A Template for the Crafting of Indonesian Foreign Policy

November 18, 2014

Jamil Maidan Flores: A Template for the Crafting of Indonesian Foreign Policy


Retno MarsudiMy impression is that even during the New Order era, there was never a lack of debate on foreign policy. In seminars, media and think tank people often expressed views that didn’t support those of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the ministry, diplomats brought competing ideas to the attention of their superiors.

The debate eventually rose to the level of the directors-general vying for the approval of the Foreign Mminister.

Worth a revisit is the crafting of a policy on Timor-Leste, when it was Indonesia’s 27th province. At a late stage of the process, there was a three-way debate on the issue of East Timor involving Nugroho Wisnumurti, who at the time was the country’s permanent representative to the UN in New York; Hassan Wirajuda, Indonesia’s then permanent representative to the UN in Geneva; and then foreign minister Alatas.

Each had an “intellectual constituency.” Nugroho spoke for all who took a legalistic approach to the issue of East Timor; Hassan advocated a more pragmatic approach, which he would later call the “policy approach”; while Alatas took the middle ground. After much discussion, Alatas assigned Hassan to draft the policy paper on East Timor.

Hassan then wrote a policy paper following a format he learned in graduate school. The first part consisted of the history of the issue — not a detailed one but certainly a comprehensive history that includes a consideration of the various sub-issues (human rights in East Timor, for example).

This was followed by an analysis of the current situation, the challenges and the opportunities and “trends” emanating from it. A trend is a series of probable events from the current situation to a future one, considering the impact of the regional and global environments. Out of this analysis and consideration of the trends, five policy options were developed.

The first option was essentially for the status quo. Had this been chosen, Indonesia would have simply insisted that East Timor remained as Indonesia’s 27th province, and that was it. The second option was for the early holding of a referendum on the political destiny of East Timor, and if through this referendum the people of East Timor chose to separate from Indonesia, the separation would be carried out in orderly fashion.

The third option was for wide-ranging autonomy to be granted to East Timor and after seven years, a referendum would be held in which the people of East Timor would decide whether to remain or to separate from Indonesia. Meanwhile, the Indonesian government would try to win the hearts and minds of the East Timorese so they’d vote to stay with Indonesia.

The fourth and fifth options were variations of the third. The option recommended was the third. The rest of the paper dwelled on how this option could be carried out successfully.

The third option, although initially adopted by the Indonesian government, was not fully carried out. In the midst of the Asian Crisis of the late 1990s, Suharto stepped down and his successor, B.J. Habibie, took the second option.

The point is that if a debate on foreign policy could take place under authoritarian rule, there should be more of it in a democratic Indonesia. During the transition to democracy, Hassan Wirajuda, who had become foreign minister, could finally expand the debate to include other stakeholders — members of the House of Representatives, the media, the academe, the youth, etc. — through “foreign policy breakfasts” and other forms of consultation.

The practice has since been discontinued, but I understand that the new foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, intends to revive it. That’s good news to foreign policy buffs in Indonesia. The more views brought into the debate, the greater will be the public support for the resulting policy. It will then be a people-driven foreign policy.

Jamil Maidan Flores is a Jakarta-based literary writer whose interests include philosophy and foreign policy. The views expressed here are his own.

Finger on the UMNO Pulse

November 17, 2014

COMMENT by Din Merican : Reading Jocelyn’s article allows me the opportunityNajib_Obama to add my observations on the coming UMNO General Assembly. I will try to speculate a little about Najib’s Amanat Presiden.

True, as Jocelyn says, Najib’s position in UMNO is secure. Not even the former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir and his loyalists in UMNO can unseat him at this point in time. Najib has done well to keep UMNO members under control, although that has come with a high price tag.

