This is a newly-written and largely unedited piece. Just thought I would throw it out there. I really think that this is an important time for Indonesia and the United States, and that Bush’s visit here is important.
That said, I find myself appologizing a bit for focusing too much on the negative of Bush’s visit. While there are many peole obviously upset by the demonized image of the American president that has been created, the relationship between Indonesia and the United States is much more complex and so much more important that just pointing out how President Bush has been “wrong” during his presidency. If I have indeed engaged in “Bush Bashing,” I truly appologize, for that is not my intent and it is certainly not a productive way to work towards the kind of trans-national relations that I want to be a part of nuturing. -Ted
Were I a presidential foreign policy advisor for George W. Bush right now (and I am open to all invitations), I would definitely offer counsel as he plans to visit Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono during his tour of Asia next week. My experience living, working and studying in Malaysia, Thailand and now Indonesia tells me that this visit represents a turning point in the relationship of the United States and the rest of the world. I would be excited by my presidentâ€™s opportunity to make a huge positive impact on global affairs with this single event, and I would make sure he understood the fatal implications for my country that would result from his failure.
Whether the greater American consciousness has realized it yet or not, Indonesia is an extremely important country and is vital to the interests of America and its people. Recently elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, for example, Indonesia plays an ever more important role in global politics. This role is all the more significant because Indonesia is not only an energetic democracy and is dedicated to global diplomatic dialogue, it is also the most populous Islamic country in the world. Indonesia is a cultural and political crossroads and plays a mediator between the worlds of Asia, South East Asia, the West, and the Islamic world.
I would also stress to Mr. Bush the nature of Indonesiaâ€™s very young, vibrant and still imperfect democracy. Only recently has it emerged from over thirty years of authoritarian rule – if anyone can appreciate the dangers of drastic and almost instantaneous switch to democracy, it should be Americaâ€™s current administration. Indonesia is a moderate Islamic country, and democracy is well engrained in its culture.
Indonesiaâ€™s people have taken to their new democratic freedoms passionately. However, these freedoms have also opened the door to the fundamentalist movement that was suppressed under the previous regime; this movement is very vocal and seems to have gained strength in recent years. I am sure President Bush would already know that the policies of the United States are often opposed by this movement, and this opposition is seen as a rallying point that has helped Indonesiaâ€™s fundamentalist and sometimes radical Islamic movements gain strength. Indonesia is in a critical stage in its development, and the rise of extremism threatens its democracy, and it also threatens Americaâ€™s interests. President Bush must recognize that this Islamic movement in Indonesia, and indeed around the world, is in no small way related to the global scene in which the United States plays such a decisive role.
I would give him a headâ€™s up concerning the massive protests that will be waiting for him as he steps onto the helipad that has been constructed especially for him, where trees have been cut down in the middle of the National Park in Bogor, South of the capital city Jakarta. Demonstrations have already been waging for weeks, at the Parliament, in Bogor, and in front of the US Embassy. I would then tell him that he has no reason to worry, that the huge measures being taken in the name of security guarantees his safety (though its excessive nature is further enraging the protesters, who already see Bush as arrogant). The Islamic groups vowing â€œBush will not step foot onto our soilâ€ are only another example of why this visit is so important.
It may not be true at all, but many Muslims in Indonesia feel that the policies of the Bush administration are designed to be aggressive towards and do injury to all Islamic people around the world. While this administration may be fighting what it calls a â€œwar against terror,â€ many Indonesians see it as a â€œwar against Islam.â€ They are angry about the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and they regard Bushâ€™s actions and policies as one of the greatest threats to peace in the world, as having caused a great deal of suffering and destruction.
As his advisor, I would tell Mr. Bush that there could be no better opportunity to change the perception that Indonesia, and indeed the entire Muslim world, has of him and his administration. It is time for the president to show that he truly regrets any harm that his policies have done, and to show the world that those policies are changing.
I, in my hypothetical official capacity, would urge President Bush to consider the Indonesian tradition of the recently celebrated Idul Fitri holiday, when Muslims and non-Muslims alike seek and grant forgiveness. The American president should use this as an opportunity to say â€œMinal Aidzin wal Faizin,â€ â€œplease forgive me. I am sorry.â€ He should capitalize on the opportunity to heal damaged relations, and to gain sympathy from Muslims. But it must be a sincere apology, and it must be reinforced by real change in U.S. policy. The United States is indeed at a tipping point, with the struggle towards resolution of global problems and increasing prosperity on one side and certain decline on the other.