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Volume II No.2


Published 28 January 2021

Dear Reader,

We are now into the third week of the US presidency of Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. but it seems like it was only yesterday that he was sworn into what remains to be the most powerful office on earth.

Right after Joe Biden took his oath of office, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo went on Twitter and Instagram to congratulate him and Vice President Kamala Harris, first woman, first person of color and of Asian bloodline to occupy the position. Felicitations poured in from other world leaders, notably Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, President Emmanuel Macron of France, PM Yushihide Suga of Japan, PM Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, PM Boris Johnson of UK, PM Justin Trudeau of Canada and a host of others.

Welcome back, America!

The messages were variously worded but they all bore the same meaning: Welcome back, America! We are ready to work with you. The Indonesian President’s exact words were: “Let us continue to strengthen our strategic partnership, not only for the benefit of our two nations, but (also) for a better world for all.”

Then US Vice President Joe Biden welcomes Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to Washington, D.C. when the Indonesian leader visited the US in 2015. (Photo: Twitter/@jokowi)

On his first day in office, Biden ordered the return of the United States to the Paris Climate Accord and resumption of its membership in the World Health Organization. He also lifted the ban on travellers from several Muslim-majority countries like Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

America is reconciling, reuniting with the world. And a large part of the world is welcoming America back.

Two to Tango

Within the United States itself, Biden sent an impassioned appeal for reconciliation and unity right in his inaugural address. But that message struck a different kind of chord.

To many democrats there can be no unity without accountability. Donald Trump must be held accountable for the wrongdoings he carried out during his tenure, particularly for his role in inciting the mob that briefly overran the US Capitol last 06 January. Thus in the US House of Representatives, Democratic lawmakers, joined by ten Republicans, impeached former President Donald Trump and awarded him the dubious distinction of being the only president to be impeached twice.

US House of Representtives impeachment managers walk through Statuary Hall to deliver the articles of impeachment to the Senate. (Photo: Financial Times)

The Senate will hold the impeachment trial beginning 09 February 2021. Will the Senate find him guilty? At least 17 Republican senators must join the democrats to slap a guilty verdict on Trump, and only six so far have expressed any appetite to uphold the impeachment, the odds are that he will be acquitted. But that will not be the end of his travails: he is facing a good number of criminal lawsuits at the federal and state level that will keep his lawyers busy for a long time.

Meanwhile, not a few of those who ransacked the US Capitol will find themselves behind bars. Meanwhile in all 50 states of the Union, well-armed white supremacist and other far-right groups are threatening violence. Trump remains in control of two-thirds of the Republican Party, and threatens to launch a new political party, the Patriots Party. He has been impeached a second time but he is likely to be acquitted in the Senate—leaving a huge gap in the sense of accountability of many Americans. Centrist and moderate Republicans holding elective office, seen as disloyal to Trump, are at risk of being primaried into political oblivion.

The US remains a nation deeply divided. To find out how that can be a recipe for widespread violence, click here.    

Biden knew whereof he spoke when he said in his inaugural speech, “I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy.” It does begin to look that way. He cannot unite a polarized nation if only one side answers his call. As the old saying goes, “It takes two to tango.”

The Intermestic Factor

What is it to us in Southeast Asia if the US remains fiercely divided and may eventually implode under the weight of its internal tensions? Is it any skin off our noses if, as a result of its failure to unite, the US declines precipitously? Aren’t we being overly concerned with US domestic issues?

The fact is that most American domestic issues aren’t entirely domestic. They are what former Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda liked to call “intermestic” because they have a domestic and at the same time an international nature. (He did not coin the term. The term was first used by the American legal authority, Dr. Bayless Manning, but Dr. Wirajuda gave it new currency and respectability during his tenure as foreign minister.)

Former Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda (left), and Dr. Bayless Manning (right).

Domestic issues like the effectiveness of the postal service, the strength of the dollar, the size of the military, tariffs on imports, citizenship and immigration, public health in a time of pandemic, and denial of Climate Change—these are issues that are obviously intermestic. There are also domestic American issues whose international import is not so obvious. At first sight they look like nothing more than domestic issues, but they do have profound international impact.

