Subject: Obama and Ties with RI

also Indonesian President Welcomes Obama

The Jakarta Post Saturday, November 8, 2008


Obama and Ties with RI

Aleksius Jemadu, Bandung

As many have predicted, Barack Obama has won the U.S. presidential election. His landslide victory is enthusiastically welcomed not only by his domestic supporters but the general public around the world. The fact that Obama spent his childhood years in Jakarta has created high hopes among Indonesians that his administration will strengthen the bilateral relationship between Indonesia and the United States.

The main argument of this writing is that we should not romanticize too much about Obama's emotional relationship with Indonesia. Obama's foreign policy will be more determined by a combination of his own vision about the future of his country and the contingencies emerging from its domestic problems.

It goes without saying that economic issues will dominate Obama's first years in the White House. The U.S. public and the world really want to see how the new president is going to implement his economic policies in order to restore the credibility of the U.S. financial market and revitalize its real economic sector.

Despite the urgency of the economic problems, Obama cannot neglect the need to reverse the United States' negative image -- not only among its European allies but also in the eyes of the international public.

The most important lesson the U.S. can learn from Bush's failure is that in this era of globalization, its leadership in tackling critical world issues should be made more participatory. Now that its economy has become the main victim of the fallacies of the so called "market-oriented capitalism", there is a need on the part of U.S. leaders to acknowledge the indispensability of other major powers such as China and Russia in solving acute world problems. Gone is the era of, "If you are not with me, I'll do it my own way".

Obama is believed to have a unique cultural background which should give him diplomatic shrewdness in winning the hearts and minds of those who became disappointed by Bush's hawkish policies. It is at this particular juncture that Obama's multicultural proclivities should meet the obsession of the Indonesian government under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to portray Indonesia as a leading representative of moderate Islam.

The synergy of Obama's cultural openness and Indonesia's moderate brand of Islamic politics may constitute a great contribution to the construction of more humane intercivilizational relationships.

Just because Obama has spent his childhood years in Indonesia is not a guarantee that he will be nice at all times to Indonesia. We must not forget the fact that all U.S. presidents from the Democratic Party have the tendency to spotlight human rights records of developing countries. When Bill Clinton was in the White House Indonesia was a vulnerable object of his criticisms over its widespread violations of human rights.

Although our human rights record today is improving, there are still some trouble spots that could affect ties between the two nations. First, over the last few years Indonesia has been strongly criticized by the U.S. government regarding its poor implementation of religious freedoms.

The powerlessness and indifference of Indonesian security authorities in preventing the destruction and forced closure of houses of worship of minority groups by certain radical Islamic groups remain a source of concern among U.S. policy makers. It is very likely that Obama's liberal administration will seek clarification from the Indonesian government about this unfortunate reality.

Second, regardless of the progress that has been achieved in the internal reform of the Indonesian military, the repressive measures against the Papuan activists who raised the Morning Star flag has been perceived as an excessive use of force by the United States. The Papuan activists are active in lobbying the U.S. legislators to pass laws that could put the Indonesian government in a difficult situation.

Last but not least, the liberal circles in the executive and legislative bodies of the U.S. are not yet satisfied with the fact that the Indonesian government has deliberately allowed the practice of impunity by rejecting international pressure to bring to justice all the generals who were accused of committing crimes against humanity in East Timor after the referendum in 1999.

We may then conclude that as far as the Indonesian government is concerned, Obama's victory should be seen from various perspectives. Let us hope that once he visits Indonesia his liberal credentials will not easily erase his beautiful memories of Jakarta.

The writer is professor of international politics at the Parahyangan School of International Relations UNPAR Bandung. He can be reached at


Indonesian President Welcomes Obama

JAKARTA, Nov 5 (AFP) -- Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono welcomed Barack Obama's election to the US presidency Wednesday, saying he hoped the change in leadership would help solve the global economic crisis.

"I want to congratulate Senator Obama for his success in being elected as US president. I also want to congratulate US citizens," he said in a speech broadcast on national radio.

"Indonesia hopes that the US will continue to play a role in bringing peace and security in the world and a fair global economy.

"In particular, Indonesia hopes the US can take concrete measures to settle the global economic crisis and the financial crisis in the United States."

Indonesia's share market and rupiah currency have been hard hit by the US-led turmoil in the world economy, which has forced foreign institutions to pull out of emerging markets.

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