The fact that his popularity among Malaysians is at an all time low does not affect his hold on power in UMNO and the country. That makes him a smart politician aided by a group of loyalists, anyone of whom can succeed him when the time comes. Names like Hishamuddin and Zahid Hamidi have been mentioned as potential successors, if the incumbent Deputy President and Deputy Prime Minister decides to retire.

Coming to his Amanat Presiden 2014, I think he will be tough and uncompromising in his defence of Malay special rights and Islam.  He must as UMNO cannot deviate from its raison d’etre. But let us hope he will not overlook that he is also the Prime Minister for all Malaysians and must, therefore, tone down his rhetoric on Malay rights and UMNO’s defence of Islam.

His message should be a call for unity under a more enlightened and inclusive UMNO leadership. Neither the Malays nor Islam is under threat.There will, of course, be some goodies in store of UMNO members. More contracts and handouts, among other things.

With regard to the economy, he will likely crow about his achievements since his last speech before the UMNO General Assembly. A forecast real GDP growth of 5%+ is not something to be easily dismissed, given the less than optimistic outlook for the global economy, especially China and Europe and to some extent the United States.

Our growth will be domestic consumption driven, led by public expenditure. Najib will not talk about our mounting national debt and 1MDB borrowings. At the assembly, he cannot be a deliverer of bad news. He must rally the UMNO troops and sound upbeat about his economic policies which will remain Malay-bumiputra centric. After all, the UMNO general assembly is also fiesta time. And Najib must play to the gallery.

najib_razak_xi_jinpingOn foreign policy, he will have plenty to say. He has very good reasons to go to town on his achievements. Malaysia enjoys good relations with the United States, China and Europe. He is seen as a moderate and progressive Muslim leader. In ASEAN, he is well regarded. Our country will become a non-Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council in 2015.

In addition to that, Malaysia will assume the ASEAN Chair when it takes over from Myanmar next year. Both these roles give our country a very high profile in international affairs. Even his detractors will concede that Najib has done a good job on foreign policy.

Let us hope his domestic political plays and statements will not affect Malaysia’s image abroad. His speech will be listened to, analysed, and discussed at home and abroad. He has grown to be a regional leader with strong foreign policy credentials and must remain so.

Finger on the UMNO pulse

by Jocelyn Tan@www.the star.com.my (11-16-14)

The UMNO general assembly next week will have to take note of the growing restlessness among party members about UMNO’s direction and the way it is dealing with issues close to their heart.

IT has been quite a turnaround for Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein. Athishamuddin-hussein around this time last year, the Defence Minister was lying on a hospital bed, recovering from “chest pains”, that euphemism that public figures use when they get a heart attack.The year 2013 had not been good for him. He had come under severe criticism for his handling of the Sabah incursions, his image was down and there was even speculation that he would be removed from his Defence portfolio.

The effect of all that caused him to come in last among the three UMNO Vice-Presidents and he was almost beaten by newcomer and Kedah Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir.He had hit a low point in his career. But he became a grandfather shortly after that. His grandson is now a cute and chubby toddler while the new grandfather is looking fit and healthy. Hishammuddin smells better these days because he has stopped smoking, he eats fruit and biscuit for lunch and he works out.

A year is a long, long time in politics and the sun is shining again for Hishammuddin.  “His image has lifted following his role in two tragic disasters involving our national airline. He is probably one of our best known leaders overseas,” said publisher Juhaidi Yean Abdullah.

His mother’s death a few months ago was another rite de passage and that hehe-haha boyish style he used to be known for has disappeared, replaced by a more serious demeanour.  He has put a lot of effort into his role as chairman for the UMNO resolutions committee. He wants to bring greater meaning and result to the hundreds of resolutions that come in from UMNO branches and divisions every year ahead of the UMNO general assembly.

His committee has received a total of 755 resolutions from 191 UMNO divisions all over the country. These resolutions range from localised matters like calls for better roads to weighty stuff like defending Islam.

