From Paras Indonesia

Bush Visit: Wasting Time, Energy & Money

Roy Tupai

US President George W. Bush has come and gone from Indonesia in a widely opposed visit that lasted less than seven hours, involved no public appearances and wasted a lot of time, money and energy. Monday's visit is reported to have cost the government at least Rp6 billion ($660,000) - perhaps a conservative figure given that thousands of police and soldiers were deployed as part of a massive security operation to ensure that no suicide bombers, assassins, peaceful protesters or even friendly civilians could get anywhere near the president.

The improvident visit could have been avoided if Bush and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had found more time to talk when they met on Saturday at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam. Alternatively, Yudhoyono could have also avoided a lot of headaches and unpopularity if he had followed the example of ex-president Megawati Sukarnoputri, who met with Bush on the predominantly Hindu island of Bali during his first Indonesian visit back in 2003.

As for the many days of massive protests surrounding Bush's visit, such energy would have been better expended against more important domestic issues, such as the judiciary's deplorable decision last month to let former president Suharto's youngest son Hutomo 'Tommy' Mandala Putra out of jail early after serving less than five years in jail for ordering the murder of a judge and other offenses. Also, the protest groups should be out in force condemning Yudhoyono for his abject cowardice in failing to name and punish the senior military intelligence officers who orchestrated the 2004 murder of the country's top human rights activist, Munir. Likewise, attention should be paid to problems such as the deliberate lighting of forest fires to make way for commercial plantations and the failure of security forces to apprehend terrorist bomber Noordin Mohammad Top.

Bush is a much easier target, as more knives have been out for him since he belatedly hit damage control mode by dumping unpopular Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld after the Republican Party lost control of the Senate to the Democrat Party in this month's congressional elections. Although there were demonstrations against “US imperialism” no one in Jakarta was protesting against the complicity between Indonesia and the US in the recent conviction of seven alleged Papuan rebels for the 2002 murders of two Americans and an Indonesian near US mining giant Freeport MacMoRan's Grasberg gold and copper mine. Nevermind that the Indonesian military was initially believed to have ordered the killings after Freeport stopped paying protection money to senior officers.

Even though this month's widespread protests diverted public attention from local issues, Indonesians at least sent Bush a firm message that he is reviled because his aggressive foreign policy is detrimental to prospects for world peace. But Bush is no doubt accustomed to such hostility, which rolls off him like water off a duck's back. Cocooned in security from his arrival at East Jakarta's Halim Perdanakusumah military airbase to his meetings at the Bogor Palace, south of Jakarta, he was shielded from those calling him a dog and crying for his blood. Security cordons, road closures and the jamming of mobile phone signals were among the measures taken to protect Bush.

With all of the security, the visit proceeded peacefully. Terrorists who claim Bush is their number one enemy were no doubt lacking in courage and will seek softer targets, such as cafes and bars without security.

Demonstrations & Closures
Shortly before Bush's arrival, heavy rain began falling in Bogor at about 3.30pm but the thousands of demonstrators were not going anywhere. Security forces also stayed put, using their anti-riot shields as umbrellas. Only reporters rushed to find shelter from the downpour.

At one point a convoy of approximately 3,000 demonstrators from the Islam-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the Islamic Community Front easily passed through the outer police barricade at Bogor's Jalan Pajajaran but failed to penetrate the inner security ring. When the PKS demonstrators moved back, they were replaced by about 1,000 protesters from numerous associations of university students. The students also managed to get past the outer ring of security personnel but failed to breach the inner security ring and had to be content with making anti-Bush speeches. They displayed banners with slogans such as "Kill Bush the Terrorist", "Reject Bush's Visit", "Try Bush for Human Rights Violations and War Crimes" and "Reject Foreign Intervention". They also carried posters depicting Bush as various monkeys.

Bogor Police chief Senior Commissioner Sukrawardi Dahlan said he had been informed that a suicide bomber would try to infiltrate the protests, but National Police headquarters in Jakarta played down the warning. National Police chief General Sutanto has also claimed that a November 12 bomb blast at an outlet of US-based fast-food chain A&W in Kramat Jati Indah, East Jakarta, was unrelated to Bush's visit.

