Indonesia savored its ties to Obama. Now it prepares to say goodbye

When Barack Obama visited Jakarta in 2010, on his first state visit to Indonesia, university students lined up outside the hall starting at 4 a.m., eager to catch a glimpse of the American president who had spent four years of his youth here.

Arlian Buana, a journalist who was a student at the time, remembers Obama’s eloquent speech about how his childhood in Jakarta exposed him to the basic goodness of Islam. “Obama wanted to show that Indonesia offered a model for how Islam and democracy could be compatible,” Arlian remembered. “Not since [former president] Sukarno has Indonesia witnessed such an amazing orator.”

Obama lived here from 1967, when he was 6 years old, to 1971, after his mother had married an Indonesian geographer. He went to Indonesian-language schools, and in his memoir, “Dreams from My Father,” he wrote about the contentment he felt living in that society.

News of his election in 2008 was greeted ecstatically here, and though there have been inevitable feelings of disappointment since then, Indonesians still savor their connection to the American president.

Pew data shows that Indonesian approval of the United States rose to about 70 percent shortly after Obama was elected, from around 30 percent during the George W. Bush years. Indonesian approval of the United States has remained well above 50 percent throughout Obama’s presidency.

But with that presidency drawing to a close, America’s approval rating is set to take a tumble in Indonesia, the country which has more Muslims than any other nation in the world. President-elect Donald Trump’s negative views of Islam, and his declaration that the United States should restrict Muslim immigration, have been widely disseminated and condemned in Indonesia.

Dino Djalal, who was Indonesia’s ambassador to the United States from 2010 to 2013, wrote in a post for the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia that he was concerned Trump’s attitudes toward Islam could damage American-Indonesian relations. “If Donald Trump restricts Muslim immigration to the United States, the Indonesian government must speak up, even if that means raising the issue with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation,” Dino wrote. He expressed hope that Trump would moderate his positions once in office.

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