If Hillary goes to Jakarta, can Barack be far behind?

February 18, 2009

Is U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Jakarta a hint that President Barack Obama will pick Indonesia as the first Muslim country he visits in his drive to improve U.S. relations with the Islamic world? There were lots of other suggestions when he first mentioned this back in December, including Egypt (the New York Times pick) and Morocco (judging by what might have been a write-in campaign on our comments page).

My tip at the time was either Indonesia or Turkey. In recent weeks, Turkey’s star has probably faded as its relations with Israel soured recently. Those strains came after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan angrily accused Israeli President Shimon Peres of “knowing very well how to kill” in Gaza during a debate at the World Economic Forum in Davos and then stormed off the stage.

(Photo: Hillary Clinton with Jakarta schoolgirls, 18 Feb 2009/Supri)

Clinton said all the right things today, like telling the country where Obama spent four years as a boy that it was proof that modernity and Islam can coexist. “As I travel around the world over the next years, I will be saying to people: if you want to know whether Islam, democracy, modernity and women’s rights can co-exist, go to Indonesia,” she said at a dinner with civil society activists. Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda reciprocated by telling her Indonesia shared the United States’ joy at Obama’s election and she should tell the U.S. president “we cannot wait too long” for a visit.

Obama spent four years in Indonesia after his American mother, Ann Dunham, married Indonesian Lolo Soetoro following the end of her marriage to Obama’s Kenyan father. He told President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono during a phone call after his election that he’d like to visit Indonesia again. It would help forge  greater cooperation between the two nations and give him a chance to try local food again including meatball soup, nasi goreng and rambutan, a local newspaper reported him as saying.

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) will meet in Singapore in November. It’s just a short flight from there to Jakarta.

(Photo: Obama image in Jakarta, 25 Oct 2008/Dadang Tri)
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If, as this article suggests, Turkey’s star has faded because it democratically elected Prime Minister had the audacity to tell it like it is to Shimon Peres, then I hope Turkey’s crescent fades alongside the star. The Turkish Prime Minister was rightly commended for saying what needs to be said.

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