JAKARTA The Indonesian defense minister warned the Bush administration on Tuesday that its approach to fighting terrorism was alienating Muslims and that it needed to be more sensitive to local governments. "In the application of security, including anti-terrorist laws, it's best that you leave the main responsibility of anti-terrorist measures to the local government in question," Juwono Sudarsono said at a news conference as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stood by his side. Sudarsono added: "It's important to us because, as the world's largest Muslim country, we are very aware of the perception, or misperception, that the United States is overbearing and overpresent and overwhelming in every sector of life in many nations and cultures." Rumsfeld arrived here Tuesday to advance Washington's relationship with the Indonesian military, which was re- established seven months ago.
The United States cut ties in 1999 following widespread charges that Indonesian soldiers committed abuses in East Timor. The United States asserts that it not only is helping to strengthen Indonesia's armed forces, but also is reinforcing the importance of respecting human rights. Rumsfeld said that the United States was re-establishing "fully normal relations" with the Indonesian military and that the process of seeing that relationship evolve and develop was under way. The defense secretary met with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono; Widodo Adisucipto, a security minister; and Sudarsono. Indonesia needs spare parts for the U.S.-made F-16 fighters that were grounded during the embargo that ended last year, Sudarsono said, among other things.
But first, the Indonesians dispensed some advice. An important lesson in the fight against terrorism, Sudarsono said, was the need to show some patience. Washington, he said, should not be so insistent on achieving immediate results at the expense of local sensitivities. "So I was telling the secretary just recently, just two minutes ago, that your powerful economy and your powerful military does lend to misperception and a sense of threat by many groups right across the world, not just in Indonesia," Sudarsono said at the news conference. His remarks prompted a response by Rumsfeld, who insisted he has been sensitive to other nations' concerns from the start. "I have never indicated to any country that they should do something that they were uncomfortable doing," he said.
The discussion over political perceptions has affected deliberations over one of the Bush administration's key efforts: the Proliferation Security Initiative that President George W. Bush announced in 2003. It calls for an international arrangement that would enable the United States and its allies to search cargo ships suspected of carrying missile components, equipment for making nuclear weapons, and caches of biological, chemical and nuclear arms. The aim is to keep weapons of mass destruction and their components out of the hands of terrorist groups and rogue states. But the government here is concerned about public opinion over military collaboration with Washington. A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry rejected the initiative as a threat to Indonesian sovereignty when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice raised it during a visit here in March. Sudarsono was more supportive.
But in comments that appeared to take his American visitors by surprise, he said the initiative required further study and suggested it could go forward if it was carefully defined and limited in scope. "Perhaps we can agree on a limited framework of cooperation on an ad hoc basis rather than a multilateral permanent structure," he said. The Pentagon says it wants to improve the Indonesian armed forces' abilities to carry out humanitarian and disaster relief operations, to improve their capability to conduct joint operations, and to help them secure the Malacca Strait and other waterways.
But public opinion polls have depicted a decline in support for the United States. One report - by the Congressional Research Service - said the percentage of Indonesians who have a favorable image of the United States fell to 15 percent in 2003, from 79 percent in 1999. "Some Indonesian analysts view the United States as focused on the 'search and destroy' aspects of the war on terror and feel that the United States has not focused sufficient attention to winning the hearts and minds aspect of the struggle," the report says.