Shopkeepers in Bogor were not taking any risks. Many locked their doors and stood guard outside their stores, fearing the possibility of rioting and looting. Nearly all stores on Jalan Tajur, Jalan Ciawi and Jalan Pajajaran were closed, while barbed wire barricades were erected outside the Matahari Plaza and Hero supermarket. At one mini-market on Jalan Pajajaran, staff were lined up outside to deter potential rioters. "Our shop is indeed closed today, but we were told to come because of concern there may be mass action," said an employee named Rina. She said staff would be working in two shifts from 8am to 9pm to guard their workplace. Several other shopping centers and traditional markets were closed, while many public transport vehicles did not operate due to the road closures.

Ismail, a security guard at the Hero supermarket, said staff had been ordered to assist with security. "The supermarket is closed but delegations from each division have been asked to come to help with security until 9pm," he said.

Buskers grouped in the Indonesian Street Kids Fraternity (Persaudaraan Anak Jalanan Indonesia - Panji) staged a musical demonstration at Jakarta's Hotel Indonesia traffic circle on Monday afternoon, demanding compensation because they were banned from the streets of Bogor during Bush's visit. "The government's acceptance of Bush's visit has caused losses to the little people, especially to buskers, public passenger minivan drivers and stallholders. We demand compensation of Rp50,000 [$5.50] per person," said Panji coordinator Rudi Khoironi.

Upon leaving the traffic circle, the buskers were replaced by about 200 demonstrators from the Indonesian Islamic Students Movement (PMII). They handed out leaflets with slogans critical of Yudhoyono for inviting Bush, such as "SBY Governor USA" and "SBY = Supaya Bush Yakin [So That Bush is Certain]". At the nearby McDonald's outlet in the Sarinah shopping center, dozens of police were on guard for two days. Shoppers and lovers of tasteless junk food still thronged to the center and tables became scarce whenever the police trooped inside to eat free burgers.

After anti-Bush rallies virtually every day this month in Indonesia, a group of about 150 punks decided to get in on the act and staged their own protest in Jakarta on Monday. Sporting their trademark tight black clothing and mohawk hairstyles, the punks at 2.30pm began marching from the Taman Ismail Marzuki arts center in Central Jakarta to the US Embassy. They complained that Bush's visit was a waste of money. They said the US president was no more important than a common street sweeper, a laborer, a farmer or a fisherman. They carried Satanic effigies of Bush, chanted "Bush go to hell" and displayed banners that said "Go to hell Bush with your aid", "Bush, no way", "Welcome Bush, welcome to Judgment Day" and "You go to Bogor, I go to America".

Anti-Bush protests were held in at least 10 other cities on Monday. In the Central Java capital of Semarang, members of the Indonesian Muslim Students Action Front (KAMMI) enthusiastically demonstrated their anti-US sentiment by proudly sealing off a Dunkin Donuts store at the Simpang Lima Plaza on Jalan Pahlawan. Under the watchful eye of police, the students said the donut shop symbolized the powerful expansion of American capitalism and imperialism in Indonesia. Perhaps they could come up with something like 'Durian Donuts' to counter such insidious imperialism. The students said the government had sacrificed the interests of the Indonesian people by allowing Bush to visit because his foreign policy has hurt the international Muslim community. "What the SBY government has done in welcoming Bush's arrival does not match the Indonesian nation's suffering caused by US foreign policy," said protester Asep Imam Firdaus. After the protesters left, the Dunkin Donuts staff quickly reopened the store for business. Across town, students from the Islamic University of Sultan Agung held an anti-Bush rally at the provincial legislative assembly building, complaining that Bush's visit was harmful to the interests of Indonesia.

In the East Java capital of Surabaya, university students said Bush's visit was motivated by a desire to help US companies take over Indonesian oil and mining operations. Not the greatest of arguments, given that the mines and energy sector needs foreign investment to help boost state revenue and supply fuel for power for power plants.

Back in Bogor, Indonesian military and police helicopters buzzed over the city. Public transport operators angrily complained they had been ordered not to operate from 10am until 9pm. Meanwhile, Yudhoyono appeared to be nervous as he paced about the palace gardens awaiting Bush's arrival.

