Miss World contestant Miss Lesotho Mamahlape Matsoso , left, checks her picture as Miss Iceland Sigridur Dagbjort Asgeirsdottir, right, poses with a statue of the President Obama during the International World Peace Day celebrations at a park in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia.
(Photo: Firdia Lisnawati, AP)
JAKARTA, Indonesia - President Obama isn't here, but he's not forgotten.
Obama canceled a planned trip here because of budget strife in Washington, a visit that would've come Saturday nearly three years after he arrived here for the first time since he lived in this largely Muslim city as a boy.
In November 2010 he was treated as a great statesman, one who vowed to go further than his predecessors in solidifying relations with the Muslim world. But that was before he overlooked a military coup in Egypt, threatened to bomb Syria, and ramped up drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. The Pew Research Center's 2012 Global Attitudes survey found the approval of Obama's policies in Muslim-majority countries dropped from an average 34% to 15%.
"It's such a shame he hasn't changed America," said Bapak Effendi, Obama's former teacher. "Like other U.S. presidents before him, he seems to be acting like the world police.
"They want to disarm Syria, but America has all the same weapons. It's not really promoting world peace," he said.
Known to his classmates as "Barry," Obama attended two schools between the ages of 6 and 10 after he moved to Jakarta with his mother and Indonesian stepfather in 1967.
The first school was a Roman Catholic School, Santo Fransiskus Asisi; the second was Menteng Elementary School 1, where Obama was taught by Effendi for two years.
In 2010, Indonesians crowded around televisions all over the country to watch Air Force One touch down. Obama's visit to the mosque - the biggest in Southeast Asia - was interpreted as part of a push to improve America's relations with the Muslim world, Indonesia being the largest Muslim-majority nation in the world.
But his recent push for an intervention in Syria, perceived here to have been tempered by Russia, has seen his popularity plummet.
"Obama can mix with Christians and Muslims, and he's been better than George Bush," said Anas Dima, a taxi driver, emerging from 6 o'clock prayers at Jakarta's Istiqlal mosque.
"Now, though, I don't think he's very different. ... I think he would bomb Syria if he could. It's only because of pressure from other countries that he's pulled back."
Running parallel to Indonesia's growing disillusionment with Obama's presidency is a broader awareness of the U.S.'s declining economic influence in the increasingly China-dominated Asia-Pacific region. China's President Xi Jinping did make the trip this week, and was talking trade and warm relations the entire time.
"I think that the U.S. is important to Indonesia of course, but increasingly more so is China. Most Indonesian exports are going to China," said Imanuel Reinaldo, a second year economics student at the University of Indonesia, where Obama gave a speech during his visit in 2010.
"Coal is especially important. I should know, my dad is a coal trader. We are the world's largest exporter of coal, and China is the largest importer."
Around Obama's childhood neighborhood of Menteng Dalem, central Jakarta, there was a general sense that Indonesia's economic interests lie predominantly in Asia.
"In the '80s and '90s we were very America-oriented," said Benny Hartanto, a teacher.
"Everything was, 'Wow, America's great, America's the best,' and so forth. Asia was not something we regarded as important, although Japanese products have dominated Indonesia, obviously," Hartanto said. "But we still considered the U.S. as the best of the best, at that time."
"But I guess after the Southeast Asian financial crisis (in 1998), everything shifted to Asia. Everything was Chinese products, (South) Korean products."
Effendi feels an enduring loyalty to his former pupil despite the fact that some of the decisions Obama has made are objected to by some of his fellow citizens.
"I never would have thought he'd end up the leader of a superpower," Effendi said. "When I see him on TV, I'm still proud of him. I feel touched."