Obama makes long-awaited return to Indonesia

Unlike feelings after US president's election, hopes that the two countries will march forward together on the world stage have been cast aside.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
November 9, 2010 13:25
2 minute read.
A rally protestsing Obama's arrival in Indonesia

Indonesia rally against Obama visit. (photo credit: Associated Press)

JAKARTA, Indonesia — After two years of waiting, Indonesians are finally getting the chance to welcome back their adopted son. But the euphoria that swept the predominantly Muslim country after Barack Obama's election victory has been replaced by a dose of reality.

Few here now believe he will change American policies in the Middle East or improve US relations with the Muslim world. And hopes that the two countries would march forward together on the world stage have been cast aside.

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While Indonesians take tremendous pride in having partially raised the American president, who spent four childhood years in the country, the plans for his long-anticipated homecoming Tuesday have been accompanied by a sadness that he is not fully theirs.

He has already canceled two planned trips and is due to stay for just 24 hours. He will meet President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, tour the country's largest mosque and make a speech that will give him another opportunity to convince Muslims that the US is not waging a war on Islam, but on terrorism, and needs the help of moderates to fight it.

That will give him no time to visit his old neighborhood in the sprawling overcrowded capital — a jumble of houses and narrow streets that has changed little since he was here from 1967 until 1971, although it is now in the shadow of luxury shopping malls and high-rise buildings.

His tightly packed schedule does not even allow time for brief meetings with family and friends.

When he was first expected to come in March and then again June, the country whipped itself into a frenzy of anticipation: Books and movies about his childhood were released, celebrations planned, and exhibitions mounted.



But this time, the country seems sapped after twin natural disasters — a volcano and a tsunami — over the past two weeks that killed a combined total of 600 people. There was speculation Obama would cancel again, and the country has been unwilling to get its hopes up, too drained to put on a big show. Even the government waited until the last minute to announce that the visit was on.

Though religious leaders still believe in him, they, too, have lost some of their gushing enthusiasm.

With peace talks in the Middle East moving slowly, many believe he is not much better than his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Obama moved to Indonesia when he was 7 after his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, married her second husband, Lolo Soetoro, whom she met when they were studying at the University of Hawaii.


Before Obama's inauguration, Indonesia viewed the United States mostly as a target for protest. Hard-liners viewed the George W. Bush administration's anti-terrorism efforts as a proxy for anti-Muslim feelings.

They had hoped that Obama's connection to Indonesia would give it a special place in his administration, but two years into his term, reality has set in. Most now recognize his visit will not improve their poverty or raise their national stature.

And they know that despite feeling a kinship with the American president, in the end, he will leave and go back to the place that is really his home.


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