Ominous Storm & Sheltered Calm
After his visit to Vietnam, Bush was due to arrive in Indonesia at about 4pm Monday, but there was speculation he might be late because the Boeing 747 used as the Air Force One presidential aircraft was grounded in Ho Chi Minh City due to a mechanical problem. Bush ended up using a "back-up" Boeing 757 and arrived at Halim with a few minutes to spare.

Reporters gathered outside the airport received conflicting signals from Indonesian presidential security guards and US Secret Service guards. At 1.45pm, an Indonesian presidential security guard invited television news crews and photographers to enter the airbase to deposit their equipment, saying they would be allowed back in later to film Bush's arrival. But the journalists were then ordered to leave by a Secret Service officer. After a discussion between the two security forces, the US officer gave the reporters permission to enter. The journalists began moving forward, only to be immediately ordered to leave by a member of the Indonesian Presidential Security Detail (Paspampres). "All of you retreat!" he shouted.

The Paspampres officer then snapped at two Secret Service officers, telling them he did not accept orders from them and had not yet been authorized to allow reporters to enter. After further discussions and checks of their equipment, the reporters were eventually driven by truck to the airbase. A US Bell helicopter and an Indonesian F-16 fighter plane flew above to guard against possible air intrusions. Lined up at the airbase were four Chinook helicopters and two US Black Hawk helicopters.

The back-up Air Force One landed at Halim at 3.50pm. Bush was briefed by US Embassy officials at the airport's VVIP room and then flown in a Chinook helicopter to Bogor. Storm clouds rumbled, lightning flashed and the rain became heavier as he approached the city. Reports said that if the weather had been worse, there was a contingency plan that Bush would either be driven via the Jagorawi toll road to Bogor or that Yudhoyono would have gone to Halim. Several residents of Cibubur, Jakarta East, sat on their roofs to watch the helicopters fly over the toll road. Other Indonesians could view Bush's arrival on a special broadcast by state television network TVRI, which chose not to focus too much on the protests.

In Bogor, student protesters and some reporters cheered as thunder boomed and lightning flashed over Bogor Palace. They said it was the result of a curse that black magic practitioner Ki Gendeng Pamungkas had placed on Bush. Ki Gendeng had publicly cast the spell on November 16, mixing blood from the severed heads of a sheep, a crow and a snake to ensure that Bush would stay less than an hour in Indonesia and that disaster would befall any Indonesian officials meeting with him. "Hooray! This is Ki Gendeng's doing!" laughed the students and reporters as the thunder and lightning struck.

The appearance in the sky of the Chinook helicopter and an Indonesian Air Force helicopter sparked anger among student protesters from KAMMI, the Anti-Imperialist Front and the University of Indonesia's Student Executive Council. The students immediately began pushing against barricades and security forces had to struggle to hold them back without resorting to violence.

A helipad had been specially constructed at considerable expense at the Bogor Botanic Gardens for Bush's arrival, but it proved to have been a waste of money, as Bush's helicopter instead landed at Pajajaran Stadium at 4.25pm. Conservationists complained the useless helipad, which had been built by laborers working day and night, had damaged the beauty and ecosystem of the botanic gardens.

Security was extremely tight at Pajajaran Stadium, with US Secret Service agents reportedly assigning the positions of local military and police personnel. Upon exiting the Chinook chopper, Bush entered a Cadillac Escalade 4-wheel-drive sports utility vehicle. He and his entourage were then whisked to Bogor Palace in a heavily guarded motorcade. Scores of local residents braved the pouring rain and lined the Ciheuleut bridge and Jagorawi toll road bridge, hoping to get a close view of the passing motorcade, but dozens of heavily armed soldiers ordered the onlookers to move away. Bush usually travels in a limousine when on state visits. A limousine with an American and Indonesian flag was driven from Halim to Pajajaran Stadium, possibly as a decoy vehicle.

On arrival at the palace at 4.32pm, a guard stepped forward to open Bush's door, but the president - dressed in a navy blue suit and red tie - quickly opened the door himself and jumped out with a smile on his face, prompting the startled guard to hurriedly move aside. Bush then strode down a red carpet and enthusiastically greeted Yudhoyono and First Lady Ani Yudhoyono. Bush's wife Laura, dressed in an ivory trouser suit, then exited the vehicle in a more dignified manner and greeted her hosts.

