The President’s Trip to Asia
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GWEN IFILL: Now to assess the progress of the war on terror in Southeast Asia, we’re joined by: Zachary Abuza, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Simmons College– he recently authored the book “Militant Islam in Southeast Asia”; Endy Bayuni, deputy chief editor of the “Jakarta Post” in Indonesia- – he’s in the U.S. on a Nieman fellowship at Harvard University; and Jeffrey Winters, Associate Professor of Political Economy at Northwestern University — he specializes in Southeast Asia.
Zachary Abuza, we know that the president went on this trip with his major priority being about terrorism and worldwide, global terrorism. Is that also what’s on the priority list of the nations he visited?
ZACHARY ABUZA: Well, I think in all of these countries that he went through, it’s important to note that it’s a very important electoral year. And the war on terror is going to be a very important political issue in all these states. In the Philippines, his visit certainly is going to bolster President Arroyo.
Conversely here in Indonesia, I don’t think that it really is beneficial for Megawati Sukarnoputri. No one really wants to be tarred in Indonesia as being a supporter or a lackey of the Americans especially when so much resentment at the popular level is taking place — is being directed at American policies.
GWEN IFILL: Professor Winters, what is your take on that? Is there that much resentment and does it affect the world view about whether terrorism should be at the top of the list?
JEFFREY WINTERS: Sure, the resentment is very deep. I mean, prior to Bush’s arrival in Indonesia, the vice president referred to the president as the king of terrorists. A group of 32 leaders of quite moderate Muslim organizations called him a perpetrator of state terrorism and a criminal who is destroying other nations.
Mind you, this is coming from relatively moderate figures, so with Bush’s arrival in the region, he’s coming into a situation where the level of negativity is at unprecedentedly high levels. I mean, just to give you an example, the Pew Charitable Trust has been doing surveys in the region for many years. Three years ago, 75 percent of those surveyed in Indonesia had a positive view of the country. Today it’s dropped to 15 percent.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Bayuni, so what is the state — given the public opinion there — what is the state of play, I suppose, of the war on terror in Southeast Asia right now? We know that there have been arrests made. We know that there have been people who have been prosecuted for the Bali bombings and others. What is your sense?
ENDY BAYUNI: Well, as far as Indonesia is concerned, I think they have done everything that is expected of them. Like you say, they have made some arrests and they have also prosecuted and convicted some of the bombing suspects. Sure, they can do a lot more but, you know, these things take time.
And as far as Indonesia is concerned, they have done a lot that they expected to do but they also realize that the threat of terrorism is still there so we still need all the help and the cooperation that we can get from our friends in the region and also from the United States.
GWEN IFILL: Is that why perhaps that even though there are these under — these grumblings that we’ve heard the other two gentlemen speak of, that the president was still a welcomed guest in some respects?
ENDY BAYUNI: Well, in the East we are taught to welcome all guests and I think President Bush went with the intention of expressing his gratitude for Indonesia’s participation in the global war on terror. So he was welcome in that sense and also it was also an opportunity for some of the religious leaders to express their concerns about the other aspects or some of the aspects of the policies of the U.S. government.
GWEN IFILL: Professor Abuza, let’s talk about what some of those religious leaders had to say. The president had a meeting with these Muslim moderates as they were described, these clerics today or yesterday, depending on what time zone you’re in. They apparently lectured him. I think the term that Condi Rice used was that the president did a lot of listening as they told him about their complaints. What was the purpose of having that meeting?
ZACHARY ABUZA: Well, this is not a war that the Americans can win militarily or through intelligence. This is really a war within Islam. And we certainly need the support of moderate clerics in Indonesia or Malaysia or southern Philippines, around the Muslim world. It’s very difficult, though, when we go out and recruit these and ask these moderates to go out and speak to their communities, to speak to their constituencies and give them an alternative to the radical views, the Jihadi views that are being espoused by militants.
The problem is we go out and we expect them to support American policies when we go off and invade Iraq, which was so unpopular across Indonesia. It seems that even though we rely on these moderates to support us, we undermine them at every turn.
GWEN IFILL: So what is the value — I’ll continue with you, Professor Abuza, what is the value then of this trip? What is the value if indeed you’re telling me that a lot of the moderate leaders aren’t necessarily in President Bush’s corner is that a lot of the leaders of these countries are perhaps engaging in a little polite lip service, what is the gain and how important is the Southeast Asian terror war in the big picture that the president is trying to make?
ZACHARY ABUZA: Well, certainly getting the support of these moderates is important. We need to get an alternative out there from the Jihadists. The moderates that were speaking were not anti-American. I think they could be easily categorized as friends of America. They’re just trying to be — give us some helpful criticism that, where we are perhaps creating greater resentment across the Muslim world.
