Subject: Obama's Indonesia Test

The Wall Street Journal condemned ETAN's efforts to limit U.S. military assistance to Indonesia to support human rights. ETAN believes that the Journal and the Bush administration are wrong. Ee and concerned members of Congress are right to emphasize justice and accountability for the peoples of East Timor and Indonesia. Show your support for ETAN by donating today. Thank you.

(ETAN responds here: Standing Up for Human Rights by Restricting Military Assistance to Indonesia - ETAN Response to the Wall Street Journal editorial, Obama's Indonesia Test; Senators Leahy and Feingold respond here)


REVIEW & OUTLOOK

NOVEMBER 20, 2008, 12:47 P.M. ET

Obama's Indonesia Test

Democrats on Capitol Hill are obstructing military ties.

From today's Wall Street Journal Asia

With all eyes peeled for clues to President-elect Barack Obama's foreign policy, here's an issue to watch: ties between the Pentagon and Indonesia's military. It sounds low-profile, but it's important to American security interests. And to look out for national security on this issue, the incoming Obama Administration will need to stand down liberal Senators and interest groups.

At issue is Democratic obstruction of military ties with Indonesia. Washington has long used such ties to alliance-building effect. Since the 1960s, the U.S. has worked with Indonesian officers in a variety of exchanges ranging from short courses at military colleges to joint training exercises. These programs help Indonesians gain technical expertise as well as learn key values, such as observing human rights and respecting civilian control. In return, the U.S. develops relationships with the officers who lead the military of the world's largest Muslim-majority democracy.

But these programs have fallen victim to liberal interests in Washington. Groups such as the New York-based East Timor and Indonesia Action Network and Amnesty International object to offering military assistance to countries with bad human-rights records. These groups have found allies among Democrats in Congress who are still trying to block improving ties.

Indonesia's military has certainly had human-rights problems in the past. Washington's relationship with Jakarta was first scaled back in the 1990s amid atrocities in East Timor. But since the downfall of President Suharto in 1998, the Indonesian military has made progress on the humanitarian front. President Bush recognized this when he normalized military relations in 2005. Australia and Britain have resumed all military cooperation they had suspended over earlier rights concerns.

That's smart policy given Indonesia's role as a key ally in the global war on terror. Radical groups linked to al Qaeda such as Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf have targeted Indonesia and used its territory as a staging ground for attacks elsewhere. Jemaah Islamiyah's October 2002 attack in Bali killed 202, including American tourists. Jakarta needs U.S. help to suppress the terrorists in its midst. Cutting off ties was shortsighted in the 1990s; after September 11 it's negligent.

 

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Undeterred, Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy (Vermont) and Russ Feingold (Wisconsin) sent a letter in April to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "to express opposition" to U.S. training with Indonesian military units. As chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees State Department activities, Mr. Leahy has used his influence to stymie military cooperation, even threatening to cut off Indonesia-related spending.

Mr. Leahy's primary concern is Indonesia's elite special-forces unit, Kopassus, which his office says was at the forefront of human-rights abuses in Timor and has since made little progress in humanitarian reform. Yet since 1998, Jakarta has removed many senior Kopassus leaders from their positions for abuses in Timor and elsewhere. Its current officers have passed vetting by the U.S. embassy in Jakarta. More contact with U.S. officers would help strengthen human-rights values.

Meanwhile, this issue is starting to impinge on U.S.-Indonesia ties. In February, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Indonesia, pledging full military support. The State Department canceled joint military exercises with Kopassus two months later, under pressure from Senator Leahy. In retaliation, Jakarta has stopped cooperating in U.S. counternarcotics efforts in the region.

Now Mr. Obama will need to decide the next step. He can give in to liberal interest groups and Capitol Hill Democrats and allow a critical U.S. alliance to falter. Or he can put pressure on elements of his base to repair a strategically important relationship with a country where he spent part of his childhood and with which he says he feels a special bond. How his Administration handles this issue will say a lot about the tenor of his foreign policy.
 

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