Reports are now coming in that the Indonesian military is taking advantage of the chaos of the recent Tsunami in order to gain the upper hand against insurgents in Acheh province. In the last several days they have conducted several raids against GAM (Free Acheh Movement) villages in Acheh, despite the fact that the helicopters and personnel used in the raids are desperately needed to distribute food and medical supplies. Additionally, relief agencies are reporting that military forces are interdicting relief supplies intended for villages purported to be sympathetic to the GAM cause.
This, of course, should not come as a surprise to people who have followed the long history of Indonesian military repression of political dissidents, or of the US government support for these policies. As soon as the framework of the Cold War was in place, the US government began providing significant military aid to the right-wing Indonesian dictator Sukharno. These gifts of weapons and training were put to use killing at least 550,000 Indonesian peasants--ostensibly "communists" as they were agitating for political freedoms and land-reform. Then under the US-backed (and armed) dictator Suharto, hundreds of thousands more political dissidents (also known as freedom fighters) were slaughtered in East Timor. Acheh province (hardest hit by the Tsunami) is one of the latest wave of insurgencies and independence movements that characterize the patchwork quit and powder-keg that is Indonesia today.
The US government--and the US "led" "Global War on Terror"--are faced with two options: A) Support the principles of self-determination and human rights, and watch the colonial construct of Indonesia crumble into a myriad of ethnic and Islamic potentates, or back the only force capable of holding the whole mess together (while sacrificing the ideals of freedom and human rights) by continuing to support and arm the Indonesian military-government (led by General Susillo Bambang Yudhoyono). It is now clear that they have decided on the latter:
Of the millions of dollars of aid pledged to Indonesia, much of it will purchase helicopters and transports for the Indonesian military--superficially for use to distribute relief, but already being put to use for their real purpose: military raids and logistics.
Food aid is also becoming a tool of Indonesian government power. It is being largely distributed through military intermediaries (in other words, based on military priority), or interdicted by military forces. The US learned this lesson well in Somalia: if you distribute critically needed food at concentrated points, then ultimate grass-roots distribution of that food falls empowers the local chiefs that take charge of the distribution. We couldn't undercut the power of the Somali warlords as long as we used them to distribute food. We solved this problem in Afghanistan: we dropped food from the air using a wide-disbursement method that ensured the food went straight to the end consumer, rather than through the political distribution process of local warlords. So any guesses as to which method we've chosen for Indonesia? That's right, we've chosen concentrated point-disbursement of relief supplies, effectively ensuring that the Indonesian military can shape the new power-structure post-tsunami in Acheh (even though this method is considerably more difficult and costly than wide-aerial disbursement).
Finally, and perhaps most frightening, Tsunami Relief '05 appears to be the opening salvo in the campaign for Jeb '08. The President's brother and Florida Governor Jeb Bush has been sent to coordinate the relief mission. What better way to bolster a weak foreign policy resume?? But, in truth, he's well qualified for the job: his prior foreign policy experience consists of working with Florida-based supporters of the Contra forces in Nicaragua.