The Stakes are High for Obama's Visit to Indonesia

Barack Obama touched down yesterday in Indonesia to cheers and fanfare, proving that, internationally, some of his pre-election luster still remains, at least in a country where his deep personal ties make many local people view him as one of their own.

Throngs of office workers braved rain  for a glimpse of Obama’s motorcade as it sped down a cleared and empty toll road en route to the presidential palace. "I'm so happy he's finally decided to come back to Indonesia," said Dewi Petrana, an office worker in Jakarta standing with an umbrella.

The fanfare is largely due to the fact that President Obama lived in Indonesia for four years as a child, making his return here as much a long-awaited homecoming for the local people as it is an important strategic stop on his 10-day Asian tour.

Ahead of Obama's visit, preparations were underway at his childhood public school, SDN Menteng, in the crowded Menteng neighborhood of south Jakarta. Workers there were busy last week touching up the school's paint job and polishing a statue of the U.S. president that stands in the school's courtyard. Engraved on the base of the statue is the phrase, "The future belongs to those who believe in the power of their dreams."

Cheering crowds, childhood dreams, and nostalgia aside, there is serious work to be done during his short stop that could be cut even shorter by the eruption of central Java's Mount Merapi volcano. It's work that could prove that the future in this part of the world really belongs to those who can achieve clear foreign policy directives in a region where, until now, the U.S. has been steadily losing ground to China.

But first, Obama plans to use a scheduled visit to the Istiqlal mosque, the largest mosque in southeast Asia, as a means of offering another olive branch to worldwide Muslim populations. There are signs, however, that like his constituents at home, moderate Muslim leaders are tiring of lofty overtures and speeches and are looking for more concrete action.

Imam Besar, the head imam at the Istiqlal mosque, said he hopes Obama keeps his visit to the mosque on his itinerary. "I think it's important to helping mend relations with Muslim people around the world," he said. "We want to show him that Indonesia is a country that is built on pluralism and tolerance for all religions around the world."