The Jakarta Post
By any standard, the abruptly canceled trip of Indonesian Military (TNI) commander Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo to the United States on Saturday is a diplomatic scandal, even though American officials may rush to convince us of unintentional mistakes.
The commander and his wife had US visas and an invitation from the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, to participate in the Chiefs of Defense Conference on Countering Violent Extremist Organizations from Monday to Tuesday. However, when Gatot was already at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, an official from Dubai-based carrier Emirates told him that the US Customs and Border Protection Agency had barred him and his delegation from boarding the US-bound flight.
The incident is an insult not only to Gatot and the TNI, but also to the commander-in-chief, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. Therefore, a written apology from the US Embassy to Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi “for any inconvenience to General Gatot” reflects outstanding ignorance of the gravity of the incident.
Unlike a few former officers accused of human rights abuses, Gatot had no problem traveling to the US earlier. Worse still, notification of the US denial of his entry came from an airline official, who naturally could not explain the reason for the TNI chief being barred from US territory.
Such carelessness of the US government may result in fallout in bilateral defense and military ties. Close relations between high-ranking officials may help control the damage ahead of a possible visit by US President Donald Trump to Indonesia in the near future — but still leave us agog at how the world’s biggest power could be so reckless.
Further, the absence of Gen. Gatot at the talks on countering violent extremism is unfortunate as Indonesia leads in this issue. Our citizens continue to face terrorist threats, leading to the necessary build-up of skills and international cooperation networks, apart from facing challenges in spreading awareness to counter the threat, and the constant resistance faced on the ground by antiterrorism forces under the National Police.
Jakarta-Washington military-to-military ties have been improving, though they have yet to return to the level of the Soeharto years. Indonesia has long ended its dependence on the US for defense purposes and has diversified its shopping sources for military equipment since bilateral military ties were severed following the November 1991 shootings in Dili, former East Timor.
We are no fawning fans of our military, which still has many problems constraining its professionalism, including accountability for human rights abuses. We are also aware of criticism from the US government and Congress regarding measures seen as undeserved concessions to the TNI amid continued reports of violence against civilians, such as in Papua.
Indonesia, nevertheless, hopes to increase cooperation with the US,including in counterterrorism and maritime security. At least we expect respect for our leaders, aside from a coherent policy, from the US government.