These include the tribalistic fracture of American society, the accountability of public officials, the dysfunctions of the US electoral system, racism and white supremacy and the general problem of inequality. These are intermestic issues. They may be of domestic origin but in the ultimate analysis they have an overarching global significance—if only because US foreign policy is still a major factor in the state of the world. And the situation in Southeast Asia. And US capacity to carry out prudent foreign policy is a function of its ability to govern itself.

The Hottest Issue

It’s no consolation that the intermestic issues racking the US are echoed in other countries. One such issue is that of climate change.

The rise of global temperature is dangerously outpacing the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. The 50 signatory countries to the Paris Climate Accord (51 now, with the return of the US) that have committed themselves to ambitious emission-reduction targets are not anywhere near achieving those targets. (In the first place, some observers say, those “ambitious targets” are not really ambitious enough.) That being the case, instead of limiting the rise of the earth’s temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius within the century, we are going to see double that rise in global heat.

As an archipelagic country with small islands that are bound to sink as sea levels rise, and where villages are often underwater after heavy rains, Indonesia shouldn’t just fold its arms while the Earth’s fever rises.

Residents are evacuated by rescuers after floods hit Banjar, South Kalimantan. (Photo: Media Indonesia)
Former Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia Dino Patti Djalal, speaks virtually during a webinar hosted by the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia (FPCI). (Photo: RMOL)

Ambassador Dino Patti Djalal was deeply involved in the Climate Change issue at a time when Indonesia played a global leadership role in this issue during the tenure of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (2004-2014). Today, as Founder and Chair of the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia (FPCI) he is playing a much needed and widely appreciated role as a leader and promoter of dialogue on international relations.

To learn more of Ambassador Dino’s ideas on what Indonesia can do about Climate Change, proceed here.

A High-flying Anomaly

One factor that may have a small but real positive effect on climate stability is the Covid-19 pandemic. The less airplanes fly because of government-imposed limits to international travel in the effort to contain the virus, the less are the carbon emissions of the airline industry. But that’s small comfort. Although less frequently, airplanes are still flying—and occasionally crashing.

On 09 January 2021 a Boeing 737-500 took off from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport with 62 people onboard. Within minutes the plane dropped into nearby Java Sea with such force that the bodies of victims were torn to so many small pieces that their full remains could not be gathered. I was deeply touched by an account of the grief of the victims’ loved ones. Go here to read more about that grief.

My mood only darkened a great deal more when I read about how the people who make airplanes like Boeing are so focused on competition and profits that they tend to take for granted the safety of the people who will fly on the planes that they sell to airliners.

The fourth-generation Boeing 737 known as the Boeing 737 Max (Photo: Boeing)

Hence I perfectly understand why Hasan M. Soedjono, an entrepreneur and management expert with extensive experience in the aeronautical and commercial aviation fields, is livid at the way the airplane manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus are being regulated these days. There was criminal conspiracy to cover up the deficiencies of the Boeing 737 Max, leading to two tragic plane crashes—in Indonesia on 29 October 2018 and in Ethiopia on 10 March 2019. In these two crashes 346 people lost their lives.

To find out what kind of rap on hands Boeing got for its disregard for human lives, go here.

Laws, Regulations, Despots

A possible effective response to the current anomalies in the airframe manufacturing industry is remedial legislation – so that the industry could be better regulated in a way that will make air travel much more safe. In the end, good laws make good airplanes.

Elsewhere, in the realm of general governance, legislation to address a temporary problem, such as a pandemic, can actually create a new and more lasting problem. Despotic leaders have used the strictures needed in the response to the pandemic as an excuse for grinding down the democratic and human rights of their citizens.

Protesters display Chilean flag during a demonstration held in 2019. (Photo: Getty Images)

According to PinterPolitik regular contributor Joshua Kurlantzick, this is happening not only in South and Southeast Asia but also in various places all over the world.

To read more about the global retreat of democracy and the advance of authoritarianism during the pandemic, proceed here.

That’s all for now.

And here’s hoping that as we get farther into 2021, and as vaccines get under the skin of more and more people, we will all survive the pandemic and resume our lives in a new kind of normalcy.


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