Indonesia: How to Offend Everybody

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The U.S., a nervous fence-sitter in the Dutch-Indonesian dispute over Netherlands New Guinea, last week found its perch painfully uncomfortable. By trying to avoid offending anybody, it offended everybody.

The U.S. troubles began with a quiet Dutch trooplift to West New Guinea aboard KLM commercial flights. As long as the soldiers wore civvies, carried no arms and traveled aboard regularly scheduled commercial airlines—as they had done for months—nobody complained. But fortnight ago the Dutch decided to step up the airlift by chartering two special flights, and Japan promptly closed Tokyo International Airport to the jets for refueling. Forced to find an alternate route, the Dutch won U.S. permission to refuel at Anchorage, Honolulu and Wake Island.

In Djakarta, newspapers promptly blazoned stories of the U.S. role in the Dutch trooplift, and 100 students, right on cue, went into a shopworn routine. Toting bamboo spears, rocks and anti-American posters, they reduced the glass facade of the U.S. embassy to a saw-toothed shambles, smashed eight embassy autos, stamped a U.S. flag into the gutter and injured an American woman. Ambassador Howard Palfrey Jones lodged a formal protest and demanded $5,000 in damages. In return, he got a mild expression of regret and a gratuitous lecture from Foreign Minister Subandrio to the effect that "the anger and the irritation of the Indonesian people" were perfectly understandable.

As if to underline his contempt for U.S. public opinion, President Sukarno, then sent his air force chief of staff to Moscow. There he urgently requested speedier delivery of Soviet jet planes, subs and a battle cruiser so he could get on with the "liberation" of West New Guinea.

Ironically, the U.S. had withdrawn its landing permission to the Dutch planes before the riot began. In a clumsy display of indecision, the State Department reversed its earlier stand—in the "interests of a peaceful solution" of .the Dutch-Indonesian dispute, and possibly in the interests of Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who was scheduled to visit Indonesia during his good-will tour (see THE NATION). While news of State's reversal came too late to prevent the Indonesian tantrum, it was in plenty of time to infuriate the Dutch. "I don't understand this," fumed Prime Minister Jan de Quay. Said Amsterdam's Algemeen Handelsblad: "Another illusion went up in smoke. Reality is facing us more and more clearly. The fairy tale of American good will toward The Netherlands' standpoint cannot be sold any more, not even to the most gullible soul."

The baffled Dutch had a point. They may have chosen a bad moment for their trooplift, but this scarcely justified Washington's hasty retreat to appease Sukarno.