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American Diplomacy
Commentary and Analysis

January 1998

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Comment on Indonesia




We present here (in wide page format) two parallel comments on the current state of play between the United States and Indonesia:

  • on the left, one by a foreign affairs scholar, Theodore Friend,
  • and on the right (be sure to scroll to the right side of your screen), one by a former senior career diplomat, Ronald Palmer,
-- this in line with our aim to promote an ongoing intellectual exchange on issues in American diplomacy.
~ Ed.

Indonesia On Fire
Washington All Wet?

By Theodore Friend*

The United States and Indonesia, the third and fourth most populous countries in the world, barely know each other. They behave in ways mutually difficult to understand. Until now, their national gaps of perception and feeling, of policy and action, have not been especially hurtful to either, or to any other power. But sustained misunderstandings, notably from the American Congress, could lead to disastrous clumsiness in a future Indonesian crisis, or in a crisis more general to the Pacific Rim.

Before Sukarno fell in 1966, a common mortar of anti-communism held Indonesia and the USA together for a quarter century. Now, however, America, as winner of the Cold War, continues to waltz with itself in a trance of victory. Meanwhile, the Indonesian government persists in fighting internal subversion with Cold War labels. A muddy paste of anti-Marxism helps the government hold together twenty-seven provinces and hundreds of ethnic groups and to suppress its increasingly fractious urban populations.

Even while the Cold War was wearing itself out, Washington remained in a strong consultative position with Jakarta through membership on the Inter-Governmental Group on Indonesia (IGGI). And in those days, American military were still on personal terms with young Indonesian warrior- leaders through the International Military Education and Training program (IMET). But now, neither.

Continue reading Friend article, Part Two

Brief Comment
on U.S.-Indonesian Affairs

by Amb. Ronald D. Palmer**

Theodore Friend's moderate line (above) was initiated a few months ago by Ed Masters, President of the U.S.-Indonesia Society (e-mail <USINDO@aol.com>) in, I believe, a letter to the International Herald Tribune published August 29, 1997. Friend's article is nonetheless a sound approach to the question.

My own inclination, however, would be to expand on the Indonesia case as one among others where U.S. hubris or shortsightedness or even tunnel vision on human rights is causing us to concentrate on narrow policy objectives and to lose sight of our larger national foreign policy purposes. This loss of focus is reflected in the unthinking manner in which we use trade and other sanctions to seek to bring malefactors to their knees, metaphorically speaking.

"We are the United States," some of us say, in line with such sanctions-driven policies.. "If you offend our sensitivities, we who are very pure, are so powerful that we can stamp our foot three times, take away your economic/military/foreign assistance toys and send you off to the corner to stand abashed until we deem you fit to rejoin the rest of the children in the game we run by the rules we set."

"Soon," some of us continue, "we will require White House reports on the persecution of Christians (you can't trust those foreigner lovers in the State Department), and after that Congress will require semi-annual progress reports on the number of conversions and baptisms made by each U.S. diplomatic mission. Indeed, the concept of a 'mission' will take on sanctified and consecrated meaning."


Published under the auspices of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, 1528 Walnut Street, Suite 610, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19102-3684, November 1997.

*Theodore Friend is a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and at this writing was just back from a three-week trip to Indonesia. His books include The Blue-Eyed Enemy: Japan Against the West in Java and Luzon, 1942-1945 (Princeton University Press, 1988).


[Ambassador Palmer] *** Ronald Palmer was U.S. ambassador to Togo 1976-1978, to Malaysia 1981-1983, and to Mauritius 1986-1989. During his 32-year career in the Foreign Service, he also held appointment as deputy assistant secretary of State, Bureau of Personnel. Amb. Palmer now serves as professor of international relations at The George Washington University.


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