Lolo Soetoro: the exchange student saga that brought Obama to Indonesia

The State Department released the documents relating to President Obama’s step-father Lolo Soetoro. Big chunk of them represent the two-year long battle with the Immigration Services that Lolo Soetoro and his wife Ann went through. The Exchange Program contract required him to go back and live and work in Indonesia for 2 years after completing the studies. The whole point of exchange programs is sharing and spreading the culture and knowledge between the USA and the rest of the world. There is no sharing if the exchange student stays in the US.

At the beginning of the paperwork trail there is a letter from Lolo Soetoro to the US officials begging them to let him stay in the US because he is worried about the violence around the communist coup in Indonesia. Two years later, at the end of the story, Lolo was working for the authoritarian government of the country and his wife and step-child (who later will become US President) joined him.

Ironically the USA sponsored Lolo Soetoro to spread capitalism around the globe and in exchange we got back big government ideology spread around the USA by his step-son. Quite an exchange!

In the October 6, 1967 Memo of the Department of State we read:

“Mr. Soetoro is 32-year-old native and citizen of Indonesia. He was admitted in the United States as an exchange visitor on September  18, 1962, for graduate studies sponsored by the Center for Cultural and Technical Interchange between East and West, University of Hawaii … He completed his activities under Exchange Visitor Program No. P-I-1793 on June 20, 1965. Mr. Soetoro departed from the United States on July 20, 1965 and has since been residing in Indonesia where he is presently employed by the Indonesian Government.

The applicant’s United States citizen wife resides at 2?34 University Avenue, Honolulu, Hawaii, with her 6-year-old United States citizen child from prior marriage [Barack Obama]. The applicant, who returned to Indonesia in an effort to satisfy the foreign residence requirement earns a very meager salary and is dependent on members of his family. His wife has remained in the United States with his stepchild and earns about $400 a month. She has made applications for a visa for herself and her son to travel to Indonesia and she is determined to join her husband as soon as possible, if he is not permitted to return here because she can no longer endure the separation…”

We all know what happened next. Mrs. Soetoro and her 6-year old boy went to live in Indonesia. Did the two years of separation, bureaucratic back-and forth leave a mark on the attitude that the people involved had toward the US government? It is quite possible.

Memo after memo… the drama goes for years and is heartbreaking. He had to leave his wife and go back to a third world hell-hole after living and studying in America (Hawaii of all places). However, when you sign a contract and accept money for education you should be prepared to complete your responsibilities.

Some find it impossible to go back.

Faisal Shahzad came to America on F1 student visa, studied at college after college and managed to crawl his way all the way to citizenship while hating America so much that he set a bomb to blow up innocent people at Times Square.

The exchange student Abdul Mutallab decided that he would rather blow-up his underwear than return back to Nigeria after he completed his British education and the UK refused to renew his visa.


Mohamed Atta and the other top 9/11 hijackers were exchange students in Germany. Program after program – he had the education and connections to have a cabinet seat in Egypt one day. Instead he turned to hating America and the Western values and killed thousands of people.

Major Nidal Hasan got his fancy education on the tax-payer dime and enjoyed the perks, but was a no show when asked to serve. Instead he turned to violence.

Should the government be more sensitive? It is not easy. If you let Mr. Soetoro  waive his contract you should let every exchange student who made-out with a girlfriend or a boyfriend skip the part of going home and giving back to their countries. The sponsors did not invest in him to work in the USA – they invested in him to go to Indonesia for at least two years and he agreed.

If you let Nidal Hasan off the hook when his time to deploy and serve has come – how can you require the rest of the military members to keep their contract commitment? A degree of discipline is required to maintain order.

There are laws, there are contracts – it may not be fun to follow them, but we have to.

Millions of people comply with the law and order without hating America. They all have feelings and families and stories, but they don’t blame the US government for the choices they made or did not make.

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