George W. Bush’s late October visit to Indonesia was heavy on the superficial, upbeat sloganeering that characterizes his Administration’s explanations of U.S. foreign policy. For this trip, the line seemed to be “message: we don’t hate Muslims.” Bush explained that in his brief travels in Southeast Asia he wanted “to make sure that people who are suspicious of our country finally understand our motivation is pure.”
Given this stated goal of placating testy Islamic sensibilities, it’s ironic that Bush (or Karl Rove) chose to limit the three hours in Indonesia to a stopover on Bali, the one island in the archipelago that is overwhelmingly Hindu. But then in the rush to commemorate the anniversary of the 2002 Bali bombings which killed more than 200 people, mostly Australians, perhaps there just wasn’t enough time to take such details into consideration. As a senior White House official told the New York Times regarding Bush’s lack of insight into widespread Indonesian disgust for his foreign policy, “when you are moving at warp speed, there isn’t a lot of time to think about what you are hearing.”
Warp speed surely precluded seeing protestors’ banners, which read “hang Bush, he is a terrorist” along the road to the ocean front resort photo op. Bush apparently also didn’t have time for a briefing on Congressional support for “re-engagement” with the Indonesian military: in an interview with Indonesian TV before departing for his whirlwind tour of Asia, Bush claimed, “Congress has changed their attitude” about support for the Indonesian Armed Forces “because of the cooperation of the government on the killings of two U.S. citizens.”
This was news to Patsy Spier, a feisty Colorado resident who has been working virtually non-stop to keep military aid from flowing to Jakarta since surviving the August 2002 attack Bush referred to with characteristic brevity. Spier, who worked with her husband at an international school run by mining giant Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold, was driving on a road in West Papua controlled by the Indonesian military (TNI) when men firing at least three types of automatic weapons which are standard issue for the TNI opened fire, killing three teachers, one Indonesian and two (including Spier’s husband) from the U.S. The Sydney Morning Herald later reported that “United States intelligence agencies have intercepted messages between Indonesian army commanders indicating that they were involved” in the attack.
Since 1996, Freeport has paid the TNI $35 million, in part to “secure” West Papua against pro-independence fighters. Ed McWilliams, political counselor for the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta from 1996 to 1999 and now a human rights activist who works closely with the East Timor Action Network (www.etan.org) and is on the board of the Indonesia Human Rights Network, notes, “the Indonesian military has relied on and profited hugely from their relationship with Freeport. But TNI theft of heavy equipment and gold and copper concentrate grew to a level that suggested senior military involvement in the systematic larceny. This created major tensions with Freeport.”
Representatives Joel Hefley (R-CO) and Tom Tancredo (R-CO) recently sent a letter to all 100 members of the Senate detailing their reasons for successfully advancing an amendment to limit the officer training program IMET (International Military Education and Training) for Indonesia in the House version of the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. In it, they noted, “the two senior Indonesian police officers who uncovered evidence of the army’s involvement have been transferred to new posts, and the investigation has now been handed over to a joint military police team. Not surprisingly, the Indonesian military has exonerated itself. American investigative teams, including the FBI, have not been able to complete their investigations due mainly to the Indonesian military’s refusal to cooperate and its tampering of evidence. The evasions and obstructions of the Indonesian military are wholly unacceptable, and it is incumbent upon this Congress to see that a thorough investigation is conducted.”
As Ed McWilliams points out, “the attack that killed Patsy’s husband, another American and an Indonesian is unusual only insofar as its victims were foreigners. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the State Department’s annual country human rights reports have recorded decades of Indonesian military assaults against Papuans. During the spring and summer there was a military crackdown in Papua’s central highlands, where the military drove thousands of villagers into the jungle. Papuan clergy and human rights activists working to provide humanitarian assistance to victims of famine and to document extra-judicial killings and torture have routinely been targeted by the military. Government restrictions on access to the afflicted regions, have effectively limited coverage of the crackdownswhile we constantly read stories about the threat of fundamentalist terrorism in Indonesia, the reality of military terror is barely discussed.”
Nor has their been much coverage of the environmental and human devastation wreaked by Freeport and other Western corporations in Indonesia. As Bush breezed through Bali, the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) issued a press statement calling for an investigation of an October 9 landslide at Freeport’s Grasberg gold and copper mine that killed eight workers. Walhi charged Freeport with operating beyond the carrying capacity of the environment and pointed to the company’s complicity in the killings of “thousands” of others. The Indonesian weekly Tempo ran the story, quoting a native Papuan who pointed to the thousands of acres of land contaminated by Freeport tailings and lamented, “people who used to live off products from the rivers and forests now can no longer do so,” but the Western press was disinterested.
