Obama Faces Opportunity, Obstacles in Indonesia

The president visits the country as it copes with recent disasters

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President Barack Obama is visiting Indonesia today as part of his whirlwind tour of Asia. His arrival comes only two weeks after an earthquake, volcanic explosion, and tsunami combined within a short period to overwhelm Indonesian officials and create tens of thousands of internally displaced persons. Obama, during his visit, is expected to touch on the recent disasters; his personal history in the country, where he spent several years as a child; U.S.-Indonesia economic and security ties; and perhaps Indonesia's exceptional successes in rolling back radical Islamist violence. Here's what experts and Indonesia-watchers have to say about the trip.

  • Why U.S.-Indonesia Ties Matter  Center for New American Security fellow Abraham Denmark, in comments circulated to reporters in a press release, wrote, "The visit to Indonesia is a historic opportunity to inaugurate a new era in America’s relationship with this important rising power. As a democratic country with a robust economy and the world’s largest Muslim population, Indonesia will be vital to promoting American interests in stability, prosperity, and improving America’s relations with the Muslim world. By signing a Comprehensive Partnership Agreement, President Obama can initiate a broad swath of efforts to upgrade cooperation on economics, security, promoting democracy, and addressing climate change."
  • Obama's 'Indonesia Opportunity'  Paul Wolfowitz, whose roles under GOP administrations included Deputy Secretary of Defense and Ambassador to Indonesia, writes in the Wall Street Journal that this is "an opportunity to cement a closer relationship with an ally in the fight against Islamist extremism." He chronicles the struggle within Indonesia between the country's pluralist, peaceful values and the attempts at "inroads" by groups such as al-Qaeda. "President Obama can use his prestige in Indonesia to express strong, unapologetic support for religious freedom. ... By expressing support for Indonesia's traditions of openness, tolerance and the rights of women, he can embolden Indonesians who fight for those values. He can also clear up some of the confusion about American military actions in Muslim countries. It isn't enough to declare that we aren't at war with Islam, as true as that is."
  • Obama Must Shore Up Sagging Influence in Indonesia  Sahil Mahtani and Kenneth Weisbrode write in the Daily Beast, "In Indonesia, as elsewhere in the Muslim world, Obama’s approval rating has been waning since his election two years ago, and there are reports that Obama may face demonstrations in Jakarta this coming week. The fact that he has twice delayed his trip to the country hasn’t helped his popularity there. Even a prominent Obama impersonator in Indonesia complains that business has slowed. ... Obama would do right to address any fears of irrelevance, which he—inadvertently—helped stoke by postponing his trip twice."
  • Obama Faces Indonesian Suspicion over Iraq, Afghan Wars  New York Magazine's Dan Amira writes, "In America, people are so suspicious of President Obama's alleged Muslim affinities that only 25 percent of them are certain that he doesn't sympathize 'with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world.' But in Indonesia — where Obama is heading for a visit (finally) after he wraps things up in India — 20,000 people rallied against Obama yesterday for being a Muslim oppressor. The man can't win."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.