Terror In Obama’s ‘Old Hometown’

July 20, 2009

IBD 20 July 09

War On Terror: Bombs detonated at two U.S. hotels in Jakarta, leaving eight dead, mostly expatriates. As Indonesians argue over motives, the choice of targets and the U.S. president’s roots there speak to a war not yet over.

Indonesians were shocked and angry to wake to a terror attack on the J.W. Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton Friday morning, two fancy hotels at the glamorous center of the sprawling capital.

It wasn’t the first time the Marriott had been struck. Radical Islamists linked to al-Qaida, known as Jemaah Islamiah, had hit the hotel before, in 2003, leaving 12 dead. But Indonesians had hoped that, after a three-year lull, the war on terror was over.

But the war on terror is not won, the terrorists are still plotting, and there are strong signs the latest attack may be a test for the new U.S. president, who’s shown signs of wavering.

Some Indonesians, such as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, suggest the attack may have been related to the July 8 presidential election, which is still being tallied, but he is believed to have won. After all, Bambang’s campaign ran on an anti-terror theme.

That said, the bulk of evidence still points to a test for the U.S., and it should be taken as just that.

The Marriott and the Ritz are pretty much where business gets done in Indonesia, a large nation that has embraced rapid development through Asian Tiger capitalism. Foreign investors from large mining, oil and infrastructure companies meet at these hotels, sign deals, and hold conferences.

It wouldn’t have been difficult to know about a conference, and to predict that it would be full of U.S. businessmen.

To pick Western businessmen as a target follows the logic of the 9/11 al-Qaida terrorists who chose the World Trade Center as their strike target. The targeting of businessmen at U.S. hotels also signals a closer focus on Americans because the 2003 Marriott strike killed mostly poor Indonesian cab drivers waiting in line for fares, something that Indonesians bitterly lashed out against.

Why else target Jakarta? Remember, Jakarta is what President Obama calls his “old hometown,” the place where he spent his formative years. Both the Marriott and Ritz were not just any old part of sprawling Jakarta, but in central Menteng, the very area Obama knew well as a child. Obama went to two schools in that area in the mid-1960s, SD Besuki and Fransiskus Asisi schools, less than 3 miles from the Marriott, and only slightly farther from the Ritz.

It’s an interesting coincidence.

Meanwhile, terror experts believe the bombings bear the technical markings of Jemaah Islamiah, whose chief mastermind and bomb maker, named Noordin Mohammed Top, is on the loose.

What does this mean?

Obama has condemned the attack as “outrageous.” But he must recognize also that this attack was a test, for him.

He’s tried to “change the tone” and even claimed that George W. Bush’s war in Iraq has radicalized the Muslim world. But this attack shows the war can’t be wished away by conciliatory words.

First, Obama must bring back the term “war on terror” and drop the bureaucratic “overseas contingency operation.” When terrorists realize this is war, they’ll recognize that the costs are higher, and fewer will be willing to pay.

Second, Obama must change his thinking on the nature of this struggle. That was evident in his speech to the Islamic world in Cairo, where he equated mass-murder terror strikes with French laws prohibiting veils. The military war may be wrapping down in Iraq, but terrorists are responding to conciliatory talk as weakness.

Third, he needs to toughen up on the war response. Reading terrorists their Miranda rights and providing Gitmo inmates with taxpayer-paid island paradise vacations send a terrible message that winning doesn’t matter. Legal procedures do. It strengthens perceptions that the U.S. is a loser, and that aids terror recruitment.

The danger of not getting tough is that terrorists will be emboldened by our weakness and target U.S. citizens and interests. Obama must recognize that the terrorists striking at his hometown are sending a message. If he ignores them, he’ll get a far worse one.



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