Indonesia's steady return to the US embrace

In the USA's unique style of imperialism-by-proxy, military assistance programs play a major role. The US government creates tacit alliances with the ruling elites of other countries in order to maintain hegemony over the key sources of world power - resources and industry. For the last 60 years, the two social groups that the USA has targeted as potential clients in nearly every country are the economic elites (businessmen and large landowners) and the military.

Thru military assistance programs, the USA channels funds, weapons, and training to the militaries of countries that agree to follow the American foreign policy agenda and to suppress anti-American internal dissidents. Both sides benefit: the client military gets resources and the United States gets a semi-mercenary national armed forces that is both more capable because of American help and more loyal to American priorities because of the indoctrination it receives thru training programs.

The public explanation for these programs, made by officials and conveyed by the press, is that it will strengthen democratic elements in the military. The explanation is rarely questioned in the mainstream, but it's hard to even consider taking it seriously since the graduates of training programs have repeatedly gone on to long careers of massacre, torture, and authoritarianism, and since American weapons have endlessly been used to crush popular social movements thruout Latin America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere.

Today the USA announced that it would resume International Military Education and Training to Indonesia. IMET is one of the main conduits of patronage to American client militaries. The Bush administration, and before that the Clinton administration, had long pushed to resume IMET funding to the Indonesia military, or TNI.

Various presidents have rarely had trouble sending aid even to death-squad militaries, so the wonder is more that Congress ever managed to cut off IMET funding than that it is now being restored. Indonesia's rather embarrassing tendency to massacre large groups of people thruout the 1990s, when anticommunist pretexts had lost most of their persuasive power, accounts for the temporary (and only partial) restrictions on aid. The murder of several Americans by individuals likely conspiring with the TNI is the only thing that kept 9/11 from overcoming Congress's remaining scruples. (Comprehensive background on this incident and the situation in West Papua, where it happened, is available here. For the incredibly flimsy grounds on which the administration has exculpated the TNI, see here.)

The main ammunition of critics of the TNI is that it has served as the shock-troops of Javanese colonialism since independence. Java, the island at the center of Indonesia political and economic power, has been extending its control over the resource-rich outlying islands of Aceh, West Papua, East Timor, and others since independence. With massive amounts of American aid and after several times over receiving explicit green lights from the USA for particularly heinous crimes (rigging West Papua's self-determination plebiscite in 1969, invading and conquering East Timor in 1975), the TNI committed atrocity after atrocity from the time it took over the country in a 1965 bloodbath. By the 1990s Indonesia had made itself a key American ally in Asia and welcomed Western corporations to exploit its mineral wealth.

But the '90s were rocky for both the military and the patron-client relationship with the USA, as popular uprisings forced the TNI to relinquish control and Congress imposed limits on aid and training. But the TNI still wields extraordinary power in Indonesia and both Clinton and Bush were eager to reestablish close ties in order to contain China and preserve American hegemony over Southeast Asia. Under cover of the war on "terrorism", the USA has now clawed back much of the ground it lost in 1990s in Indonesia and elsewhere in the region.

Indonesia is an extremely important country geostrategically, as well as one of the world's worst human rights abusers. If China's power continues to rise, it will be a key battleground in the Sino-American contest for Southeast Asia. While nationalism is strong and deeply skeptical of the United States, the organized left is nonexistent, having been exterminated in the worst political pogrom history has ever seen when the military took over in 1965. Internal politics, still dominated by the dictatorship-era elite, are extremely complex. Indonesia deserves close watching.

No comments: