Indonesian power hours

President Obama’s diplomatic trip set the stage for a productive relationship.

Ian J Byrne

With the words “Pulang kampung nih,” or “IâÄôve come home,” President Barack Obama seemingly won back the hearts of Indonesians. ObamaâÄôs trip to Indonesia had been delayed twice, once due to the BP oil spill and once because it coincided with the passage of health care legislation. The cancellations and delays left Indonesians with two false starts and disillusioned with an American president they considered one of their own.

Obama made a short stop in Indonesia during his 10-day trip to Asia last week. Although he only spent a few hours in the country and departed two hours early because of a volcano eruption, Obama did the best he could with those few hours and worked to build a stronger Indonesia-U.S. relationship.

“We were very excited for him to visit Indonesia because he would help Indonesia be seen by the world,” said senior Asa Widiastomo, president of the Indonesia Student Association (PERMIAS) at the University of Minnesota. “If he didnâÄôt visit us I donâÄôt think our country would be in the newspapers.”

In his speech at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta, Obama said that he and Indonesian Prime Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono are committed to doubling both the number of American students studying in Indonesia and Indonesian students studying in the U.S.

According to Widiastomo, there are about 50 Indonesian students studying at the University. The UniversityâÄôs Learning Abroad Center does not have any Indonesia study abroad programs listed on its website.

It is shocking that the University âÄî a university with one of the largest international student populations in the country âÄî only has about 50 students from a country that, with a population of over 240 million, is the fourth most populated in the world. Where are the opportunities for University students to study in Indonesia?

Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world. ObamaâÄôs trip was seen as such a success that some wondered why his “Cairo speech” was not instead given in Jakarta.

Engaging with Indonesia gives the U.S. a chance to engage with Muslims governed by a democracy. The U.S. needs to shift away from its policy that is too Middle East-centric. There are millions of Muslims who live in Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia who we should be engaging as well.

Obama visited the Istiqlal Mosque, the largest mosque in Southeast Asia, during his short trip. Obama remarked in his speech that while the Istiqlal Mosque is a Muslim place of worship, a Christian architect designed it.

There was some grumbling in the media about the timing of ObamaâÄôs 10-day trip following the “midterm shellacking.” Before he left, the rumor had spread that his stay in India would cost $200 million a day. Glenn Beck asked on his show why the president just couldnâÄôt call world leaders in these tough economic times. To combat the idiotic rhetoric surrounding ObamaâÄôs trip, Charles Krauthammer pointed out in his Washington Post column this week that “Presidential visits are the highest form of diplomacy.”

Looking forward, I hope Indonesia and the U.S. foster a productive relationship that will benefit both countries. While Obama only spent a few hours in Indonesia, he surely left his mark. I asked a friend living in Indonesia for a translation of the seemingly common phrase “pulang kampung nih.” She responded knowingly: “YouâÄôre talking about Obama, right?”


Ian J Byrne welcomes comments
at [email protected].