In previous years, the relevant resolutions were selected for debate at the assembly while the rest were usually acknowledged with a simple reply. This year, Hishammuddin has sifted through the resolutions and brought them before the relevant ministries for attention and action. His argument is that these resolutions reflect the needs, requests and aspirations of the party grassroots and must be acted upon. That was what the round-table meeting involving ministry officials on Wednesday was about.

“He is looking at the scenario beyond the general assembly. He wants the UMNO folk down there to know that issues which are of concern to them are being taken seriously by the party leadership. Taking action on views from the grassroots is a way of empowering them,” said Pasir Salak Youth chief Dr Faizal Tajuddin.

The man who had struggled to retain his Vice-President post is on a comeback and comparisons are being made with top Vice-President and Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

The charismatic Dr Ahmad Zahid was the man of the moment a year ago, celebrated as much for his God-given people skills as for his tough stance on organised crime. The moment has passed, and his profile has slipped somewhat. But it is to his credit that gangland violence has also gone down and several states have reported lower crime rates.

Last year’s UMNO assembly had been a sort of mixed feelings type of gathering. The rank and file were euphoric that they had successfully conducted a landmark party election without too many boo-boos. There was a celebratory mood as they ushered in the new batch of leaders.

Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin retained their posts uncontested, a sign of the party’s stability despite a bruising general election.  They could also see the second echelon taking shape in the form of Vice-Presidents Ahmad Zahid, Hishammuddin and Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal.

KJ2In particular, Khairy Jamaluddin’s spectacular second-term win as UMNO Youth chief means that he is the one to watch in the years ahead. Khairy has brought the wow-factor to his position as Youth and Sports Minister, and he is one of the most watched UMNO politicians among those outside of UMNO.

His opinions on issues have shown that he is a cut above the rest and, more recently, many thought that he handled the doping issue involving Malaysia’s No. 1 badminton star with great maturity.

UMNO is still struggling between the old and the new. It wants to hold on to its traditional core values as a Malay nationalist party but it is also under immense pressure to adapt to the changing political landscape.

At the same time, there was the painful fact that UMNO is no longer the political powerhouse that it used to be and they were still hurting over what they saw as the “Chinese betrayal”. The hurt is still there and they are uncertain about what the future holds for UMNO.

The general expectation is that issues like the Sedition Act, vernacular schools and the attacks against Islam and the Malay rulers will dominate the debates.  “Warning shots” have been fired in the run-up to the assembly, with some politicians claiming that Chinese schools are creating “two nations in one country” while another politician urged that all Malay-majority seats should be contested by UMNO.

The euphoria of last year has dissipated. In its place is a restlessness for measures that can prepare the party to face the next big battle.

There is the sense that party members are impatient for answers and solutions. They are tired of excuses and inaction, they are not going to be satisfied with sweet talk and feel-good stories. They want the leaders to get tough and address issues in a concrete way.

In that sense, the debates should not be over-controlled. There was one year prior to the general election when the debate guidelines were so strict that everyone sounded like robots reading from the same script.

Frank views and reasonable criticism should be welcomed to help the leadership keep the finger on the pulse and also for delegates to let off steam.

The party has not moved forward very much since the last general election. The inability on the part of Barisan Nasional to present itself as the alternative in Selangor even as Pakatan Rakyat was fighting like crazy over the Menteri Besar post was testimony to that.

UMNO members were also incredulous that in Terengganu, a defiant Menteri Besar who was not ready to go, had arm-twisted the party and almost brought down the state government. It was so old politics.

The bright point was the UMNO win in the Pengkalan Kubor by-election. That was a real victory – a much bigger winning majority despite a lower voter turnout. The political fatigue seen everywhere is not only because of too much politicking over everything but also because people are disillusioned that the promise of new politics has not materialised.

“The PM’s political transformation is in danger of becoming a mere slogan. UMNO leaders need to put more beef into the transformation agenda or else it will become like Islam Hadhari. No one talks about that anymore,” said political analyst Dr Azmi Omar.

