Monday, April 8, 2002
(Interview with Jay Singh, Brown Journal of World Affairs)
Q: Dr. Wolfowitz, I'm very glad to have your contribution to our issue on Indonesia.
Wolfowitz: To whom am I speaking?
Q: May name is Jay Singh. I'm with the Brown Journal of World Affairs. I'm going to start off with a general question.
Indonesia is the largest Muslim country, as you know. It's of great strategic importance to us but at the same time it seems vulnerable to unrest at this time. What can the United States do to better support democratization in civil society in Indonesia?
Wolfowitz: By the way, I want to compliment you on devoting an issue to the whole subject, which I gather is what you're doing.
Wolfowitz: Because in my view Indonesia is important not just because it's the largest Muslim population of any country in the world -- did you call it the largest Muslim country in the world?
Q: The Muslim country with the largest population, yes.
Wolfowitz: It's the country with the largest Muslim population, and I say it that way because a lot of Indonesians are very sensitive to calling it a Muslim country and that's a measure of, its real importance is that it's a country which is 90 percent Muslim but which has enormous respect and place for other religions and makes a point of not having an established state religion even though Islam is obviously the religion of the overwhelming majority of the country.
I think what makes Indonesia so important is not just its size, but that it represents a Muslim tradition that epitomizes tolerance, respect for women and a very open attitude to the world and it is in marked contrast to that view that the extremists who carried out the World Trade Center attack are trying to present as Muslim. So that goes to answer your question.
I think it's very important for the United States to encourage Indonesia's success and was made even more important by the collapse of the dictatorship four years ago and the transition to democracy which is now underway under probably about as difficult conditions as any country could face in terms of making a democratic transition. So I think we have a very big stake in their success. Obviously not as big as theirs but a big one. And it's important for us to help in whatever ways we can.
Q: I'll come to a question I was going to ask you later. One of my authors, Dr. Federspiel of Ohio State, he fondly recalled your luncheon sessions in Jakarta in your days as ambassador and he said you were quite good at fostering good relations with the Muslim community and opened up channels that weren't open before. But ambassadors following you haven't had the same, as he says, flare for seeing Islam as a particular problem or advantage of Indonesia, its moderate form of Islam.
Is there something you'd like to see by way of reaching out toward Indonesian Islam?
Wolfowitz: I'm in a funny position here because as you've noted I'm a former ambassador. If former ambassadors had commented on me when I was ambassador I wouldn't have been very happy.
In this particular case you're giving me an opportunity to say something that I've heard about our new ambassador Skip Boyce which is quite wonderful which is that he has been out and about and making contact with Muslim groups of every variety and I think it is making a very strong positive impression.
As a matter of fact I had occasion just today to meet with the head of the Mohamadia Movement, which is one of the two largest movements in Indonesia. He's here for a conference. I recall with some pleasure that time they persuaded me to give a talk to Mohamadia University in Jakarta, told me that I was the first foreign ambassador to address them, and then I learned that Ambassador Boyce has addressed them three times in the short time he's been there, so I'm glad to see that he's out and doing that.
I think something that is again a wonderful characteristic of Indonesians is that they really appreciate openness and willingness to listen and willingness to discuss, more so than some places where people don't want you to just discuss with them, they want you to agree with them, and if you don't agree with them you might as well stay home. In Indonesia you get enormous points just for coming and presenting your view and listening to other people's views.
Q: Jumping over to the war on terrorism now, cooperation has improved since the initial days following 11 September. I was wondering in what way has cooperation improved from Jakarta.
Wolfowitz: It's largely on the law enforcement front. Our FBI Director, Robert Mueller, was out there a few weeks ago for a regional conference and had some very positive things to say about the cooperation the FBI is getting from the Indonesians. I know of at least one case which I'm only allowed to refer to euphemistically but in which a very dangerous foreign individual who was using Indonesia as an operating location was arrested and deported at our request to his own country. I think that's an example of the kind of cooperation we welcome. And I think it's a sensitive subject in Indonesia because I think there's still a certain misunderstanding that if we say that there may be some bad actors in the country a lot of people take it as somehow an accusation against the whole country. Whereas we know there are bad actors in the United States, there are bad actors in Germany, there are bad actors all over the world, some 60 countries, and of course there are some in Indonesia as well. But the real point which can't be stressed often enough is that that's not our view of Indonesia. Our view of Indonesia is a place where the most positive sort of values are to be found and that's something we want to be sensitive to as we encourage the work on the law enforcement problem.
