Subject: AT: Unhappy Anniversary for US-Indonesia Ties

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

Asia Times September 11, 2003

Unhappy Anniversary for US-Indonesia Ties

By Gary LaMoshi

DENPASAR, Bali - It has been an exciting two years in the relationship between the United States, the world's only remaining superpower, and Indonesia, the nation with the world's largest Muslim population.

The good fortune that paved Megawati Sukarnoputri's path to her father's old job just weeks earlier fated her to be the first foreign leader to visit the White House after the September 11, 2001, attacks. That visit established some enduring themes:

The US would seek Indonesian support for the "war on terror" for symbolic and strategic reasons. Renewed US aid to Indonesian's largely unreformed military would be a focus for that support.

Indonesia would be coy about the presence of terrorist organizations on its soil and adamant about denying links between terrorism and Islam.

Over the past 24 months, those themes have been played out with such great skill that not only has each nation failed to get what it wants, but each has suffered serious damage to its interests, and the bilateral relationship has deteriorated. Happy anniversary!

Cracked embargo

The post-September 11 meeting between George W Bush and Megawati went as well as could be expected for this pair of presidential offspring who jointly comprise a full wit. Megawati got nearly a half-billion dollars in aid that cracked the embargo on military assistance; Bush got a photo opportunity with a Muslim national leader who denounced terror as well as those who would equate terrorism and Islam.

Despite support from the United Nations, Indonesia was among the most vocal opponents of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. Jakarta's US Embassy was the site of fiery protests denouncing the US war on Islam that Indonesian leaders pointedly tolerated, though threats of violence such as "sweeping" Westerners out of Indonesia were condemned. Indonesia denied it had terrorists, despite violence directed at civilians across the archipelago, from communal warfare to bombs at the Jakarta Stock Exchange and churches on Christmas Eve.

Bilateral relations were frosty publicly and, embassy sources say, politically, though security forces welcomed renewed links with Uncle Sam. The US also cherished these rekindled contacts, even though the military remained unrepentant about past abuses while undertaking new ones. For instance, in November 2001, elite Kopassus troops murdered Papuan independence leader Theys Eluay.

The security forces, politicians and the West argued about whether there were terrorists operating in Indonesia even after the evidence from Omar al-Faruq, an al-Qaeda operative seized in West Java. Then the Bali bombings in October last year changed the debate.

Pages turn

After Bali, Megawati appeared on television and dared utter the T-word. Police vigorously pursued the bombers with the help of investigators from Australia, the United States and other friendly nations. The security forces withdrew their support from violent groups such as Laksar Jihad, which recruited fighters to kill Christians in the Malukus and Sulawesi. An anti-terrorism law

quickly went on the books. Everyone seemed to be on the same page, more or less.

The invasion of Iraq changed things from Indonesia's perspective. The US "war on terrorism" looked much more like a war on Islam. Public protests in Jakarta were more muted, but politicians again felt compelled to condemn the United States. This new attitude didn't change Indonesia's expectations for US aid as well as investment by US companies and spending by US tourists despite concerns about security that last month's Marriott bombing in Jakarta confirmed. (Indonesia nevertheless condemns Western travel warnings against visiting the country.)

Indonesia, for its part, has disappointed the United States and its allies. Local politicians have sought to exploit situations for their own purposes. (Gee, what a shock that must be to the folks in Washington!) The police have failed to prevent two high-profile attacks targeting Americans (many victims were Indonesians, but it's the thought that counts), the Bali and Marriott attacks. Local and expatriate populations are aware of the threat even if they're not cowed by it; that's a partial victory for the terrorists.

The armed forces, which the United States saw as the most viable national institution and the one it hopes to influence, hasn't changed. In addition to the Theys murder, investigators found that the armed forces were behind the ambush outside the Freeport-McMoran complex in Papua (see Indonesia's gold standard, September 7, 2002). That incident gave the US Congress ammunition to delay the resumption of aid to the army. Trials for atrocities in East Timor whitewashed the military's role. After the Marriott blast, there was a brief move to upgrade last year's anti-terrorism law to a more draconian measure modeled after the Internal Security Acts found in Malaysia or Singapore, which would have given security forces more clout. The military has also resumed the war in Aceh, meaning the armed forces are in charge of the two areas with resources of greatest interest to the United States. Whether that's coincidence or design is open to question, but the US blueprint envisaged more influence over the generals at this point.

Trial separation

The verdict in the trial of alleged Jemaah Islamya leader Abu Bakar Ba'asyir displayed the sense of mutual disappointment and frustration between Indonesia and the West. US officials complained privately that the four-year term for Ba'asyir was too lenient, and Australian Prime Minister John Howard said so publicly.

Those comments elevate Ba'asyir's claims of martyrdom and offer confirmation that his prosecution and other anti-terrorism measures are part of a Western conspiracy against Islam. They also underline the Western assumption that courts follow the direction of politicians. The verdict suggests political leaders are reluctant to alienate what they contend is a tiny minority of radicals.

Islamic leaders also fail to speak out against the alleged fringe: when a lawyer for convicted Bali bomber Amrozi said he planned to appeal his client's death sentence on the grounds that he "only wanted to kill Americans and Jews",

no mainstream leader stood up to denounce the sentiment. However, don't think mainstream Muslim organizations are insensitive. They scolded police for using the term Jemaah Islamya (since it translates as "Muslim community") in connection with the Marriott attack, even though confessed members of the radical group implicated their colleagues in the bombing.

Indonesians also bristle at the criticism of their judicial system, pointing out that Ba'asyir was convicted and death sentences have been handed down in the Bali cases, all in transparent trials under the world spotlight, something the United States hasn't managed in two years since September 11. The justice minister blamed the US - and questioned its commitment fighting terrorism - for not providing greater access to Hambali, al-Qaeda's alleged kingpin in Southeast Asia. Since Indonesia-born Hambali was captured, Indonesia has complained about its inability to question him, alternating with announcements that it dispatched teams to do so, and lobbied for his eventual return for trial in his homeland. The verdict in the Ba'asyir case probably lessens that possibility dramatically.

Indonesian Vice President Hamzah Haz unwittingly summed up the sad state of the relationship between his country and the West when he criticized the United States for backing Muslims (as the head of an Islamic party, Haz and others tend to ignore the 20 million to 50 million Indonesians who are not Muslims) into a corner. He warned the US not to punish Indonesia for the actions of a few radicals - and not to withhold investment that Indonesia so desperately needs.

After two years of engagement on the terrorism issue, the United States and Indonesia are talking past each other, neither side is getting what it wants, and the terrorists continue to prosper. The US can help the situation by dropping its focus on the Indonesian military that's failed to seize its good fortune (or thinks it can get away with anything in the eyes of kindly Uncle Sam) and finding new subjects to discuss besides terrorism, but Indonesia has the real heavy lifting to do.

Unfair as it may seem, Indonesia's main complaints - US favoritism toward Israel and the Iraq occupation - are things over which it has little control and, more to the point, have little real impact on Indonesia, which should be focused on its own shattered economy and security. Thrust into a potential leading role in the global war on terrorism, two years on, Indonesia's leadership has led the nation to a position as one of terrorism's leading victims.

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