UMNO people are still adjusting to Najib’s political style. One of their grouses is that he is “too quiet”. They say it is important that he makes known the government’s stand and opinion on an issue so that UMNO politicians down the line know how to respond on their own part. It is also a form of taking the lead and shaping public opinion on issues.

Shortly after Najib took over as Prime Minister, Pakatan leadersMahathir Mohamad claimed that he wanted to bring back what they called “Maha­thirism”, whatever that meant. They insisted that Najib’s cordial relations with Dr Mahathir meant he was taking orders from the former Premier.

It was an idiotic story, yet so many people swallowed it. The fact that Dr Mahathir has withdrawn his support for Najib for not doing what the elder man thinks is the right thing, says it all. Ties between the two men are rather choppy at the moment. Dr Mahathir has openly criticised Najib but he still loves UMNO and wants the party to survive and recover its former glory.

It has been a challenging year for Najib who is now into his fifth year as UMNO president and Prime Minister. But despite everything, said Juhaidi, Najib’s position in Umno is solid, more so than most UMNO presidents in their fifth year on the job.

“Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was already shaky in his first term while Dr Mahathir had fallen out bigtime with his deputy Tun Musa Hitam. Tun Hussein Onn lasted only a term because of heart problems while his predecessor Tun Abdul Razak Hussein’s health problems took his life in his sixth-year in office,” said Juhaidi.

Only Tunku Abdul Rahman could declare that he was the “happiest prime minister in the world” but the happiness did not last. Najib, said Juhaidi, has won the general election and the UMNO election. “Internally, I don’t see any challengers to his leadership. The UMNO  general assembly will not be like what happened at the PAS muktamar where the guns were pointed inwards. The UMNO guns will be pointing outwards,” said Juhaidi.

Human Rights and Diplomacy

November 14, 2014

Human Rights and Diplomacy

by I.A. Rehman


A THREE-DAY discussion on planning foreign policy decisions from a human rights perspective revealed that this important subject has been neglected in Pakistan by state and civil society alike.

The Third World has unhappy memories of the use of human rights as a weapon in big-power conflicts. However, the discussion organised in Jakarta over the weekend by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development brought out possibilities of promoting peace, justice and good governance in the world, especially in the global south, by harmonising foreign policy with human rights.

The objective of the workshop was to enhance the capacity of civil society organisations to monitor the desired nexus between diplomacy and human rights. In order to ascertain whether a state was paying due attention to human rights as a determinant of its foreign policy decisions, the participants from Asian countries were offered a set of indicators. Let us see how Pakistan responds to these indicators.

The Constitution’s silence on external ties limits the scrutiny of foreign policy.

The first question was whether there had been any engagement between the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Mofa) and NGOs. If any engagement had taken place, was it regular or sporadic, broad or restricted to certain groups only? A truthful answer might be embarrassing for both the Mofa and the NGOs as the former is one branch of the executive that keeps civil society organisations and the people at large at an arm’s length.

The next question was about the parliament’s ability to hold the government accountable for its foreign policy through standing committees and briefing of MPs. Now we do have standing committees but their ability to hold the executive accountable for Mofa’s decisions and its attitude to human rights is debatable, to put it mildly. The heads of these bodies may consider the necessity of providing positive answers.

Another question related to the judiciary’s intervention on foreign policy issues. A safe answer would be that the Constitution does not take notice of foreign policy at all and so far the judiciary has avoided taking the government to task for its foreign policy bloomers.

One was also asked as to how the foreign service in Pakistan was structured, how much of governance reform had taken place and how much capacity the foreign affairs’ ministry had in terms of human and financial resources.

All one knows is that recruitment to the foreign service is done through competitive examination for the civil services and to qualify for senior positions the foreign service officers have to undergo some training at the National School of Public Policy. There have been reports about a foreign service academy but little is known about its accomplishments.