Q: Would the Administration consider Laskar Jihad a terrorist organization? Because that seems to be a very sensitive topic in Indonesia right now because its role in Ambon was quite disturbing for those of us who read about it over here.
Wolfowitz: It's role where?
Wolfowitz: And also I think in Sulawesi.
I think the simple answer to "is it a terrorist organization" is no. Is it an organization that has engaged in some disrupted activity I think the answer is yes. But I know there are some Indonesians who very much don't like that sort of activity but nevertheless feel they act more out of ignorance and out of reaction to the difficult economic social conditions in the country than out of a deep seated sort of malice.
I guess that's another way of saying I know Indonesian's opinions whom I respect a lot who think these people could be educated and persuaded to a different course of action.
That's the reason why it's very difficult for people operating from the distance we are to step in the middle of another country and make those kinds of judgments.
What I would say is I think it's very clear that the communal violence in Ambon and Sulawesi is a very harmful thing and that it's harm extends beyond Indonesia because it is the kind of thing that I think can contribute to chaos and disorder and just the kind of thing that extremists can exploit.
So we are quite clear that we'd like to work with both the Indonesian government and Indonesian NGOs who have good ideas about how to tamp down that violence.
Q: Would that be like referring to a kind of internal security force, a peacekeeping force?
Wolfowitz: That's a possibility. In fact they have, I think since these two Molino declarations the Indonesians I think have been doing more and they've been doing it, as far as I can tell, quite intelligently with their military to establish more secure conditions in Sulawesi. And it isn't just the military. Indeed I think -- It was encouraging to hear from Syafii Maarif today that the two largest Muslim organizations Muhammadiayah and NU were combining efforts with Christian groups to bring aid and assistance to those communities and to try to oppose violence.
Q: Jumping over to TNI, what kind of restrictions would the Pentagon like Congress to lift on restoring ties with TNI and along with that, what would you like to see out of the security dialogue coming up in late April?
Wolfowitz: Let me make clear first that there's no fundamental difference of view between us and the Congress on the need for military reform. We're working at the moment within the latitude that the legislation allows us to develop a direction with TNI so that we make maximum use of the latitude that's provided by the legislation.
It's not a secret that we're thinking about ideas and ways of possibly moving forward more quickly, but I'd emphasize two things. First of all, it's got to be more quickly, not just on interacting with their military but also there's got to be real movement on military reform because the military isn't going to be able to do the job it needs to do unless it develops a very different relationship to the civil population. And secondly, we're not going to do anything without close consultation with Congress.
So far there's been a lot of talk and a fair mount of thinking but I would say we're still in the exploratory phase and I would suspect that that meeting in Jakarta will generate some more ideas from both sides as to ways we might move forward.
Q: Is part of the problem with the Indonesian military, how significant is the problem that it raises most of its own budget, about 75 percent of its own budget? Is that something you think is a major problem that should be corrected?
Wolfowitz: Well you could almost put it the other way around. A major part of their problem is that they only get 25 percent of their funding from the budget. And I remember being told a year or so ago that Megawati when she was still Vice President in a meeting of the small cabinet observed that the problem in the Malukas was when they sent military forces to try to keep the peace and prevent violence between Christians and Muslims they would arrive there with only a fraction of what they needed to live on and the result was they ended up living off a village, which was either a Christian village or a Muslim village and they very quickly ceased to be peacekeepers and became the defenders of that particular village.
I thought it was a rather succinct way of describing some of the kind of problems you run into with an underfunded military. But having said that it's not, and this is a very big problem and one that in Indonesia's difficult economic circumstances does not have any simple solution.
I do think it's the kind of problem that if we could get back to a closer relationship with the Indonesian military we might be able to help them at least think about ways to address it.