Bush and Yudhoyono discussed bilateral cooperation in the fields of trade, counter-terrorism, alternative energy, information technology, intellectual property rights, education, health, combating illegal logging and natural disasters. They also talked about developments in the Middle East and North Korea. Bush's entourage included State Secretary Condoleezza Rice, National Security Advisor Steve Hadley, National Security Council acting senior director for Asian affairs Dennis Wilder, White House counselor Dan Bartlett, White House spokesman Tony Snow and US Ambassador B. Lynn Pascoe.

Yudhoyono was accompanied by Coordinating Minister for the Economy Boediono, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Social Affairs Widodo Adisutjipto, Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Aburizal Bakrie, Foreign Affairs Minister Hassan Wirajuda, Research and Technology Minister Kusmayanto Kadiman, State Secretary Yusril Ihza Mahendra, Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari and presidential spokesman Dino Patti Djalal.

It was the fifth meeting between the two presidents since their first encounter at the November 2004 APEC Summit in Santiago, Chile. They had also met during Yudhoyono's May 2005 visit to the US, then at the November 2005 APEC Summit in Busan, South Korea, and at last week's APEC Summit in Hanoi, Vietnam. The transcripts of the Bogor joint statement by Bush and Yudhoyono and their press conference are available online.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla was noticeably absent from the Bogor meeting. As a matter of protocol, the vice president usually pays at least a courtesy call on visiting heads of state. Observers speculated that Kalla had stayed away to avoid criticism and to boost his popularity should he decide to run for the presidency in 2009.

Meeting With Civic Leaders
At 5.35pm, Bush held a 45-minute meeting with nine civic leaders: Komaruddin 'Komar' Hidayat, who recently became rector of the Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University; UNESCO Indonesia director/Jakarta Labschool headmaster Arief Rahman; Indonesian Physics Olympiad Team chairman Yohanes Surya; Papua People's Council deputy chairman Frans Wozpakrik, Aceh Reconciliation Agency head/Ar-Raniry State Islamic Institute rector Yusni Sabi; Dharma Wanita (Women's Duty - an organization of civil servants' wives) chairwoman/Cipto Mangunkusumo Public Hospital health practitioner Nila Muluk; University of Indonesia economist Muhammad Ikhsan; Indonesian Institute of Sciences biotechnologist Adi Santoso; and tsunami warning system expert Ridwan Jamaluddin, who is head of marine survey technology at the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology.

Initially, the meeting was to have included several prominent Muslim leaders but they shunned the invitation. Leaders of the nation's two largest Muslim organizations, Hasyim Muzadi of Nahdlatul Ulama and Din Syamsuddin of Muhammadiyah, said it would be pointless to meet with Bush because he had broken a promise made during his 2003 visit to curb US aggression against certain Islamic countries.

Despite being snubbed, Bush diplomatically acted as if he was happy to meet with the various ring-ins. "I'm really looking forward to this discussion. I admire Indonesia's pluralism and its diversity," he gushed. "I admire your president's commitment to reform and strengthening democracy. It's very important for the people of America to understand that this vast country has got not only tremendous potential, but it's got a prominent role to play in the world, showing how it's possible for people to be able to live together in peace and harmony. And that's the lesson I want to hear from you all, as well. I'm looking forward to our discussion. I cannot thank you enough for taking time out of your busy day to come up here, share thoughts with us. I'm very interested in learning how our government can continue to work with your government as it so chooses, to help, particularly areas like education and health."

Nice rhetoric about the importance of democracy, but largely meaningless given that the US was for decades a happy partner of the Suharto dictatorship because military rule was good for American business interests. The US is unlikely to be overjoyed if Indonesia's democracy eventually leads to Islam-based parties winning power and then imposing Islamic law and taking over foreign energy and mining concessions. Indonesian democracy has already given rise to increasing religious intolerance. During the APEC summit, Bush gave mixed signals on his support for democracy. He was happy to meet with Thailand's military-installed Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont and merely asked the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to push for military-ruled Myanmar to restore democracy.

Two days before the discussion, Komaruddin Hidayat had said: "I only want to tell to Bush, don't play with guns and slander the Islamic world, as that will boomerang on America." After the meeting, Komar said that even though Bush responded to questions with predictable diplomacy, it was by no means a waste of time. "Yes, you know yourself that Bush is committed to democratization, open society, etc. But in practice his implementation of this is not so simple. There have to be more real discussions," he was quoted as saying by detikcom online news portal.