Southeast Asia is a very important corner. It’s gone from being a very marginal area in the war on terror to being one of the center points, central battlefields, if you will. The Bali attack was the most lethal attack after September 11. The Marriott bombing on the 5th of August this year had the potential to be much greater than it was. And we should expect that Southeast Asia will continue to be prime breeding grounds. I am very afraid that right now even though there have been some 200 arrests around the region, we are making them faster than we are arresting them.
GWEN IFILL: Professor Winters, I guess I’ll just ask that question: Are we making them faster than we are arresting them?
JEFFREY WINTERS: Well, that raises the question of what role the United States plays in all of this. One of the difficulties that the United States has in the region is a credibility problem. We are on the one hand known to be proponents of democracy, freedom, due process of law and so on. And this is taken very seriously in a region like Southeast Asia and among a population like Indonesia. And yet when it comes to the handling of people who have been arrested for terrorism, we have avoided due process of law.
In fact, we’ve trampled on those principles and the Indonesians are openly calling us hypocrites. At the same time also, we are turning to militaries and security forces in the region that have a proven record of human rights violations without anyone going to jail, anybody really being tried. Yet now we are once again turning to those same militaries, getting close to them as in the case of Indonesia — all in the claim that we need to stop terrorism. And the list goes on.
I mean, the problem we face is that we talk one thing, for example, cooperation — we want cooperation internationally in this war on terrorism, but we won’t cooperate with the Indonesians who have been asking for three months to see a man named Hambali who is one of the key architects of terrorism in the region. If an American were captured by another country, the United States would demand right away an opportunity to see its citizen, interview, perhaps interrogate. So we want cooperation but we don’t cooperate. We have a terrible problem in our policy.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Bayuni, I want to bring up another subject that’s happened this week. It’s been an interesting exchange of rhetoric on both sides. On the one hand we have an American general who has been accused of saying things which were interpreted as being anti-Muslim in support of his own Christian faith.
On the other hand we heard the president of Malaysia who is accused of saying things that were anti-Semitic in support of his own Muslim faith. It seems that that pretty much describes the kind of clash that we are going here as the United States attempts to seek friends for this war.
ENDY BAYUNI: Yes. There were times that the global war on terror launched by the United States carries some anti-Islamic overtones, not necessarily coming from the words — from the mouth of the president but from some of his staff. This creates concerns in Indonesia, and I guess also in Malaysia, that this war on terror could turn into a crusade against Islam. And I think this concern was actually relayed to President Bush by the various leaders during the meeting in Bali this morning.
GWEN IFILL: Is this a widespread belief or are these just extremists we’re talking about who believe that the war on terrorism is a war against Islam?
ENDY BAYUNI: Well, it’s a widespread concern even among the moderate Islamic leaders because we have heard statements that seem to support the notion that there’s an anti-Islam element in the — in some of the policies coming from Washington.
GWEN IFILL: Professor Abuza….
JEFFREY WINTERS: Could I?
GWEN IFILL: Go ahead.
JEFFREY WINTERS: Could I just add to that? We heard in the clip, in the joint statement between President Bush and Megawati once again a reference by President Bush to evil. He’s many times used the word evil doers. Evil is a religious term. And so on the one hand you can’t say this is not about a clash of religions, it’s not about some sort of clash between good and evil and then inject words like evil into the discussion.
If you say someone is evil, then there’s nothing more to talk about. They are just — it’s almost congenital. All you have to do is round them up, kill them. But if you start being a little bit more complex about it and not saying that … their actions may be evil, but it takes away the question, what are the motivations behind what’s going on? Until we get to motivations — and I think this is something Professor Abuza was saying — until we really start getting to the fundamental issues, we’re not going to be able to deal with this problem with the security approach or through public diplomacy and propaganda.
GWEN IFILL: So Professor Abuza, is the fundamental issue here, is it about Islamism, or is it about nationalism, what is the real clash in priority at work here?
ZACHARY ABUZA: Well, I think one thing that we’re seeing across Southeast Asia which was traditionally seen as the Islamic fringe is that the radicals around the region are really seeking to actively identify with the greater Islamic world and cast their jihad in the context of a global jihad. They believe that their religion is under direct attack by the Americans from southern Philippines or Indonesia all the way to Palestine. So there’s a much greater emphasis placed on trying to actively identify with the global Islamic cause.
GWEN IFILL: Professor Abuza and other gentlemen, thank you both very much.
ZACHARY ABUZA: Thank you.