The Administration: Two-Way Street

  • Share
  • Read Later

Planning their itineraries for world tours, U.S. officials are fond of omitting Indonesia, the touchy, swarming island nation whose government professes neutralism while practicing anti-Americanism.

To this rule, U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy was no exception— and last week he and his wife Ethel flew into Indonesia only at the specific request of State Secretary Dean Rusk. Bobby's mission: to persuade Indonesia to settle peacefully its bitter dispute with The Netherlands about sovereignty over West New Guinea.

Kennedy hammered home his thesis in three talks with Indonesia's showboating, leftist-leaning President Sukarno. He kept it up in talks with Indonesian labor leaders. He made no bones about U.S. ties to The Netherlands: "We fought as allies in World War II, and we have boys buried there." But he also reminded his listeners that the U.S. was Indonesia's friend when the emergent nation was still fighting to free itself from Dutch rule. "The U.S.," he said, "led the struggle for independence of Indonesia more than any other country in the world." At the University of Indonesia, Kennedy was greeted by a cold fried egg, flung at him by a youth. He nimbly dodged, and came back with some hard-boiled talk.* Said he: "We are going to disagree with Indonesia and you are going to disagree with us." But, he continued, "we should have a foundation, a friendship, so that every time an incident comes up and we do not do exactly what you want, you don't say, 'To hell with the United States.' " Kennedy brought up September's Belgrade meeting, at which Indonesia and other "neutrals" criticized the U.S. in general while being remarkably tolerant of Russia for its resumption of nuclear tests. "I will tell you quite frankly, the vast majority of the American people didn't like what happened at Belgrade, but this doesn't mean that we're suddenly going to pick up our marbles and go home. We're all grown men and women."

"I'm not asking you to agree with me, but I do ask that there be some understanding of us as we attempt to understand your position. This is not a oneway street, ladies and gentlemen."

* One part of which pleased Indonesians while infuriating Texans. During a question and answer period, a student wanted to know how the U.S. could defend its moral position in the Mexican War of 1846-48. Said Kennedy: "Although there might be some from Texas that might disagree, I would say we were unjustified. I don't think that this is a very bright page in American history." Predictably, Texas politicians from the Rio Grande to the Panhandle came up shooting. Cried Texas' Republican Senator John Tower: Kennedy's "glaring ignorance" of Texas' history was a "shocking surprise to many Texans who voted for his big brother for President." Said Democratic Governor Price Daniel: ''I cannot believe it."