As for reforms, ambassadors have been harangued now and then by the top man in authority, and quite a few stories have been going round about Ziaul Haq’s stamina for sitting through such sessions and taking copious notes, but one doubts if any reform of the foreign service has ever been attempted or that a link between human rights and diplomacy has been discussed.

The issue certainly deserves to be examined by all concerned. There must be some clear objectives, besides paying homage to aid-givers and keeping faith with the ‘good’ Muslim states, that Pakistan’s diplomats should respect.

An interesting question was: “To what extent do national security and defence legislation, bylaws and motivations regulate public participation in foreign policy and free movement of people?” What a query. Who does not know that all actions and thoughts of a Pakistani citizen, intentional or unintended, are regulated by national security myths of the establishment?

The extent of media interest in foreign policy and its effect on human rights was also discussed. The media do often question the government on its foreign policy choices but rare must be the occasion when it has assessed foreign policy options from a human rights perspective. The issue certainly deserves the attention of media associations.

The final question was whether one saw a link between the government’s positions on thematic issues internationally and domestic conditions. The themes specifically mentioned included freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association.

An answer to this question was available in the record of Pakistan’s voting on a recent resolution in the Human Rights Council on the freedom of peaceful protest. Pakistan joined China, India and Saudi Arabia in trying to dilute the resolution through a series of amendments.

The first amendment called for a state’s right to regulate the freedom of peaceful protest under national legislation: the ground in the second amendment was threat to national security; and the third amendment sought to make the organisers of protest responsible for the consequences. Pakistan was also said to have argued that no protest that affected the glory of Islam could be allowed.

That all these amendments were rejected by the council should have caused considerable embarrassment to the people if the government had fulfilled its obligation to inform them of what it says in Geneva or New York. This is a serious issue and civil society organisations must urge the government to respect transparency and if this demand is not heeded they should start informing the citizens of their government’s voting record at international forums.

All institutions are handicapped in their task of scrutinising foreign policy decisions by the Constitution’s silence on Pakistan’s external relations. The point will become clearer if we study Article 4 of the Brazilian constitution, which says: “The international relations of the Federative Republic of Brazil are governed by the following principles; i) national independence; ii) prevalence of human rights; iii) self-determination of the Peoples; iv) non-intervention; v) equality among the states; vi) defence of peace; vii) peaceful settlement of conflicts; viii) repudiation of terrorism and racism; ix) cooperation among peoples for the progress of mankind; and x) granting of political asylum”.

Official spokespersons are likely to assert that Pakistan’s foreign policy is in fact based on the principles quoted above. Such statements do not have the force of a constitutional commitment that would make deviations justifiable. There is indeed much need to break with retrogressive forces and for strengthening respect for human rights through diplomacy.

Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2014

25th Anniversary of The Fall of the Berlin Wall

November 10, 2014

25th Anniversary of The Fall of the Berlin Wall

by Joseph A. Palermo@www.huffingtonpost.com


The Berlin Wall, 1989Many historians trace the seeds of the momentous events of November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, as being planted back in August 1975 when 35 nations, including the United States, unanimously approved the Helsinki Accords. Helsinki’s “Final Act” recognized the sovereignty of East Germany and other Soviet satellites and banned any “armed intervention or threat of such intervention against another participating State.” In effect, the Helsinki Accords were an ironclad assurance that neither NATO nor the U.S. would take military action against the Warsaw Pact. It greatly reduced Soviet paranoia that the West might someday attempt to reunify the country by force of arms.

An unexpected consequence of Helsinki was that its seemingly half-hearted and ineffectual safeguards for human rights spawned the “Helsinki Rights” movement. Over the course of the next five or 10 years, the Eastern bloc countries, as well as the Soviet Union, faced an explosion of grassroots clubs, community groups, and individual activists, all demanding that their government honor the human rights pledges laid out in the Helsinki Accords. The organization, “Helsinki Watch,” emerged with the express purpose of monitoring and publicizing abuses in signatory states.

