Scoop Editorial: Setting A Good Example

Published: Tue 1 Feb 2000 01:18 PM
Today we have news that Indonesian Armed Forces Chief and Cabinet Minister General Wiranto has been asked to resign by the new democratically elected Indonesian President Abdurrachman Wahid.
This news is double edged, it has a positive sides, and negative sides. Most of these are purely a matter of perception - but in this environment cloddish Western attitudes have the potential to do a lot of damage.
It is therefore vital that the West not take up its usual patronising attitude towards Indonesia.
Readers of Scoop will be aware that Scoop took a very neutral - some accused us of apologist - position in relation to the ephemeral General Wiranto during the recent Timor Crisis.
Scoop's view was that it was Wiranto who convinced the Indonesian Military to bring in UN peacemakers - with authorization to shoot to kill if necessary. This was not easy. It was he that oversaw a withdrawal during which there was not a single Peacemaker casualty.
He was admittedly under a lot of pressure at the time, but regardless credit should be paid where it is due.
More recently when the former legislature attempted a constitutional coup in Wiranto's favour, he did not seek to use the dubious powers granted to him. Subsequently he has led the military peacefully through the forming of the first Indonesian democratic government. Since then he has been demoted - moved sideways - in Cabinet.
None of these are easy paths to walk.
On the other hand Wiranto's apparent inability to prevent the continuing engagement of elements in his Military in provoking religious conflict among the Indonesian people is deplorable, and it is appropriate that he be replaced now he has been effectively indicted for war crimes.
On the positive side, the news that Abdurrachman Wahid will ask General Wiranto to "decide" means Indonesia is confronting its internal demons. Wahid says he has a replacement selected and this is also positive as it indicates he has some kind of plan in place.
That the announcement took place at Davos, Switzerland, also is a double edged sword. The perception in Indonesia may be that he is buckling to International pressure. On the other hand he could be said to be setting a good example in front of an appropriate elite.
Also on the negative side is how this will play in the media and politically inside Indonesia and equally importantly perhaps in the West.
So far we do not know how well this decision has been communicated by Wahid within his own government. He did warn Wiranto two weeks ago that an adverse finding would mean that Wiranto would have to go, softening the ground, which means it is hardly an unexpected announcement.
Certainly it would be politically unfortunate if the announcement - like the announcement of an Aceh referendum - does not have the numbers to pass muster in Jakarta.
Then there is the question of how Wahid's move will be used by his opponents. And in this regard the attitude of the West to the development is critical.
Indonesia hates to look as if it is being pushed around and Wahid would suffer if this became the impression in Jakarta.
Unfortunately the West keeps harping on about how it is going to hold its own inquiry if Indonesia doesn't. Wahid - and everybody else in Indonesia - have made it clear that they will not accept the jurisdiction of any such inquiry.
And in this Scoop's view why should they.
The West is fundamentally hypocritical when it demands accountability from General Wiranto about what happened in Timor.
Were international inquiries held into US war crimes in Vietnam? Was there an international inquiry into whether the US committed a war crime when it bombed Sudan and Afghanistan? Was there an international public inquiry into the activities of the Contras? I would like to see William Cohen facing questions in public for the US policy in Iraq and the CIA's relationship with former UNSCOM head Richard Butler. But I won't.
In this regard there is no need to single out the US all the other permanent members of the Security Council are equally bad.
I agree wholeheartedly that we should have inquiries into war crimes in Indonesia and Timor, the Balkans, Rwanda, Cambodia etc.
But we should also have inquiries into war crimes in Vietnam, Cambodia, Korea, Malaysia, Columbia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Tibet, El Salvador, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Iraq, Iran, Kurdistan, Czechoslovakia, Poland, The Philippines etc….ad infinitum…
While the true circumstances and crimes that occurred in Timor ought to be made public, and it would be best if they are, here is an element of hypocrisy and self-righteousness about the West saying so too loudly.
More importantly when it does it plays very badly in Indonesia. This argument applies equally to Russia and Chechnya but that is another editorial.
Abdurrachman Wahid's government should not be threatened with an international inquiry. It is disrespectful. Far better the West follow his example and face its own demons.
Inside Indonesia, and probably throughout South East Asia, Abdurrachman Wahid has a great deal more credibility on than any of the shrill Western voices who attempt to advise him or attempt to claim credit for cajoling him into action.
And so the news that Wiranto is being replaced is news that indicates Indonesia is facing its demons. But even demons deserve a fair trial.
I wish General Wiranto all the best as he faces his accusers and urge him to trust in the power of truth, love and forgiveness.
And at the end of the day, if he really does spill the beans on his relationship with the US Military - information which seems likely to be relevant to mitigation - then maybe we will all learn something useful.
For its part the best thing for the West to do would be to look in the mirror - examine its own inhumanity, and learn from the experience.
Alastair Thompson
Scoop Publisher
Alastair Thompson is the co-founder of Scoop. He is of Scottish and Irish extraction and from Wellington, New Zealand. Alastair has 24 years experience in the media, at the Dominion, National Business Review, North & South magazine, Straight Furrow newspaper and online since 1997. He is the winner of several journalism awards for business and investigative work.
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