March 28, 2005


Jakarta Tenure Offers Glimpse of Wolfowitz: Indonesians Cite Stance on Rights, Reform (Alan Sipress and Ellen Nakashima, March 28, 2005, Washington Post)

At the height of President Suharto's autocratic rule, then-U.S. Ambassador Paul D. Wolfowitz publicly offered advice in 1989 that could have landed domestic critics in prison, pointedly telling the dictator that his record of rapid economic growth was not enough.

"If greater openness is a key to economic success, I believe there is increasingly a need for openness in the political sphere as well," Wolfowitz said in May 1989 farewell remarks at Jakarta's American Cultural Center as he prepared to leave Indonesia after three years as ambassador.

This single, unexpected sentence stunned some members of Suharto's inner circle. Wolfowitz's colleagues and friends, both Indonesian and American, said the statement was in line with the U.S. envoy's quiet pursuit of political and economic reforms in Indonesia, and they say he will bring those same values to the World Bank if approved as its new president. [...]

Even Suharto acknowledged in a 1991 interview with Time magazine that Wolfowitz's remarks had "intensified and aggravated" the debate over openness in the country. Faced with popular protests, Suharto resigned in 1998 after 32 years in power.

Abdurrahman Wahid, who became president in 1999, was so taken by Wolfowitz's 1989 speech that he asked to be introduced. Wahid, a leader of Indonesia's largest Muslim organization and staunch proponent of political pluralism, said in an interview Friday that they became friends and he remains proud of that relationship today despite differences over the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Wahid was impeached by his political rivals in 2001 but remains highly influential, especially among moderate Muslims.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 28, 2005 6:08 AM
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