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Are you sure this is a Muslim country? No one would mistake Indonesia for Saudi Arabia.
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LOS ANGELES--Within days, President Obama is set to visit Southeast Asia--a very good thing. The region is becoming more significant by the month. U.S. policy is said to be "pivoting" to Asia after decades of preoccupation with Europe. This pivotal moment arrives not a moment too soon.
Yet I am slightly sad the president will grace only three countries. Burma, Thailand, and Cambodia get the president's blessing, deservedly--but not the always-troubled Philippines or strategically vital Indonesia, much less tiny, brilliant Singapore. Taken together, the region's population comes in at about 600 million, half of which is Muslim. ASEAN, its lead regional agency, is along with NATO one of the world's leading multilateral organizations.
America especially needs extra focus on Indonesia, ASEAN's lead member, where Obama once lived. This country's population of about 245 million makes it the fourth largest on Earth, and since about 90 percent of Indonesians are Muslim, it is the country with the largest Islamic population anywhere.
We need to keep repeating that last fact. Not too long ago, Jakarta was a crossroads in America's anti-communist crusade in Asia, but when the Iron Curtain fell, so did Washington's interest in the Indonesia.
Proud Indonesians did well enough going it alone. The country suffered shock after shock of bloody terrorist attack and recovered; it practically tore itself apart economically during the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s--and again recovered. It now practices a rough-functioning democracy that offers real promise. Today Indonesia is on its feet, with a forward-moving economy, a president ensconced in his second term, and a future markedly more hopeful than it ever before.
What's more, this former Dutch colonial archipelago of 17,000 islands that is home to more people than Russia is a constitutional secular democracy, even with its deep Muslim culture. Washington needs to note this more often. After all, economics aside, the U.S. faces two huge global issues. One is how to properly balance its relationship with China. The other is harder: how to handle its roiling relationship with the Islamic world. Is that doable?