Komar said he used the meeting to directly convey calls for Bush to revise his foreign policy in the Middle East. He said the military approach in Iraq and Afghanistan had only served to further Islamic radicalism and extremism. He criticized Washington's "double standard on democracy" in relation to the Palestine-Israel conflict, saying the Bush administration's "unjust action" could damage the development of democracy in other countries.

He admitted that Bush's discussion with Yudhoyono would probably yield more results than the meeting with the civic leaders. "I did not have too many hopes. Actually, government to government cooperation generally tends to be more decisive," he said.

Komar urged Muslim groups to convey their aspirations through peaceful demonstrations, warning that any violent action would be counterproductive. "By conducting [protests] in an orderly manner, I'm sure the message will more be easily comprehended. And the US will more find it easy to digest the problem with a clear perspective, he said.

Behind the palace, a large tent was set up as a media center, with reporters able to view proceedings on television screens via closed circuit tv cameras. A dozen telephones and three fax machines had been installed, although journalists had to pay to use them. Organizers had provided 30 internet connections, 10 of which were connected to personal computers. Journalists with laptops hoping to use WiFi wireless internet access were informed the network signal would be jammed for security reasons. Although food was provided at the media center, some Muslim reporters complained about the absence of a prayer room. Actually, a mosque is located only 300 meters from the palace, but reporters had to undergo rigorous and time consuming security inspections when seeking to return to the media center tent. State electricity company PLN came to the rescue by setting up a makeshift praying area in its power supply tent, located just a few meters from the media center. Although Bush had expressed great admiration and respect for Indonesia's long history of religious tolerance and moderate Islamic thought, he did not attempt to visit any mosques.

First Lady
Laura Bush, accompanied by Ani Yudhoyono and the wives of several cabinet ministers, was entertained by elementary school children singing the songs 'Mother How Are You Today' and 'The More We Get Together'. She also witnessed a display of the Mobil Pintar (Smart Vehicle) mobile library/computer service, which is run by the Indonesian Ministers' Wives Club and aims to promote reading and computer literacy among children in poor neighborhoods without libraries. The project, which receives financial support from Singapore Technologies Telemedia, operates seven mobile learning facilities in and around Jakarta.

Mrs Bush was presented with a painting by some members of the children's choir and said she would have it displayed in one of her rooms.

The US last week signed an agreement to provide Indonesia with $55 million over two years to assist with anti-corruption and child immunization programs.

Departure & Snipers
After the meetings and a banquet, Bush, his entourage and their American guards left the palace at 9.55pm and proceeded in a heavily guarded convoy to Pajajaran Stadium, which was shrouded in darkness as all external lights had been switched off. Traveling in a Sikorsky VH-60N Black Hawk helicopter escorted by the four Chinooks, the president reached Halim by 10.20pm. Finance Minister Mari Elka Pangestu and Halim commander Air Commodore Amirullah Amin were there to farewell the president, who departed on Air Force One at 10.33pm, bound for Honolulu, Hawaii.

Back in Bogor, reporters were startled when five military snipers dressed in black descended from tall trees around Pajajaran immediately after Bush left. Local activities then started returning to normal as several roads were reopened by 10.30pm. Public passenger vehicles resumed services and the Baranangsiang Bus Terminal reopened. Several markets also reopened. Police and military personnel left their temporary guard posts and returned to their usual units.

Halim resumed normal activities at 11.30pm, with the main runways and landing areas being reopened to regular aircraft. For the past four days, aircraft had to operate from the southern part of the airbase, requiring passengers to be bussed to planes.

So Bush has gone and things are back to "normal". If the government can deploy 18,000 police officers to protect Bush, it should be able to devote similar police manpower to finding Munir's killers and Noordin Mohammad Top. The Bush administration would be delighted by the capture of Noordin but perhaps less concerned by justice for a murdered human rights activist, especially if that would upset the military. Good relations with the military are essential for good business, as Freeport has learned to its cost. As for good international relations, Bush may be learning his lesson too late that pre-emptive war and unilateralism don't win many friends.

By: Roy Tupai | Category: Politics
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