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Cablegate: Winning the "War of Ideas" in Indonesia

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1. (U) Post appreciates the opportunity to share our public
diplomacy experience in Indonesia and welcomes the Under
Secretary's thoughts (reftel). Indonesians, while the
largest Muslim-majority population in the world, look at the
world differently from the way Middle Easterners do, and we
need to tailor our message here.

2. (U) Indonesia is a huge archipelago spread over three time
zones, with a diverse population, a constitution and national
ideology that enshrine tolerance, and a national motto "unity
in diversity." Islam spread here through skillful use of
existing cultures, not violence or the imposition of outside
cultures. The tolerant and non-violent world view of most
Indonesian Muslims is evident in two mass organizations,
Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which boast 90 million

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3. (U) Indonesia is a young democracy and reliable partner in
the war on terrorism. Indonesia, therefore, offers unique
opportunities to find allies and build support for
international values of tolerance and non-violence. Here is
how we do it.


4. (U) Internal and international polls regularly show that
most Indonesians reject violence, oppose terrorism and
support GOI efforts to counter terrorism and extremism.
Islamic piety is on the rise for sure, with Islamic dress
spreading and recent polls showing that a higher percentage
of Indonesians pray five times per day than in any other
country. But religious tolerance is still widespread and
rejection of violence the dominant view.

5. (U) Indonesian views of the United States are mixed.
While on a people-to-people basis, Americans remain popular,
views of the U.S. government and policy are far less
favorable. We have seen, however, a real increase in our
favorable poll numbers in the past 12 months from 22% to 33%.
This increase represents about 25 million people, meaning
that, on average, 500,000 Indonesians per week improved their
views of the U.S. over the last year.


6. (SBU) Positive changes in the international environment
certainly played a part in our improved standing here,
especially security improvements in Iraq. But part of our
higher image here was through creative and active public
diplomacy events at post. We use outreach events to create
opportunities for dialogue with Indonesians on issues about
which they care. Rather than focusing on issues that divide
us, we stress and demonstrate our broad areas of commonality.
Our message is more effective when Indonesians take
ownership and when delivered with an Indonesian voice. That
is why expanding our educational and cultural exchange
programs in a targeted and creative way is so important.

7. (SBU) Specifically, we have undertaken a series of highly
publicized (especially TV) events with popular institutions,
mostly non-government, such as National Geographic, the
National Basketball Association, the Eisenhower Foundation,
Time Magazine, Star TV, News Corp, and Harley Davidson Motor
Cycles to name a few. We realize that U.S. influence and
image cannot be improved by the USG acting alone. Business
and other non-governmental partners are needed. Our
successful outreach campaigns focus on areas where we can win
and where we look good, e.g., the U.S. elections, which are
uniquely popular here, and ongoing bilateral environmental
and educational cooperation.

8. (SBU) Education is one area where we see growing win-win
results with great potential for PD success. President
Bush's education initiative is popular and effective,
channeling $157 million for basic education through USAID.
It has improved teacher training, fostered creative thinking,
and encouraged parental involvement. Through our successful
Fulbright Program ($10 million annually) hundreds of scholars
in both directions have built long-term personal ties and
human capacity here. Young Indonesians want to meet
Americans and to learn English. Our YES exchange program
enables Indonesian students to spend a year in U.S. high
schools. Our growing English-language programs help
Indonesians receive messages from more sources and compete in
the global economy. These exchange programs are especially
effective when we can expand and complement them via

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public-private partnerships.

9. (SBU) We seek more Washington attention to take
educational cooperation to a higher level by linking U.S. and
Indonesian universities. Programs like Fulbright are
incredibly useful. But they are a "retail" approach to
exchanges. We need to develop a "wholesale" approach by
attracting U.S. universities to set up shop - or at least
feeder programs - here in Indonesia. This would give a
greater number of Indonesians access to the American way of
thinking at a lower cost. In addition, we are solidifying
the foundation of this cooperation by renewing our Fulbright
agreement, adding a bilateral MOU to optimize GOI university
exchange funds, keeping in closer touch with our many Public
Diplomacy alumni, pushing for the return of Peace Corps
volunteers and pursuing a Science and Technology Agreement to
deepen cooperation in the applied sciences.


10. (SBU) More resources - staffing as well as funding - are
crucial if State's role in public diplomacy is to be up to
today's opportunities and threats. We recommend that special
attention be given to the recent findings of the U.S.
Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. Its report on the
human resource dimension of public diplomacy had some
excellent recommendations to enhance the effectiveness of
America's efforts to influence Indonesians and others.

11. (SBU) Specifically in higher education, the number of
Indonesian students in the U.S. continues to decrease, down
nearly 50% from the mid-1990s (from 13,000 to 7,000
students). Compare these numbers with the 600,000 Saudi
Arabian visas obtained by Indonesians, including thousands of
students. Moreover, as the protector of Mecca and Medina,
Saudi Arabia's favorable ratings here beat us by a long shot.
The implications of this disparity for the war of ideas are

12. (SBU) The Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, the
relatively high cost of American schools, the increased
competition from Australia and others, previous cuts in USG
and private scholarship funds and, finally, post-9/11 visa
and entrance requirements have all taken their toll. In
2008, we issued only 1,400 student visas here, down from
6,200 in 2000. Clearly, much needs to be done to attract
more student visa applicants. We have taken some steps,
e.g., our Fulbright program is back to pre-crisis levels, but
we need to take a hard look at the other areas, especially
post-9/11 security requirements.

