The development of strong, prosperous and democratic states in the Islamic world is now a vital U.S. interest. Accordingly, much planning has focused on the Middle East. Support for strengthening democracy in Indonesia, the country with the world's largest Muslim population, should also be a core U.S. objective.
Indonesia is holding its most ambitious parliamentary and presidential elections since the end of the Suharto era in 1998. Voters all over the archipelago have cast votes for representatives, and today they select their president. Thus far, independent observers and Indonesians have applauded this demonstration of a vibrant and fair democratic process, as well they should. But while open elections are an important step for Indonesia, there is much farther to go on the path to stable democratic government.
Democracies depend on more than elections: the rule of law, a dynamic civil society, minority rights and a market economy are key components. The challenge for Indonesia is accelerating reforms in these areas. In particular, corruption and an ineffective judicial system have left many Indonesians skeptical of post-Suharto democracy; they have also turned off some foreign investors.
There is, of course, a security dimension. This traditionally moderate Muslim nation is home to several violent fundamentalist groups, most notably the al Qaeda-affiliated Jemaah Islamiah, which has been tied to terrorist bombings in Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia, most recently outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta. Popular disaffection with government and poor economic conditions can leave the door open for terrorist groups adept at exploiting local grievances and hardships. In a nation of more than 17,000 islands, the danger is that a jihadist group could gain the kind of territorial foothold that enables terrorist indoctrination, training and planning.
The United States has been increasingly concerned with this threat. Since the October 2002 Bali bombings, counterterrorism, understandably, has been the focus of U.S. policy toward Indonesia. But our agenda in Indonesia can be broadened beyond sharing intelligence and making arrests. Simply put, the United States should accelerate efforts to support the long-term growth, stability and democracy that undermine the terrorists.
To begin, the United States can bolster its commitment to Indonesian education. President Bush put us on the right track with a pledge of $157 million over six years. Education initiatives counter those who teach hatred and brighten prospects for the 20 percent of Indonesian children who receive no schooling. Further assistance in areas such as teacher training, school supplies and educational exchange can help Indonesia develop alternatives to those who exploit gaps in education to promote jihadist indoctrination.
Vigorous public diplomacy is also needed in a country where distrust of the United States has become the norm. This should include an explanation of American policies and values that engages Indonesians in a dialogue rather than simply pushing a message through advertisements and brochures. Another necessary element is the kind of support for civil society that the United States has employed in so many countries -- including support for cultural centers, nongovernmental organizations, academia, the media and the private sector. This could improve bilateral relations while helping Indonesians develop the vitality of their own democracy.
The United States should also move toward greater cooperation with Indonesia's police and military. For the judicial system to improve, the capacity of Indonesia's police to enforce the law must be enhanced, and that can be aided by support from this and other countries. Similarly, ties with the Indonesian military will be necessary -- both operational support and education about the relationship between military and civil control. This is controversial; accountability and human rights should be part of the equation. But ultimately the United States and Indonesia will gain more from engagement than estrangement on these issues.
We are not seeking to impose an American agenda. As the elections demonstrate, the vast majority of Indonesians are willing to embrace political, judicial and economic reforms, although they are wary of the United States. Progress on reforms will lead to much-needed foreign investment in this resource-rich country, improving the standard of living for many Indonesians. Meanwhile, by helping Indonesia, the United States can help democracy gain a foothold in the world's largest Muslim country while undercutting efforts of terrorists.
There is great promise and potential peril in Indonesia: promise for a thriving democracy in an important Islamic country; peril arising from the regional erosion of state control that enables terrorism. A sustained and comprehensive U.S. policy of engagement and encouragement of democracy can help ensure that Indonesia's elections are part of a broader democratic success story -- one that someday may be looked back upon as a watershed for the Islamic world.
Lee Hamilton, a former chairman of the House Committee on International Relations, is president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. George P. Shultz was secretary of state from 1982 to 1989. The authors were co-chairs of the National Commission on U.S.-Indonesian Relations.