Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Obama to Indonesia?

Michale Fullilove argued in the pages of the New York Times earlier this week that the foreign policy destination the new president should embark to in the Islamic world should not be Egypt or Turkey, but Indonesia.

He argues:

"Choosing Indonesia would throw light on the diversity and richness of Islam, which is not, contrary to lingering perceptions, practiced solely by Arabs or only in the Middle East. The country, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, does a reasonable job of managing its considerable religious heterogeneity. Going there would help Mr. Obama to reframe the debate in the West about Islam and terrorism.

"An Indonesian audience would also make sense. Indonesians have been both victims and perpetrators of terrorist attacks, including the deadly Bali bombings. The government in Jakarta is an important partner in the effort against terrorism.

"Selecting Indonesia would demonstrate that Mr. Obama takes democracy seriously, given that Indonesia is a rowdy democracy — the third-largest in the world. It would show that President Bush’s misshapen democratization agenda has not turned his successor into an icy realist."

Not that I have a problem with a bit of cold realism--but there is also a strong realist argument to be made for going to Indonesia, as he notes: "It would show that he understands the shift of global power eastward, and telegraph that Washington was finally going to take the nation — the linchpin of Southeast Asia — seriously."

ASEAN has ratified its charter and is taking further steps to develop a regional identity. The greater Asian crescent--from Iran to the Eurasian plain to China and Japan and down to Australia--is going to be the focal point of global development. It seems to make sense for the new administration not to put all of its energy and effort into the repair of trans-Atlantic relations. (This is again why in some of my writings over at NI online I'm arguing for a division of labor among the foreign policy team).

Interesting to see whether Indonesia gets picked or not.

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