and has links to al Qaeda. Its leader, the lone survivor, hails from Pakistan. Predictably, too, Pakistan denounced any involvement or enabling of the terrorists. Yet, as South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham pointed out on FOX News Sunday: "There is a lot of history of terrorism coming out of Pakistan."
No matter the course chosen to collaborate and deal with those responsible what cannot be lost on the new administration is that this is an ideological battle. These Islamic terrorists hate Christians and Jews. That is a fact. Their murderous attacks are based on rooting out the "infidels" - a hateful mindset that cannot be reasoned with. How would one even begin to reason with such evil? It certainly wouldn't be done over tea.
Understanding "who" they are is just the beginning. Recognizing what they are capable of takes viable intelligence, strategic planning, and strong and decisive leadership.
The Indian commandos who took the terrorists out and restored order acknowledged just how better prepared and equipped the attackers were than they. Not only did the group know the layout of the Taj Mahal hotel better than the commandos, but their technological sophistication left the security forces scratching their heads. FoxNews.com had this account: " 'Terrorists are far more advanced today. We didn't realize that they had satellite phones for communication or that they would be so advanced and use incendiary bombs,' one commando said."
As the Indian government continues with its investigations, the U.S. government and intelligence analysts are taking note. Beyond identifying "who is responsible," we must consider the take away. Will the Obama policy entail "diplomacy," "containment" or "defeat" of terror activity? Will he take a law enforcement approach to dealing with terrorist offenders on our soil? Will he dismantle or utilize the surveillance systems put in place by the Bush administration? There are many perplexing questions and the early answers are quite troubling.
Yes, it is clear that we can only have one president at time. One of them we know has the mettle to stare evil in the face, defeat it and keep America safe. There is one who fully grasps the kind of evil the Islamists possess, who is willing to call it "evil," and who understands that all the "negotiating" in the world would not have stopped the terrorists hell-bent and intent on wiping out as many as possible and killing "until the last breath." The other seems satisfied with "waiting" to see who the terrorists will kill next.
Tara Wall is deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Times. twall@washington times.com.