The Berlin Wall had its origins in an attempt to stop people from fleeing East Berlin in search of political freedom and a chance for a better life in the West. Once an East German citizen made it into West Berlin he or she could apply for asylum, and many of those who defected were educated professionals, which caused a “brain drain.” By 1961, the crisis became so acute that it prompted Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, along with his East German allies, to order the Berlin Wall to be built as a means of stemming the tide.

The edifice itself was an architectural monstrosity with an elaborate system of gun towers, barbed wire, and even a moat made of sand to detect footprints. In the summer of 1962, President John F. Kennedy had delivered one of his most memorable speeches at the city hall in West Berlin, to a crowd of several hundred thousand Berliners. Twenty-five years later, when President Ronald Reagan spoke at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin on June 12, 1987, a generation of people had grown up who had difficulty imagining a world where that hideous symbol of human oppression no longer existed.

Despite Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev’s reform agenda and the ongoing popular struggles in Eastern Europe, in 1988 East Berlin did not appear to be a city on the brink of a revolution. The pro-Soviet German Democratic Republic (GDR) still routinely dispersed crowds of nonviolent protestors. In January 1988, the Stasi security services arrested over a hundred demonstrators who were simply commemorating the 1919 murder of the revolutionaries Rosa Luxemberg and Karl Liebknecht.

Erich Honecker, the 77-year-old leader of the GDR, flatly rejected Gorbachev’s vision of perestroika and glasnost for East Germany. In the spring of 1989, Honecker dug in his heals holding municipal elections where government candidates won 98.8 percent of the vote. But events began moving very quickly after the Soviet-sponsored government in Hungary decided in early May 1989, as part of its own Gorbachev-style restructuring, to turn off the electrified fence that sealed the country’s western border.

Officially the Hungarian frontier with Germany was still “closed” but when the news of the relaxed border control became known in East Germany people began flooding across it. In a matter of weeks there were over 25,000 GDR citizens “on holiday” in Hungary, and by early September the number had swelled to 60,000. Thousands of people sought refuge inside the West German embassy in Budapest, and when the government announced it would take no action against GDR nationals going to Austria, about 22,000 more GDR citizens dashed through the border. Following these fast-moving events even a crusty authoritarian like Honecker had to recognize that he had a major public-relations disaster on his hands.

Gorbachev visited East Germany in October to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of its founding and he urged Honecker to move toward greater liberalization. But Honecker made it clear he had no intention of following Gorbachev’s reformist path. Within weeks enormous demonstrations broke out in Leipzig and other East German cities and some GDR officials close to Honecker believed that he might be contemplating a “Tiananmen Square”-style solution to the problem. Four months earlier, in June 1989, the Chinese communist government cracked down on pro-democracy protesters killing hundreds of people and jailing thousands.

Believing that Honecker might indeed follow China’s lead, GDR authorities, led by Egon Krenze, staged a coup d’etat against the septuagenarian after eighteen years in power. Krenze flew to Moscow to meet with Gorbachev and upon his return promised to implement an East German version of perestroika.

But the East German government was losing control of the situation. Demonstrations in Leipzig grew past 300,000 people, and in early November hundreds of thousands of East Germans were participating in daily protests in the streets of Berlin. Another 30,000 GDR citizens emigrated after Czechoslovakia also relaxed its border enforcement. Then, on November 9, 1989, the Krenze government, in attempt to “stabilize” the situation, agreed to allow East Germans to freely visit West Germany. The announcement, delivered almost inadvertently at a press conference by the GDR’s foreign minister, rendered the Berlin Wall obsolete.

People came from all over Europe to help Berliners tear down what had become one of the world’s preeminent symbols of police-state oppression. They converged on the Wall with picks and sledgehammers and battered down its ugly concrete edifice as Stasi guards stood by watching. The spectacle of hundreds of joyous people literally demolishing the Wall came to symbolize the power of ordinary people, even in a “totalitarian” state, to forge a new era of political freedom.

