Jakarta can help Bush find graceful exit from Iraq

The Jakarta Post, Opinion and Editorial - November 16, 2006

President Bush's Republican Party has just been punished for his incompetent foreign policy: The messy invasion and occupation of Iraq. While Americans are now demanding Bush change his course, it seems his administration is still struggling to come up with alternatives. Bush's visit to Indonesia, however, could provide him with such a strategy.

The mid-term election was nothing short of a referendum on the president. So bad was Bush's performance that a Democratic candidate needed no smart agenda to get elected. The Washington Post's columnist Eugene Robinson mockingly said candidates could win just by sending out a simple message: "Look, I'm not George W. Bush!"

According to the Weekly Standard, nearly four in 10 voters leaving the polls said their vote was cast against Bush. Sixteen percent of those who said they voted for Bush in 2004 voted for Democratic candidates. And the more telling number is that his approval rating was 42 percent in the exit polls, 10 points lower than on election day in 2004 and 24 points lower than in 2002.

The Gallup poll found three issues were ranked "extremely important" by the voters on Election Day: corruption (41 percent), terrorism (39 percent), and Iraq (36 percent). If we combine terrorism and Iraq into one category of foreign policy, the message is clear: foreign policy matters in the election. And Bush needs fresh ideas to make things right.

Unfortunately, neither the Democratic nor Republican parties have yet thought outside of the box. The options most often talked about are "staying the course" -- maintaining the troops or even doubling their numbers or "cutting and running" -- a total withdrawal. These options are not really much of a plan. "Staying the course" means more money and more Iraqi lives. "Cutting and running", on the other hand, will drag Iraq into a bloody civil war. The problem in those options is that they only see "America". They ignore a possible third party who could help solve the problem.

A few people do have a good idea beyond those options: "engagement". According to this option, the U.S. needs to talk to key players in the Middle East, particularly Iran. The majority of Iraq is Shiite and they have a close connection with Tehran. If America needs a solution, it has to involve Iran.

However, it is likely America will be unwilling to make such a move. First, Iran is an "enemy"; and a part of the Bush doctrine is not to "talk with your enemy". Second, the U.S. certainly knows that involving Iran would only give it more bargaining power over its nuclear project. Iran has already had a covert influence among Shiite Iraqis and America will never let it have a direct presence in the conflict.

Thus, how to implement an engagement-strategy while maintaining the power balance in the Middle East? How to involve Tehran without giving it too much power? I would argue that involving Indonesia as part of an engagement-strategy is an option Bush should consider while visiting Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono next week.

First, Indonesia's role will not change any power balance in the Middle East. Although it does not recognize Israel, Indonesia is a relatively neutral country without many interests in the area.

Second, Indonesia is arguably a friend of both conflicting parties, including Iran and America. Even Israel can accept the deployment of Indonesian troops in Lebanon, while complaining about those from Bangladesh and Malaysia. Last May, Indonesia hosted President Ahmadinejad and will shortly host President George W. Bush. This best indicates the unique position Indonesia can play.

Third, Indonesia is a Sunni country and acceptable to the Sunni faction in Iraq. Indonesia could also be a trustworthy broker when negotiating with a Shiite faction.

For Indonesia's part, there is good reason be involved. It is time for the country to show real concern about Iraq. Indonesians need to express their solidarity beyond the conventional condemnation and demonstrations. Nothing is wrong with people organizing rallies to show their solidarity to their Iraqi Muslim "brothers".

The role Indonesia can play could include talking with Iran and other key players, lobbying Islamic countries in the OIC, and sending peace-keeping troops under the UN mandate.

I understand though that Indonesia's role finally depends on Bush and Yudhoyono. Bush needs a fresh exit strategy and Yudhoyono, as he has shown on many occasions, wants to play an international role. Bush made a mistake invading Iraq and his party was punished for it. It is time, therefore, to end the mistakes and start working on the solutions.

Post a Comment

Lebih baru Lebih lama