INDONESIA: Commentators temper expectations on Obama

Amid enthusiasm for Barack Obama's election and its possible effect on U.S.-Indonesia relations, commentators advised more realistic outlooks

By Margaretta Soehendro
Managing Editor

Monday, November 10, 2008

Indonesians celebrated with much of the rest of the world on the election of Barack Hussein Obama as the United States of America's 44th president last Tuesday. Obama lived in Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, when he was a child from 1967 to 1971 with his mother, S. Ann Dunham, and Indonesian stepfather, Lolo Soetoro.

Indonesia hopes this connection to Obama, and as the world's most populous Muslim nation, will lead to better and greater relations with the United States. Rizal Sukma, deputy executive director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, in a commentary wrote, "For Indonesia, many of us expect and hope that under President Obama, the United States will upgrade Indonesia's place in its foreign policy priorities. Well -- that would be nice if that did happen. Yet, if it can restore its image in the world and return to its pre-Bush role and character of a benign superpower, then that would be good enough for Indonesia's interests."

Aleksius Jemadu, a professor of international politics at the Parahyangan School of International Relations UNPAR Bandung, also cautioned against expectations of stronger bilateral relations between Indonesia and the United States despite the "synergy of Obama's cultural openness and Indonesia's moderate brand of Islamic politics."

"We should not romanticize too much about Obama's emotional relationship with Indonesia. Obama's foreign policy will be more determined by a combination of his own vision about the future of his country and the contingencies emerging from its domestic problems," Jemadu wrote.

In listing the stances Obama made on the campaign trail, Meidyatama Suryodiningrat, a Jakarta Post writer, questioned how United States' policies would change under his presidency. In a commentary, Suryodiningrat wrote that Obama would discourage U.S. companies from moving operations overseas and would renegotiate various free trade agreements. She also said that on the Palestine-Israel issue, he would "not deviate from the traditional U.S. stance."

"To the discerning foreign observer the conclusion, for now, is that he is an American leader, not a global one," Suryodiningrat wrote.

Nonetheless, many Indonesians expressed hope in Obama's positive effect on the United States and the rest of the world. Wimar Witoelar, a political commentator, wrote in an opinion piece, "We will not make the mistake of claiming him for Indonesia. We are happy to have had some place in the upbringing of Barack Obama. It will be our collective pride to see him become an outstanding president of America and make it a better country, because what is good for America is good for the rest of the world."