13. (SBU) The Rice-Chertoff joint vision of "secure borders
and open doors" is the right one. Now is the time to
recalibrate the security-openness balance to facilitate
travel to the U.S. by bona-fide Indonesians. General areas
where we can do better include waiving some requirements for
returning visa holders and repeat visitors, as well as for
beneficiaries of USG exchange programs. The U.S. image
continues to suffer from stories of persons travelling to the
U.S. being treated in a humiliating or disrespectful way.

14. (SBU) As all posts in Muslim-majority countries, we have
horror stories to recount: a top official of Indonesia's
biggest bank with dozens of prior trips to the U.S. required
13 months to clear Washington's security advisory opinion
(SAO) process because of his common Muslim name; the Foreign
Ministry's spokesperson accompanying the FM to New York for
UN meetings was required to give us his entire travel history
in the last ten years - for the second time - before he could
get his visa; a female recipient of one of our International
Visitor grants was forced by a male inspector to remove her
head scarf in the public immigration line at the airport,
contrary to DHS policy.

15. (SBU) While much could be accomplished by simply applying
more expeditious and respectful handling of Indonesian Muslim
visitors at our borders, we also recommend two specific
changes to the SAO process: eliminating categories that do
not add value, such as the Condor requirement, and demanding
that all agencies with access to consular data bases adhere
to higher data entry standards to minimize the false "hits"
that delay clearance of bona-fide travelers with common names.


16. (SBU) For Islamic outreach in Indonesia, we use our
assistance, exchange and outreach programs to help moderate
and tolerant Muslim groups here spread their message, which

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at the same time reinforces our interests and message. It is
far better to have Indonesian Muslim groups articulate and
demonstrate the benefits of peace, prosperity and tolerance,
than for us to talk about it. So we help NU and Muhammidiyah
schools, pesantren, madrasahs, health clinics and other
community service activities with our assistance and other
activities. This engagement makes these and other moderate
Muslim groups more capable in delivering services which in
turn makes their message (and ours) go farther.

17. (SBU) We avoid separating local Muslim groups into good
and bad Muslims, embracing the former and isolating the
latter. While we obviously ignore the most radical groups
and treat the violent groups as objects of law enforcement,
rather than public diplomacy, at the same time we try to work
with the broadest possible range of Muslim groups here. This
effort includes regular outreach and exchange program grants
for the major Islamic party here, the Prosperous Justice
Party, which, while conservative, is by all accounts
non-violent and committed to democratic principles. We use a
range of tools and programs, including American Corners on 11
Indonesian university campuses, TV co-ops, the internet, and
small grants to NGOs. These enable us to increase mutual
understanding and build trust, thereby sustaining a receptive
climate for democratic change and policies that further U.S.

18. (SBU) One final point often heard from our Muslim
contacts is that we should treat terrorism as a law
enforcement issue, and terrorists as criminals. We should
not talk about a clash of civilizations or attribute a
religious element to terrorist crimes. These contacts
believe that calling these criminals and murderers "Islamic
terrorists" or "Islamic radicals" only serves to legitimize
them in the eyes of some Indonesians by associating their
crimes with Islam.


19. (SBU) Our bilateral security cooperation has been so
successful that it requires specific mention. U.S.
cooperation with the police and, to a lesser extent, the
military has been effective, because it has been behind the
scenes. The many successes here against terrorism since 2004
are Indonesian successes, not American. In addition, our
modest Pacific Command Military Information Support Team
program operates entirely behind the scenes, giving the
credit for all anti-violence activities and messaging to the
Indonesian security forces.

20. (SBU) Our programs to train and build police capacity
here go way beyond counter-terrorism, although the Diplomatic
Security/Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program training of
Indonesia's special counter-terrorism force has been hugely
successful. Through International Narcotics and Law
Enforcement Affairs-funded Department of Justice programs we
have developed with the police new systems and policies on
emergency management, the use of force, and (in the works) a
major restructuring of Indonesia's criminal procedure code to
change the system from a confession-based to an
evidence-based system. These programs have helped the police
transform themselves from a security force that protects the
state in an authoritarian system, as it was ten years ago, to
a security force that protects the people in a democracy.
This is a big deal and represents a huge foreign policy
success both in concrete terms and the war of ideas.


21. (SBU) Our main conclusion is simple. Indonesians tune
out on verbal campaigns on issues that divide us. We are
most effective in Indonesia when we cooperate in concrete
areas that are important to the Indonesian people, e.g.,
education, environment, good governance, and health. This
concrete cooperation should remain the focus of our policies,
practices and public diplomacy here.

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