Relentless lobbying by the East Timor Action Network also led to inclusion of provisions limiting IMET in the Senate’s version of the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. “Many past Congressional conditions, including accountability for rights violations in East Timor and Indonesia and transparency in the military budget, have never been met,” said Karen Orenstein, the organization’s Washington coordinator. ” A massive military assault is now being perpetrated against the people of Aceh–replete with extra-judicial executions, torture, rape and displacement–utilizing U.S.-supplied weapons.”
George W. Bush told the Indonesian press that “it’s very important not to let a splinter group of murderers determine Indonesia’s (direction)… we do not want Indonesia determined by a small group of hate-filled people (sic).” Unfortunately, he was not referring to the coterie of generals who hold sway over President Megawati Sukarnoputri.
One of the most influential of those generals is chief security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who met with Deputy Secretary of Defense and former ambassador to Jakarta (under Ronald Reagan) Paul Wolfowitz in late September. Yudhoyono spelled out why he is a favorite of the Bush Administration while visiting New York, where he told an audience of institutional investors and representatives of large mining and energy companies that “my role is to create an environment that is more conducive to business. Indonesia must continue to foster tolerance, harmony, and security in its regions.”
In Aceh, the resource-rich region of Northern Sumatra where the military maintains a mutually beneficial relationship with ExxonMobil and has been waging a war on pro-independence guerrillas for more than two decades, that pursuit of “security” led to the recent extension of martial law. And though Bush conceded that the war there “ought to be solved through peaceful negotiations” he has said nothing about the high command in Aceh consisting of state killers who have not been forced to answer for crimes they oversaw during the 1999 destruction of East Timor.
Despite Wolfowitz’s claim that “exposure of Indonesian officers to U.S. [military personnel] has been a way to promote reform efforts in the military,” since the mass slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Indonesians that brought the former dictator Suharto to power in 1965-66, U.S. executive policy has always condoned military atrocities in the archipelago. As Ed McWilliams points out, “For over three decades, the U.S. and Indonesian militaries were extremely close and we saw no move to reformthe TNI’s worst abuses took place when we were most engaged.”
In Aceh the Washington influence took a perverse new twist this year as the TNI “embedded” reporters with its troops in imitation of the Bush Administration’s Iraq war tactic. The TNI also launched an “invasion” (troops were actually already present en masse in the region) of paratroopers jumping from U.S.-made C-130 transport planes for the benefit of conveniently placed news cameras. And in what could have been a nod to Fox News, Maj. Gen. Endang Suwarya, the military commanders in the region, announced, “I want all news published to contain the spirit of nationalism. Put the interests of the unitary state of Indonesia first.”
While Bush intoned, “Americans hold a deep respect for the Islamic faith, which is professed by a growing number of my own citizens,” few observers expect Indonesian public opinion to be swayed by his disingenuous lecture. Three years ago, 75% of those Indonesians surveyed by the Pew Charitable Trust looked favorably upon the U.S.; this year that figure dropped to 15%. And though Bush also claimed, “we know that Islam is fully compatible with liberty and tolerance and progress because we see the proof in your country and in our own,” it has been widely reported that Franklin Graham, who blessed Bush’s inauguration and quadrupled the number of missionaries in occupied Iraq, called Islam a “very evil, wicked religion.”
Further Christian right nonsense has been spouted by special forces veteran Lt. General William G. Boykin, recently named by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to a new position as deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence (where he will be in charge of tracking down Bin Laden, Hussein, Mullah Omar and other big name “evildoers”). Boykin explained that Islamists resent the U.S. “because we’re a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian and the enemy is a guy called Satan,” and bragged that he defeated a Muslim warlord in Somalia because “I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.” Rumsfeld later told reporters that “it doesn’t look like any rules were broken” by these statements.
In addition to popular disgust with the Iraq war (which Megawati called in an “act of aggression which is in contravention of international law”), most Indonesians are repelled by Bush’s lockstep support for rightist Israeli policies in occupied Palestine. As the Jakarta Post, a moderate paper read mostly by expatriates and local elites, editorialized, “how can the U.S. preach to the world about justice when it permits Israel’s efforts to subjugate the Palestinians by whatever means it deems fit to continue?”
After meeting with Islamic leaders in Bali (along with the last minute addition of Christian and Hindu figureheads, included after the country’s most popular TV Muslim preacher refused to attend), Bush told reporters on Air Force One that “they said the United States’ policy is tilted toward Israel, and I said our policy is tilted toward peace.”
But as the Jakarta Post wrote of Bush’s “reiteration of his stance on Islam and his high regard for Indonesia,” [what Indonesians] “want to see from the president is concrete action to back up what he says, not just lip service and empty statements.”
BEN TERRALL is a San Francisco-based writer and activist who co-edits the journal Indonesia Alert! (www.indonesiaalert.org); he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org