A brief update on the situation in Indonesia.
To begin with, the terror attack on the island of Bali will have a
devastating impact on the entire Indonesian economy. Bali,
alone, entertained 1.5 million tourists last year, 40% of
Indonesia’s total. Needless to say, though, it’s not just tourism
that will suffer. If I’m a businessman thinking of building a plant
somewhere in Asia, it sure as hell isn’t going to be here. And
this is sad, because the vast majority of these folks, of course, are
good people who were just beginning to get their lives going
when, first, the Asian Crisis of 1997 hit, then there was an
eruption of ethnic violence, the overthrow of a longstanding
government, a rough transition of power, the selection of two
incredibly weak presidents who refused to tackle the homegrown
terror issue, and then last weekend’s horrific bombing.
Since Indonesia’s declaration of independence in 1947, the
country had but two rulers, the authoritarian Sukarno and
Suharto, the latter having ruled 32 years until 1998 when he was
thrown out amidst the economic crisis, only to be replaced by the
incredibly inept Muslim scholar, Wahid.
Wahid was himself forced out in the summer of 2001 and
replaced by the bumbling Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter
of the founder of the nation, Sukarno. This is one dumb woman,
having nothing to go on but her name, as well as being notorious
for her weak command of the issues and indecisiveness.
From day one of her rule, the United States was telling Megawati
that she needed to crack down on the terrorist threat. Even after
9/11, though, she ignored these entreaties, allowing her nation to
become a haven for al Qaeda and its proxies.
The two prime homegrown terror groups that have been at the
top of the U.S. watch list are Laskar Jihad (“militia of the holy
war”) and Jemaah Islamiah. Both have ties to bin Laden, but the
U.S. believes Jemaah Islamiah was responsible for the Bali
bombing, while for its part, Laskar Jihad suddenly announced on
Tuesday that it was disbanding and suspending operations. In
other words, they are looking to lower their public profile just as
Megawati is forced to address the terrorism issue head on.
Jemaah Islamiah’s leader, cleric Abubakar Baasyir, has denied
any involvement in Saturday’s attack, ridiculously blaming the
U.S. instead. Baasyir’s group has branches in Singapore, the
Philippines and Malaysia, as well as thousands of adherents in
Both groups have been responsible for the deaths of thousands
over just the past 2+ years. Both also sought to kill, convert or
drive out non-Muslims and to impose Sharia law. Believe it or
not, back in ’98 one clash that would spread to kill thousands
originated when a Christian and a Muslim argued over a bus fare.
9,000 died in the fighting that followed.
There can be no doubt that Indonesia’s terror organizations are as
wicked and cruel as any on earth, and there can also be no
denying their links to al Qaeda. Megawati has to clean them out,
but Indonesia is a sprawling nation with ample places to hide,
plus it has a corrupt military that will only half-heartedly go after
The situation looks bleak. Megawati hasn’t wanted to confront
the terror groups because she was intimidated by them, and
despite some inevitable rhetoric over the coming days and
weeks, I doubt that in the end her mission will meet with much
One final thought, the world needs to focus on the fact that
Indonesia controls most of the sea routes to Asia, particularly the
Strait of Malacca, the world’s busiest shipping lane. Western
business interests must be assured that these waters are secure.
As of today, they aren’t. The al Qaeda attack on the French oil
tanker off Yemen could be replicated 20 times here, unless
something is done.
As for the common folk in Indonesia, they deserve far better
after all of the suffering they have witnessed, starting with a far
I’m going to be traveling out west for a few weeks and probably
won’t be doing a “Hott Spotts” for Oct. 24. When I do return in
this space (by Oct. 31) I’m going to use it to comment on the
situation with the American farmer and the latest farm