Thu, 03 Apr 2003

Iraq and Indonesia's 'fruitless' policies

Max Lane, Visiting Fellow, Center for Asia Pacific Social Transformation Studies (CAPSTRANS), University of Wollongong, Australia

Todung Mulya Lubis makes some sensible points in his interview with The Jakarta Post on March 31. For example, he is correct to question the usefulness of a boycott of American goods -- at least, at this point of time. The anti-war movement in the United States itself has not yet called for such a boycott. Furthermore, we have not yet reached the stage where a global movement develops with the general goal of defeating any idea that some in Washington have of a new U.S. global empire. If the U.S. continues to insist of acting unilaterally in policing the world, a general campaign against U.S. foreign policy may develop and then the issue of boycott might arise.

The task at hand now is that of ending a specific problem: the war in Iraq.

Mulya Lubis makes another correct assessment later in the interview. After suggesting that "if we want to continue the anti-war drive, the best thing we could do is push the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and members of the nonaligned countries to press the UN to take steps to stop the war." He accurately assesses: "This move will likely be fruitless anyhow." This defeatist attitude then leads him to concentrate on emphasizing post-war humanitarian efforts.

Mulya Lubis is correct is assessing Indonesia's current diplomatic efforts as likely to be fruitless. The U.S. knows this and therefore is not lobbying openly or making any sharp public criticisms of the Megawati government. The U.S. knows, or rather hopes that if the war can be concluded quickly all those currently stating an opposition to the war, will quickly move into the post-war framework. "What is done is done, let's make some humanitarian contribution".

There are many governments, including both Arab and ASEAN governments that are playing this game. In this respect, both Indonesia and Malaysia are in a similar category as that of Egypt. Indonesia, Malaysia and Egypt are all opponents or critics of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But all three countries sit by silently while U.S. war armadas sale through their territories. In Turkey at least, he issue of military bases are air space became a major issue of public debate.

The Indonesian government has stated publicly that the U.S. invasion is illegal and an act of aggression. Yet, it remains silent as U.S. war armadas sail happily through the Straits of Malacca, within sight of Indonesian fishermen and farmers. The outspoken Mahathir remains equally as silent. Of course, Indonesia and Malaysia have long agreed to the Straits of Malacca becoming an international waterway. But the Straits remain, ultimately, within Indonesian and Malaysian territory and the countries retain every right to state openly any objections that the Straits be used for actions which the two countries have openly branded as "illegal" and "aggression".

Significantly, there has been little press reporting on the fact the U.S. Kitty Hawk super carrier battle fleet passed through the Straits of Malacca on Feb. 16. The U.S. Constellation, and other super carrier, passed through in December. The U.S. Nimitz has either just passed through recently or is about to do so. The Nimitz left San Diego on the West Coast of the U.S. in early March. This means that most of the Indonesian people, who overwhelmingly oppose the U.S.-UK- Australian invasion, do not know that the invading fleets pass by their country while their government remains silent.

If Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur really wanted to put pressure on the U.S. and its war allies, then the could jointly issue a statement on behalf of their nations calling for a halt to war armadas using the Straits on the way to Iraq, or for any rotations back to bases in Japan, Guam or the U.S. West Coast. As a "good friend" of Indonesia, surely the U.S. government would accept such a request, wouldn't it?

It is also surprising that none of the large community and political organizations, including the parliamentary parties, have been silent about the use of the Straits. Perhaps, as with the Indonesian government, maintaining good relations with the U.S. government in the long term is more important to them that acting to stop the war in a way that will not be "fruitless".