Mumbai: Obama's First Foreign Policy Test

President-elect received his second briefing on the Mumbai terror attacks.

Nov. 28, 2008— -- In Chicago, President-elect Barack Obama issued a statement Friday, offering condolences to families of American victims in Mumbai. Obama called the terrorist attacks "outrageous."

"These terrorists who targeted innocent civilians will not defeat India's great democracy, nor shake the will of a global coalition to defeat them," the statement said. "The United States must stand with India and all nations and people who are committed to destroying terrorist networks, and defeating their hate-filled ideology."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice briefed the president-elect twice on the situation in Mumbai, where at least five Americans have been killed so far.

Obama thanked the current administration for informing him on a global crisis that he may inherit.

"There is one president at a time," Obama said. "I will continue to closely monitor the situation on the ground in Mumbai, and am grateful for the cooperation of the Bush administration in keeping me and my staff updated."

American officials believe the terrorists may be Pakistani extremists bent on turning the disputed Kashmir region along the border with India into a separate Islamic state.

During the campaign, Obama threatened to crack down on terrorists hiding in Pakistan's western mountains.

"Nobody's talking about attacking Pakistan," Obama said during a Sept. 26 debate at the University of Mississippi. "Here's what I said ... that if the United States has al-Qaeda, Bin Laden, top-level lieutenants in our sights, and Pakistan is unable or unwilling to act, then we should take them out."

But Obama was talking about al-Qaeda, not the extremists suspected in the Mumbai attacks.

"Despite a lot of talk during the campaign about Afghanistan, really Pakistan is the central issue here," said Dan Markey, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "And we can see that, because it sits very squarely between these problems in India and the problems that we are already seeing in Afghanistan."

Obama Will Inherit Foreign Policy Considerations

As Obama continues to work with the current administration to prepare for a seamless transition, history shows that foreign policy and national security cannot be put on hold during presidential transitions.

During the 1960 presidential campaign, John Kennedy learned of top-secret plans to invade Cuba. After taking office, he went ahead with the invasion, which proved to be disastrous.

During the 1980 election, Americans were held hostage in Tehran. Though they were released as Ronald Reagan took office, he inherited bad relations with Iran that followed him during this presidency.

After the 1992 election, a defeated president, George H.W. Bush, sent troops to Somalia, which turned into a bloody fiasco under President Bill Clinton.

Shortly before the 2000 election, terrorists bombed the Navy destroyer USS Cole. Critics later said that neither Clinton nor George Bush focused on that attack as a warning signal for 9/11.

As the 2008 campaign was coming to a close, Vice President-elect Joe Biden predicted, "It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy."

Next week, Obama will unveil his national security team, which will have the responsibility of sorting out whether the attacks in Mumbai put Americans at home and abroad in more danger.