Indonesia's example

Thursday, November 11, 2010

THE OBAMA administration has focused much of its foreign policy on what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton likes to call the "three D's:" diplomacy, development and defense. A fourth D, democracy, is missing from that formula - and too often it has been absent from President Obama's strategy. So it has been encouraging to see the emphasis the president has placed on democratic countries and democratic values during his ongoing tour of Asia. In a region where the shadow and the example of autocratic China are formidable, Mr. Obama is visiting four free countries, and in his speeches he is making a strong case for why they are more likely to succeed in the long run.

On Wednesday in Indonesia, the president offered an important addendum to Ms. Clinton's slogan. "Development," he said, "is inseparable from the role of democracy. . . . Prosperity without freedom is just another form of poverty." He went on to explain why: "It takes a free press and an independent justice system to root out abuses and excess, and to insist on accountability. It takes open society and active citizens to reject inequality and injustice."

China lacks those forces, but Indonesia, which has spent the past decade building them, is also developing rapidly. It has done so as a majority-Muslim nation that embraces religious tolerance. "This is the foundation of Indonesia's example to the world, and this is why Indonesia will play such an important part in the 21st century," Mr. Obama said.

Part of the president's address was explicitly aimed at the Muslim world, and it reviewed his efforts "to begin to repair these relations." Curiously, the theme of democracy disappeared. He talked about "issues that have caused tensions for many years": "violent extremism," the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Middle East peace process. But having just extolled Indonesia's democracy, he made no mention of its absence in countries where extremism is strongest, such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Egypt. He recommitted himself to a Palestinian state without saying whether it should be a democracy.

Mr. Obama did, however, support the promotion of democracy and human rights in Asia. While "the nations of Southeast Asia must have the right to determine their own destiny," he said, "the people of Southeast Asia must have the right to determine their own destiny as well. . . . There's no reason why respect for human rights should stop at the border of any country." That is a good policy for Asia; it would also be a good policy for the Arab Middle East.

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