W(R)i(gh)ting the World – USA and Indonesia

Anxiety about a constantly shifting political scene and a dreadfully pessimistic economy is hardly limited to Americans. This much was obvious to me, after a flurry of emails from friends in Indonesia, Malaysia, and even China.

In the past week, I have received emails first expressing deep interest in the American Presidential race, and later expressing deep anxiety about the state of the American economy. These are, in fact, very closely linked and indicate how closely linked we, as Americans, are to the rest of the world – this is something we too often forget.

Indonesians in particular have become increasingly interested in the upcoming elections in the United States. The autobiography of Barack Obama was recently translated to the Indonesian language, and the book has become a best seller. In Indonesia,  America’s image has been badly damaged over the past decade, and the US is too often seen as betraying its own ideals of inclusiveness and democracy that endeared it to Indonesians so much in the first place. Indonesians see the candidacy of Obama and Clinton as a return to the kind of politics that have enhanced faith in the democratic process in Indonesia, one of inclusiveness and human rights – Indonesia is perhaps the only true democracy in South East Asia. Both of these candidates are seen as not fitting neatly into status quo power groups in America, and people see them as having a real chance of reversing “the US’s Double Standard Foreign Policies” that have bred such discontent in Indonesia. A year ago, when Imam Cahyono and I reported from Jakarta on George W. Bush’s meeting with Indonesian President Yudyohono, the animosity towards the American presidency and the policies it represented permeated the air. A year later, however, the American presidential race seems to have captured the Indonesian imagination, however. Indonesians are paying attention to American politics with a sense of optimism, and that matters.

Another round of emails arrived from Jakarta, different people expressing the same concern: “I am worried with US recession today.” “Do you know why the crisis about market index in US has had a lot of impact on the Asian Market, Australian, Europe? what is the crisis about?”

More than anything, the interest in Indonesia about US affairs shows us how much what happens in America matters to the rest of the world. We also need to know that what happens in the rest of the world profoundly affects the United States – this is becoming more and more the case, as this unipolar moment inevitably passes and the US is more and more on equal footing with other countries – and transnational entities – in the global world.

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