See also Wolfowitz, Indonesia and East Timor page

Subject: Wolfowitz Visited Indonesia For Closer Military Ties, Not Tsunami Relief

Wolfowitz Visited Indonesia For Closer Military Ties, Not Tsunami Relief

Commentary, Joseph Nevins, Pacific News Service, Jan 19, 2005

Editor's Note: Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has a long history of pushing for closer ties between the United States and the Indonesian military, even as Indonesian forces were committing massive human rights violations.


Paul Wolfowitz, the Bush administration's deputy defense secretary, has just visited tsunami-stricken Indonesia under a humanitarian guise. But the mission's real significance lies in his effort to strengthen U.S. ties with Indonesia's brutal military (TNI), a role that he has long played.

Wolfowitz served as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs from 1982 to 1986, and as ambassador to Indonesia during the Reagan administration's final three years. He was the primary architect of U.S. policy toward the resource-rich country in the 1980s. During his tenure, U.S. support for the TNI peaked despite, among many crimes, the military's illegal occupation of East Timor, which resulted in the deaths of over 200,000 people.

Since then -- through involvement in the corporate-funded U.S.-Indonesia Society and various positions in academia and the executive branch -- Wolfowitz has continued to exert influence on Washington's relations with Jakarta. Throughout, he has championed policies that undermine democracy and human rights in the sprawling archipelago, a country with the world's largest Muslim population.

Following the TNI's massacre of hundreds of peaceful pro-independence demonstrators in East Timor's capital in November 1991, for example, U.S. support for the TNI came under strong attack in Congress, eventually leading to some limits on military ties.

While a United Nations Human Rights Commission investigation characterized the massacre as "a planned military operation," Indonesia presented it as an unfortunate incident caused by a few rogue soldiers. To give weight to this lie, Jakarta tried and sentenced a few low-ranking military officers to prison terms of 18 months or less for disobeying orders, and relieved the two top commanders, sending them abroad for university study.

Wolfowitz later cited Jakarta's accountability charade as an example of Indonesia's many "achievements" over the previous several years in testimony to a congressional subcommittee in 1997. And despite a growing international consensus critical of Indonesia's occupation of East Timor, he argued against any talk in Washington of East Timorese independence, while calling for a renewal of U.S. military training of the TNI.

In his written statement to the subcommittee, Wolfowitz praised Indonesia's dictator, Suharto, who seized power in 1965-66 through a slaughter of hundreds of thousands. "Any balanced judgment" of the country's human rights situation, he opined, "needs to take account of the significant progress that Indonesia has already made." Much of the progress, he asserted, was due to Suharto's "strong and remarkable leadership."

In 1998, massive protests led Asia's longest-reigning dictator to step down. Wolfowitz quickly changed his tune, characterizing Suharto in an interview as someone who "without any question was fighting reform every step of the way." Yet, he continued to defend the Indonesian military as a force for good.

Even in early 1999, when it looked as if Indonesia might consider leaving East Timor, Wolfowitz argued against U.S. policies promoting such a scenario. Employing language long utilized by Jakarta, he predicted that if Indonesia were to withdraw, East Timor, due to tribal and clan-based tensions, would descend into civil war. Only the TNI had prevented such an outcome, according to Wolfowitz.

Several months later, East Timor overwhelmingly opted for independence in a U.N.-run ballot. In response, the TNI and its militia proxies killed many hundreds of civilians, while raping untold numbers of women and girls and destroying almost all the territory's buildings and infrastructure before finally pulling out.

The resulting public outrage led Congress to significantly weaken military ties with Jakarta -- a situation the Bush administration is eager to reverse. The tragedy in Indonesia -- particularly in the Aceh region, where the tsunami killed over 150,000 and a long-standing war for independence is occurring -- has provided the administration with an opportunity to re-establish military links.

In Jakarta on Jan. 16, Wolfowitz claimed that weak ties with the TNI exacerbate Indonesia's problems, and that the way to promote the TNI's efforts to make itself more professional and accountable is to increase U.S. military sales and training.

But there is no evidence that the TNI has changed or is willing to do so. Human rights groups report continuing widespread military atrocities -- especially in Aceh and West Papua. Meanwhile, Jakarta has not held any political or military personnel responsible for the myriad crimes committed in East Timor or elsewhere.

As before, Paul Wolfowitz's recipe for U.S.-Indonesia relations will not bring about democratic reform, but will only make Washington complicit in the TNI's war crimes and crimes against humanity.

PNS contributor Joseph Nevins is an assistant professor of geography at Vassar College. Cornell University Press will release his latest book, "A Not-So-Distant Horror: Mass Violence in East Timor," in May.

See also Wolfowitz, Indonesia and East Timor page

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