How the Iraq war would affect Indonesia

Posted by Admin on Tuesday, 18 March 2003 | Opini

The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Tue, 03/18/2003 9:06 AM

Sayidiman Suryohadiprojo, Former Governor, National Resilience Institute, (Lemhanas), Jakarta

War in Iraq seems to be inevitable now and it is only a matter of days, or even hours, before the U.S. military machine starts to roll. The Azores summit and, in particular, statements by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, which stressed the need for maintaining credibility, are clear and strong indications of the inevitability of war. The important question for us in Indonesia is how that war could affect us and our country.

The duration of the war and performance of the U.S. military will significantly determine how the war will affect the world, including Indonesia. The duration of the war includes military operations to defeat the Iraq military resistance but also the consolidation of this military success to achieve its political objectives.

With its military-technological superiority, the U.S. will be able to defeat Iraqi regular military resistance very quickly. That does not mean, however, that consolidation of the military success for political purposes will also be short. The U.S. has propagated that it would make the new Iraq an example for the whole Middle East in terms of democracy, peaceful attitude toward neighbors and good governance.

That political objective is very lofty but not easy to achieve considering the social, psychological and political conditions within the Iraqi nation and community. And although it is almost certain that military operations will be short, there is always a possibility that even a technologically weak army can make a drawn-out defense. It very much depends on the performance of U.S. military and political personnel to achieve that end as soon as possible.

In general, the influence of the war on the world, including Indonesia, will have three main consequences: economic, political-psychological and security. The longer the war and its consolidation aftermath, the more negatively it will affect the world. A few days ago this newspaper published a prediction by top world economists that a quick victory would cost the U.S. half a trillion dollars by 2010, while a long war could cost US$1.9 trillion for the next decade. They add however, that the bill does not assume a nightmare scenario.

A wounded U.S. economy would have bad consequences for other nations, even for China, which is demonstrating growth of more than 7 percent, let alone for Indonesia, which has not yet fully recovered from the economic crisis of 1997. Even now, before the war in Iraq, the Indonesian economy faces grave problems. Investments have been decreasing since 2001, which has caused unemployment to grow alarmingly.

It is reported that exports stagnated in 2002 and there was negative export growth during the first semester of 2003. Private consumption, which has been a strong factor for growth, is now also decreasing. If this weak economy has to bear the consequences of war in Iraq, including the troubled U.S. economy and a high probability of increased oil prices, we must assume that Indonesia will experience very difficult problems.

The political-psychological consequences of war in Iraq on Indonesia will be no less difficult for President Megawati Soekarnoputri and her government. Irrespective of whether the U.S. attack is based on a UN mandate or not, the reaction among the Indonesian people, Muslims in particular, will be very fierce. People cannot accept that the Iraqi people should become victims of a U.S.-led illegitimate and unjust war. People do not object that Saddam Hussein should go, but they cannot agree that this objective should be achieved by sacrificing the Iraqi people, who have already suffered so much since Saddam’s war against Iran (ironically supported by the U.S. and its weapons) and the first Gulf War in 1991.

People’s reaction could take the form of a strengthening of anti-Americanism that Indonesia could ill afford. Its economic dependency on the U.S. is a fact that cannot be changed within a short time. More dangerous is a strengthening of radicalization among younger Muslims. That would make it difficult for moderate Muslim leaders to control their organizations. It would also make it easier for them to be infiltrated by terrorist elements. It is not impossible that solidarity with the Iraqi people might take the form of retaliation against U.S. interests within Indonesia. Since Prime Minister John Howard has also shown support for a U.S. war against Iraq, Australian interests would not be free from danger either.

A combination of economic and psychological-political problems would further weaken security. This could take the form of increased terrorist attacks also targeting Indonesian government and non-Muslim facilities. In reaction, non-Muslim people, particularly outside Java, could take up arms, perhaps even with foreign support. Separatist moves in the East Indonesian region could aggravate.

In Java, worsening economic conditions could increase criminality, in quality as well as quantity. The police would face great difficulty in tackling all these security problems on Java and outside. The limited strength of the police could make it impossible for them to face all these troubles simultaneously, yet effectively.

The political climate would also darken because political parties are preparing for the 2004 general election. Fanatic members of each party would defend their party’s political targets and physical exchanges between competing parties could occur at any time. Party leaders, supported by sympathetic student organizations, who had been planning to topple Megawati before 2004, would have a better opportunity and a more suitable climate in which to achieve their aims. The Megawati government would be in a very weak position, as it would not be capable of creating a situation that was acceptable to the majority of the population. Ordinary people simply wish to be able to support their families and feel secure in their everyday lives.

The big question is how strong people’s dissatisfaction would be and whether they would be willing to accept that Megawati remain in power. On the other hand, how would Megawati and her ministers be able to mobilize support for their remaining time in office before the elections? Could she and her assistants convince people that a change before the elections would not satisfy the public’s aspirations, apart from the fact that it would also harm the democratic process?

All in all, it would be a very difficult time for Indonesia: How the situation will resolve itself is far from clear.

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