By Christmas 1989, one in six East Germans, about 2.4 million people, had crossed into West Berlin to visit friends and relatives or to just look around for the first time. There was a huge shopping spree as GDR citizens voraciously snapped up consumer goods that had been denied them under the stagnant economy of the East. The path had been cleared for reunifying Germany that had been split in half since the end of World War Two, and the unification of the country came less than a year after the Wall came down (on October 3, 1990).

Berlin Wall TodayWilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles

Obama : A Foreign Policy President ?

November 9, 2014

Obama : A Foreign Policy President ?

by Fareed Zakaria @ The Washington Post/www.nst.com.my

Barack ObamaDespite this week’s elections, President Obama has the time and scope to do big things over the next two years. But they will have to be in the world beyond Washington. Next week’s trip to Asia would be a good place to start. In fact, it’s odd that Obama has not already devoted more time, energy and attention to foreign policy. It has been clear for a while that there is little prospect of working with the Republican Party on major domestic initiatives. This is hardly unprecedented. Administrations often devote their last few years in office to international affairs, an arena where they have latitude for unilateral action.

If Obama wants significant accomplishments in foreign policy in his last years inJohn Kerrry office, he will first need the discipline with which he began his presidency. The incremental, escalating interventionism in Syria and Iraq — were it to continue — would absorb the White House’s attention, the public’s interest and the country’s military resources. It also would not succeed, if by success we mean the triumph of pro-democratic forces in the Syrian civil war.

Obama’s biggest foreign policy initiative is powerful, intelligent and incomplete: the pivot to Asia. The greatest threat to global peace and prosperity over the next decades comes not from a band of assassins in Syria but from the rise of China and the manner in which that will reshape the geopolitics of Asia and the world. If Washington can provide balance and reassurance in Asia, it will help ensure that the continent does not become the flash point for a new Cold War.

But so far, the pivot remains more rhetoric than reality. Having promised a larger US military presence in the Philippines, Singapore and Australia, there is little evidence of any of this on the ground. Despite receiving assurances that America would be diplomatically active and energetic, Asian diplomats still complain that China outmans and outperforms America at regional summits. Obama has postponed two trips to Asia in the past four years.

The most ambitious element of the Asia pivot is the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The idea is simple — to lower trade barriers and other impediments to commerce among 12 large Pacific economies, comprising 40 per cent of global Gross Domestic Product. This would provide a boost to global growth, but more importantly, shore up the principles and practice of open markets, and encourage open econo- mies at a time when state capitalism is gaining strength and nationalist barriers are creeping up everywhere.

The good news is that the Republican victory actually might make the TPP more likely. Trade is one of the few issues on which the GOP agrees with the president. Obama’s problems are largely with his own party, which has adopted a defeatist and protectionist outlook, abandoning the tradition of Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy for that of Pat Buchanan. So far, Obama has been reluctant to take on the challenge, merely signalling support for the TPP rather than throwing himself into the struggle.

Obama has one other major foreign policy initiative — nuclear negotiations with Iran. Again, here the basic strategy has been smart but it has not received sufficient presidential attention and focus. It remains unclear whether Iran is ready to make peace with America and the West. But if it is, Obama should present Washington and the world with the deal, even though almost any agreement will surely be denounced as treason by Republicans and attacked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The more complex diplomatic challenge will be to find a way to reconcile the deal with America’s long-standing alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. But a senior Saudi royal has indicated to me his country understands that, at some point, there will have to be a thaw in relations with Iran. The true game-changer in the Middle East would be a Saudi-Iranian rapprochement, brokered by Washington. That would alter the landscape of the Middle East, reduce tensions and build a common focus against jihadi terror.

