President Clinton also urged Indonesia that if it's unable to stabilize the situation, it should invite an Australian-led peacekeeping mission in the territory. That Indonesia lacks either the ability or the will to end the violence was highlighted again on Friday when pro-Indonesian militiamen attacked the U.N. compound in East Timor's capital, Dili, as Indonesian troops simply looked on. But General Wiranto remained fiercely opposed to foreign troops going in, and President Habibie appears to have little control over his armed forces. The U.S. strategy of coaxing Wiranto to stabilize the situation appears to be premised on the notion that those Indonesian troops fomenting chaos in East Timor are rogue elements. If that assumption is wrong, and Wiranto proves to be on the same page as his field commanders in the territory, Washington will be left facing even more awkward political choices.
President Clinton may be talking tough on East Timor, but U.S. policy on the issue appears to be in disarray. Although the President warned Friday that U.S. economic assistance to Indonesia depended on the outcome of the East Timor crisis, and the Defense Department on Thursday suspended military-to-military ties with the Indonesian military, Jakarta has little reason to be particularly concerned with either gesture. Thursday's New York Times had quoted National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and other senior officials explaining that economic relations with Indonesia were too important to be jeopardized over the plight of tiny East Timor. The Times also reported that Washington's point men on the crisis were Defense Secretary Cohen and Joint Chiefs chairman General Henry Shelton, who was speaking directly with his Indonesian counterpart, General Wiranto — in other words, on a military-to-military basis. So either there's been a dramatic turnabout in Washington's thinking over the past 24 hours, or there's a lot of winking going on in high places.