You're right that it's a big problem. As I implied in my answer, you can view it from either end. It's not one that has a simple or quick solution.
Q: Also moving on to Aceh. The Administration in the meetings with Megawati soon after September 11th rejected separatist aspirations in Aceh, but it seems like the situation there keeps getting worse and the establishment of a separate military command for Aceh has increased the violence over there. How do you think the situation in Aceh can be improved?
Wolfowitz: I think on this one if you'll let me defer to our current ambassador who has to deal with that day-to-day, I think I'll avoid that question.
Q: This might be another one you want to avoid but I'm not sure. In post-Sharia law in Aceh, I was wondering if that will have a greater affect around the country, if radical groups will kind of see that as something they can aspire to for other parts of the country, radical Islamic groups.
Wolfowitz: Aceh has always been throughout the history of the modern Indonesian republic but also in many ways back through the centuries, has had a very unique identity and really is, Indonesia has many different parts that are different in many ways from one another. But Aceh really much more so and that's why in fact it has, I've forgotten my Indonesian on this one now, but it's I think a special area of which the only other one is Jakarta which was the old royal capital.
So I think all Indonesians understand that what may be appropriate in Aceh isn't necessarily appropriate anywhere else. What you put your finger on though is actually a larger problem. As the country decentralizes, which I think it has to do, there is a tendency for each individual area to want whatever is the best deal that some other province got with the central government. And how to manage all of that while holding the country together which I think is very important is a huge challenge. As I said earlier it's hard to imagine more difficult circumstances for a democratic transition. That's one of those circumstances.
Q: This is a question about the military trials, General Laronto recently testified in the trials of those accused of atrocities in East Timor. Many human rights groups don't think these trials are enough or that enough of the officers are on trial. What is the Pentagon's view of these trials?
Wolfowitz: I have a pretty clear view but I'd like to leave that one to our ambassador because it gets into details of the specific trial going on.
Q: Katherine Dalpino of Brookings in this issue writes that Jakarta must tighten controls in areas of horizontal conflict like Sulawesi and Ambon and [inaudible] and yet loosen the tight military grip on Aceh and West Papua to improve their situation. Is this the kind of formulation, idea you'd agree with?
Wolfowitz: I think it's a perceptive comment. I think it also illustrates a fundamental dilemma which I think is something that people who care about human rights need to think about also which is that there are situations like Sulawesi and Maluku where you need the capability to provide security if you're going to protect minority communities and prevent ethnic violence. I remember being so struck when I went to Indonesia as an election observer three years ago that in the Chinese communities of Jakarta which had been devastated just a year before by those horrible riots, the only institution they had any confidence in was the army. With all of its faults they viewed the army as the thing that might protect this ethnic minority from abuse. I'm not saying that -- The army is wonderful, but it illustrates the importance of security for human rights. On the other hand I think as I said talking about the earlier question, there has to be some considerable devolution of authority from the central government to the provinces and that you can't I think successfully run a country as diverse as Indonesia in a democratic fashion without that kind of decentralization. Doing the two at the same time was a big challenge.
Q: Last question. Indonesian Islam as we've talked about before is traditionally more moderate and very accepting, but are you concerned about a move towards radicalism amongst the populace? And if so, does the United States have to do more to win over hearts and minds in Indonesia?
Wolfowitz: I have a lot of confidence in mainstream Islam and Indonesia. If there's winning of hearts and minds to be done it's the mainstream Muslim movements who need to do it. Whether we can help is something that I think we always need to ask. It's a question I asked Syafii Maarif today and he said the best thing the United States can do is to provide educational opportunities for young Indonesians. I think also, I guess I would add that in general the more we can do to help the economy recover, implicitly that will always strengthen the hands of moderate reasonable people against extremists. There's no question that extremism thrives on misery. Indonesia's been through a lot in the last few years but they, for all Suharto's faults which were considerable he did help demonstrate that Indonesia I think is capable of real economic growth. if they can get back on that path and if we can help them do it I think it's probably the most important thing we could do.
I'd better run. Good luck with your issue. I'm glad you're doing it.
Q: Thanks for your time.
Wolfowitz: You're welcome. Bye bye.