The world looks messy and the administration is on the defensive. But recall what theKissingerNixon world looked like when Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were conducting foreign policy. America was losing a war in Asia in which it had deployed half a million troops. The Soviet Union was on the march. Domestic opposition and troubles were mounting. Nixon and Kissinger had to withdraw troops and accept an onerous peace deal but, as former US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick has pointed out, they combined this retreat with a series of bold, positive moves — arms control with the Soviet Union, the opening to China, shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East.

The result was that by 1973, people were dazzled by the energy and ingenuity of American foreign policy. The historian John Gaddis has described this as one of the most successful reversals of fortune for American foreign policy in modern history.

If he wants that kind of legacy, it’s time for Obama to become a foreign policy president.

Obama’s Silence is Tacit Support for Najib, says UMNO Secretary-General

November 2, 2014

MY COMMENT: True, Malaysian voters will decide  via elections whether NajibNajib and Obama Tun Razak will remain the Prime Minister. Right now, the Prime Minister’s popularity is at a very low point, according to a recent Merdeka Center opinion poll. That is real and no amount of Goebbels-like spin will change our perception of Najib’s leadership.

Najib is a weak and incompetent leader who is treating our country like his fiefdom.  As Minister of Finance Minister, he has been raising money with accountability. The financing of 1MDB is a classic example.

Najib and AbbottPresident Barack is in office to serve the national interest of the United States. Tony Abbott of Australia too acts in Australia’s interest. Both Obama and Abbott are also big talkers. Fortunately, for Obama, he is into his second term and will not be able to contest in the 2016 Presidential Elections. Abbott, on the other hand, will face Australian voters in the next General Elections (that is, if he is not thrown out by his party before that) and if he pursues pro-US policies, and is seen as a poodle like Britain’s Tony Blair, he will be rejected by his voters.

Malaysia is probably an exception. Personal interest overrides other considerations. Najib is known to do things for himself, his family, his cronies in UMNO and Barisan Nasional in that order. He thinks he can buy all Malaysians with his money dishing schemes. He is wrong. We all know that our Sixth Prime Minister is on “short substance, and big on slogans and promises”. –Din Merican

Obama’s Silence is Tacit Support for Najib, says UMNO Secretary-General

Commentary by The Malaysian Insider

UMNO Secretary-General Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor hasTengku Adnan done a great job of deciphering US President Barack Obama’s silence over Putrajaya’s sedition blitz as tacit support for Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

“Now we know the truth – that Obama supports whatever action Datuk Seri Najib Razak is taking. All these stories (on the sedition blitz) are the doing of the opposition. It is their aim to make our country look bad abroad,” the Cabinet Minister said today.

Of course, if Obama was to make some noise, Tengku Adnan and the 34 other ministers in the Najib administration would jostle to be the first to jump and ask him to mind his own business. Such is the vagaries of Malaysian politics that silence or rather ignorance, is proof of support. But Tengku Adnan should save his pomposity for another occasion.

The only thing that Obama shares with Najib now is a low approval rating among voters. Like the Malaysian PM, Obama’s critics argue that his time in office has been short on substance, and big on slogans and promises.

Like Najib, he gave a speech to the United Nations that sounded good. Sound familiar? So getting “endorsed” by a major disappointment in the White House is not something to crow about. Fact is that Tengku Adnan appears to be clutching for straws just to justify Putrajaya’s sedition blitz.

In the same way, Malaysians especially the Opposition, should end this infatuation with getting the support of the US, Australia or others for their cause. There is not much use in going around the world asking for support because it really won’t matter in Malaysia.

Abbott and ObamaIt also smacks of desperation by the Opposition. The world has always been about permanent interests, not permanent friends. No one is going to lift a finger to help as long as their ties with Malaysia remain prosperous and beneficial to him.

Only Malaysian voters matter. Obama, Abbott and the others will sell Malaysians down the creek when it suits the interests of their countries or their interests. It is time we grow up and take destiny in our own hands. Our future does not depend on any foreigner’s silence or supportive words. It depends on us doing the hard work for a better Malaysia