For three days, Islamist gunmen nearly shut down Mumbai, the financial center of India. The terrorists - Pakistani militants, according to Indian authorities - murdered almost 200 innocents and left hundreds of others wounded, giving reprieve only to hostages they thought were Muslims.
The timing of their assault seemed aimed for maximum shock value here in the United States - during the transfer of American presidential power and amid a long U.S. holiday in which millions of Americans were glued to televised news.
The macabre killing spree was apparently part of a larger, though failed, effort to shoot or blow up a planned 5,000 civilians - especially Americans, Brits and Jews. The jihadists may have hoped India would heed Islamist warnings to loosen its connections to Western finance and commerce, and pay better attention to Muslim grievances.
There are a number of things to take away from the Mumbai atrocities.
— First was the welcome re-emergence of concerned discussion of the dangers of global Islamist violence. George Bush apparently was not fabricating a global terrorist bogeyman - as was sometimes alleged over the last years of calm - when he sought support for his war in Iraq and domestic security measures.
In fact, caricatured efforts like the Patriot Act, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act accords, the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, the fostering of Middle East constitutional government, and the killing of violent insurgents abroad in Afghanistan and Iraq might seem once again understandable in the context of preventing another major violent terrorist attack of the sort we just saw at Mumbai.
— Second, in the fashion of the old post-Sept. 11, 2001, apologists, we were lectured once again that global terrorism is not necessarily an Islamic phenomenon. Supposedly the poverty and mistreatment of India’s Muslim minority, not jihadist ideology and hatred, better explain India’s incessant sectarian violence. That theory of victimhood is no more convincing now than it was in 2001.
Transnational terrorism still remains mostly Islamist in nature. Very few impoverished Hindu, Christian or Sikh terrorists go abroad to murder civilians. Nor are the wretched poor of Brazil or Haiti organizing mass-murdering assaults against foreigners and Western iconic targets in their cities.
— Third, the serial excuses of Pakistan are also beginning to wear thin. Hundreds of Indians have been killed by Pakistani terrorists, who have routinely attacked both foreigners and Christians in their own country. It is now over seven years since more than 3,000 innocent Americans were murdered on orders from terrorists now all but certainly in sanctuary in Pakistan - and whom we are still told cannot be extradited.
So despite billions of dollars in American military and financial assistance given to Pakistan, nothing really changes. When pressed to explain the apparent role of the Pakistani military or intelligence services in turning a blind eye to jihadists, the government - whether a Pervez Musharraf in uniform or now civilian President Asif Ali Zardari (formerly known as “Mr. Ten Percent” for allegations of graft) - still politely offers various cliches.
The Pakistani borderlands are beyond the government’s control. Pressuring the existing government for either more order or more democracy will lead only to worse alternatives - such as a takeover by fundamentalist clerics, authoritarian generals, or weak democrats whose plebiscites will ensure rule by popular fanatics. No Pakistani leader of any stripe ever quite takes responsibility of the government for the mayhem committed by its own citizens or foreigners on its soil.
Instead, there always seems an implied threat that it would be unwise to push too far a volatile Pakistan that possesses nuclear weapons, or whose fanaticism makes it immune from classical laws of nuclear deterrence, or whose poverty and mismanagement ensure it simply cannot be expected to meet international norms of behavior.
— Fourth, the problem of Pakistan and the Islamist terrorism that so frequently emanates from its soil will now be President-elect Barack Obama‘s to deal with. He will have to decide whether George Bush’s anti-terrorism architecture shredded the Constitution and should be repealed, or helped to keep us safe from attack for seven years, and thus should be maintained, if not strengthened.
Mr. Obama once advocated open intrusions into Pakistan in hot pursuit of terrorists, and will have to adjudicate whether such actions will more likely enrage nuclear Pakistan or finally eliminate the followers of Osama bin Laden. At the same time, Mr. Obama also must ponder whether he should continue our subsidized “alliance” with Pakistan.
Just as I didn’t envy George Bush’s lose/lose dilemma in dealing with Pakistan and global Islamic terrorism, so too I can only sympathize with President-elect Obama, who faces the same dismal choices.
Victor Davis Hanson is a nationally syndicated columnist, senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.