quote of the day


Freddie deBoer used to blog at lhote.blogspot.com, and may again someday. Now he blogs here.

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8 Responses

  1. Joseph FM says:

    “And America did not force this outcome on Indonesia or, for that matter, have anything to do with what happened. ened — Indonesians made their nation a democracy entirely on their own. ”

    This is misleading. America actually actively retarded the democratic development of Indonesia through our support of the Suharto regime, in the typical Cold War assumption that anyone who massacres Communists and pursues economic deregulation is a good ally. It’s notable that he wasn’t finally brought down until the 1990s.Report

    • Freddie in reply to Joseph FM says:

      Indeed. It’s noteworthy that Suharto is not routinely listed among the 20th century’s great villains, even though he was responsible for a horrifically brutal dictatorship. (Among other things, he murdered a third of the population of East Timor.)

      But, as a Clinton-era state department apparatchik said, he was “our kind of guy.”Report

  2. Roque Nuevo says:

    I have to write in to agree with Freddie, lest he think I’m here just to bug him. I also admire Indonesia’s political culture and deplore our black history of intervention there. Wasn’t Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno (?) the Quisling leader for the Japanese in WWII and responsible for enslaving his countrymen in their war efforts? Wasn’t he later a champion of third-world nationalism, etc etc.?

    Indonesia is a great exception in the Arab/Muslim world for its pluralism and tolerance. It’s notable that Islam arrived to Indonesia not by the famous Islamic Sword but through the peaceful efforts of Muslim traders. People in Indonesia accepted Islam because they wanted to not because they were conquered. Could this historical tidbit be a factor in its political culture today?

    Just to add a bit of info: the slaughter in East Timor is part of Kissenger’s legacy to our great nation and to Indonesia. Kissenger is still alive and kicking, by the way. His latest assignment reprises his favorite national security role: back-channel contact for the White House. Today he’s Obama’s back-channel to Putin/Russia. Just one more of the many parallels between Obama and Nixon.Report

    • Freddie in reply to Roque Nuevo says:

      Sukarno was indeed just another goon of an authoritarian, although he didn’t commit as many atrocities as Suharto did. As you say, his political power relied on a greatly exaggerated military career.

      I think the story of Indonesia, and the Year in particular, is that part of the failure in looking at foreign policy as a series of good/bad actors is understanding how fluid internal conflict is, and how many loyalties are a product of intra-national real politik. I don’t want to refight the old arguments about 1965. It is worth pointing out, however, that the Sukarno-Suharto power transfer was an intra-military affair, and really a reassertion of the military’s power and authority against the populist Communist movement. (And, of course, supported by Western nations disturbed by Sukarno’s penchant for nationalizing resources.) I’m not defending Communism. But the fact of the matter is that an awful lot of Indonesian Communists joined the party because it represented the only real alternative to military rule, and by extension the status quo. For hundreds of thousands of landless, poverty-stricken people, there wasn’t any real endorsement of Marxism beyond a belief in the capacity for change.Report

  3. Suharto is no angel, but we used to actually like him until he overstayed his welcome. Remember that he actually resigned due to popular protests – compare that to Burma or even Iran.

    Nuevo, you forgot that Japan was actually useful in kicking Netherlands out of Indonesia. They were our master for 350 years. Five years of Japanese occupation was brutal but we got our Independence after Japan’s surrender.Report

  4. Art Deco says:

    Islam as practiced in Indonesia is variegated but commonly lax and even syncretic.

    The evolution of Indonesian political forms and conflicts over the period from 1945 to 1967 would suggest that democratic institutions were non-viable given characteristics on the ground. Attributing their political problems to the United States is simply gratuitous. The Soeharto regime was extraordinarily cruel in East Timor and their are authorities who attribute the violence in the fifteen month period running from December 1965 to March 1967 to central government policy. Freedom House has on their site their reported index scores for all sovereign countries from 1973 to 2002 and IIRC, Indonesia’s scores tended to be subpar but unremarkable.

    In comparing Indonesia to various Arab countries you might ask some questions about the characteristics of the local labor force – do you have a mass of adult males dependent on their relatives (characteristic of Algeria), a bachelor herd of unmarriageable males (characteristics of loci where polygamy is common), intense revanchist sentiment (the West Bank and Gaza)?

    BTW, Morocco and Senegal have a long history of competitive electoral politics and a public life that has suffered only mild constraint and abuse from the central government, if that. Indonesia is not singular.Report