Up to the present, no one has sounded entirely enthusiastic about the upcoming visit by President George W. Bush to Indonesia. Even the government seems diplomatic at best, highlighting the possible benefits of the encounter and avoiding the many issues that could aggravate an already apprehensive public.
There has already been a steady stream of protests, skepticism and warnings from various contingencies within Indonesian, the most active of which has been a few of the Islamic organizations. Last Saturday there was a rally in front of the US Embassy in downtown Jakarta, which attracted entire families. Bogor, the site of Bushâ€™s meeting with the Indonesian president, SBY, saw another rally in protest of the visit. Two new helipads are being built especially for Bushâ€™s arrival, and Habib Abdurahman Assegaf, the leader of the â€œIndonesian Islamic Movementâ€ spoke in front of the ongoing construction. He promised that they â€œwill form a human barricade to stop Bush from stepping foot on our land.â€
According the Indonesian Presidential spokesperson, Dino Patgti Djalal, Bush and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono are going to focus on education and the threat of the notorious bird flu, which has claimed more victims in Indonesia than in any other country. Indonesia is hoping the US will cooperate in providing more Indonesian students with an opportunity to study in America, and the USA is hoping Bush can pressure Indonesia to take a harder stance on preventing a possible catastrophe.
While these are indeed important issues, I am surprised that this very rare opportunity for the two leaders to meet is meant to be so limited. With issues such as Indonesiaâ€™s seat on the United Nations Security Council next year, the newly reestablished military ties between the two countries, Indonesiaâ€™s deployment of troops to Lebanon, forest fires that are choking the world with their smoke, a new multi-multi billion dollar agreement between Indonesia and China, and many other issues, it strikes me as a bit of a squandered meeting.
The meeting is providing a rallying point and call to action for elements within Indonesia that may not agree with many of the actions of the United States in recent times, and is giving them an opportunity to promote their views. This event, if the leaders made an effort to make it so, could also serve to promote mutually beneficial relationships and the idea that the United States and Indonesia can both gain by working peacefully together â€“ without even stepping on ideological or religious toes. That will not be accomplished, however, simply by putting on a fancy event and laying down a red carpet in between the new helipad and the stage with microphones, in the midst of the thousands of security officers that are being organized to deal with the expected protests.