The CSS Blog Network

US President Obama’s Travels Abroad

A couple of days ago, I came across a website, StepMap, that lets you create your own custom and interactive maps for free. StepMap is pretty easy to use, yet a powerful tool to illustrate your thoughts, so I played around with it a bit to trace US President Obama’s travels abroad (17 trips to 14 different countries so far) since taking office, based on Wikipedia’s list of presidential trips. If you click on the tiny flags (the Vatican flag is missing in their toolbox), exact dates and locations visited will appear. The numbers before the flags obviously indicate the sequence of Obama’s visits. You can also enhance your map with a lot of fancy stuff, such as PDFs, images etc. pp. which, for the first try, I didn’t make use of.

Be that as it may, from a geopolitical standpoint I found this admittedly far from perfect map quite interesting, not only for the places the POTUS visited, but even more so for the places he didn’t visit (e.g. South America).  Taking into consideration his Secretary of State’s trips to Japan, Indonesia, South Korea (her husband even travelled to North Korea), China, Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Belgium, Switzerland, Turkey and Mexico, the map would be more balanced, of course.

US President Obama's Travels Abroad (as of August 21st)
Landkarten erstellen mit StepMap

StepMap US President Obama's Travels Abroad (as of August 21st)

Afghanistan Votes

Election fever in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo taken by our correspondent on the ground, Anuj Chopra

Election fever in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo taken by our correspondent on the ground, Anuj Chopra

Media gags, reports of sporadic attacks, Taliban threats to cut off ink-stained fingers – excitement and anxiety abound as voting in Afghanistan draws to a close.

Several commentators have warned that a contested outcome – most likely one where incumbent Hamid Karzai does not win the first round with 51 percent of the vote – might result in a constitutional deadlock and a period of heightened instability. Others, however, have lauded the gains that his main opponent, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, has made as a sign of progress in an open and fair election process. The election will either heal or deepen rifts in the Afghan polity that have been exposed by the failure of reconstruction efforts and the looming Taliban threat.

But what is the situation on the ground? Are voters heeding Karzai’s call to come out and vote? Is democracy, and the hope of a better tomorrow, inspiring Afghans to take the risk and get that ink stain on their finger?

  • The ISN provides insights into the election process through Anuj Chopra, our reporter on the ground in Afghanistan. In a piece on the election, Anuj highlights the fears and anxieties of many voters who have succumb to the Taliban’s intimidation-campaign.
  • Kai Eide, special representative for the UN secretary general writes for RFE/RL that this election, although difficult, could mark a turning point in the reconstruction effort and the fight against the Taliban. Increased confidence in the democratic process will inspire change and solidify a new strategic vision for the country, he argues.
  • Pictures, courtesy of Monsters and Critics show the election process unfolding– ink-stained fingers and all.
  • This Crisis Group report examines the technical, political and security challenges associated with the current elections.

Guns for…Guns?

A serene sunset in a war-ravaged Niger Delta / Photo: Sigma Delta, flickr

A serene sunset in a war-ravaged Niger Delta / Photo: Sigma Delta, flickr

To say the new Nigerian guns-for-amnesty plan faces “difficulties” is, well, understated at best. Some observers see it as a full-on theater of the absurd.

The ill-conceived peace plan was designed to bring militants out of the Niger Delta swamps to hand over their weapons in exchange for a daily stipend lasting a couple months. Unfortunately, harsh reality is already steering far from lofty conception: Not only are the anti-government militias not lining-up to make peace, but some experts say that common criminals are actually expected to capitalize on the deal.

“The money realized will be used to rearm,” Anyakwee Nsirimovu, chairman of the Niger Delta Civil Society Coalition told the NY Times. “Criminals who claim to be militants will come forward and take the amnesty, and that will be delaying doomsday […].”

It’s not just that $13 a day for 60 days doesn’t sound like much of a deal to the battle weary militants; it’s that they’re fighting for something more fundamental. For years, these guerrilla warriors have battled injustice, squalor and poverty for their share of the Niger Delta’s vast oil wealth. Experts agree that without a real redress of the local population’s grievances, fighting will continue.

“As long as the equity situation is not solved, you will continue to have people who will blow up pipelines,” Nsirimovu concluded.

ISN Weekly Theme: Gulf State Diplomacy

A highway in Kuwait City / Photo: Fawaz Al-Arbash, flickr

A highway in Kuwait City / Photo: Fawaz Al-Arbash, flickr

This week we’re highlighting the shifting diplomatic ties between the US and the Gulf states and the linkages between these monied monarchies and East Asia, starting with our Special Report, Gulf States Go Global, where Phillip McCrum argues that the US’ declining influence in the area has allowed regional players to stretch their diplomatic muscles. Because of this shift, according to Christopher M Davidson, not only are regional actors asserting themselves, East Asia is also becoming a major player.

In keeping with our theme, also check out The Consolidation of Gulf-Asia Relations: Washington Tuned In or Out of Touch? from the Middle East Institute in our Policy Briefs.

By the way, the Gulf Cooperation Council Charter in our Primary Resources section makes for good reading too.

We’re featuring the Gulf states throughout the ISN website this week, so be sure to check your RSS feeds, subscribe to our Twitter feed and join our Facebook fan page.

A Kinder, Gentler Army?

Sigmund Freud's sofa / Photo: Konstantin Binder, Wikipedia

Sigmund Freud's sofa / Photo: Konstantin Binder, Wikipedia

For some reason I thought this practice was already in place, but the US Army has announced that it is starting an obligatory “emotional resiliency” program for its troops.

According to the NY Times the program is meant to head off the plethora of mental health issues soldiers bring back with them from their tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The move comes after the military has faced criticism for failing to provide proper care for its troops, which some say has led to an “epidemic of suicides” due to post-traumatic stress disorder and what’s termed ‘Gulf War syndrome.’

The weekly, 90-minute sessions will involve exercises in which participants will examine methods “to defuse or expose common habits of thinking and flawed beliefs that can lead to anger and frustration — for example, the tendency to assume the worst.”

Off topic comment: That’s not just needed for the military.

In an atmosphere in which a person is formed into, for all intents and purposes, a killing machine, this type of program is/was sorely needed. But it does go against the normal military culture; one of bravery, manliness and keeping a stiff upper lip in the face of danger, or worse.

“Psychology has given us this whole language of pathology, so that a soldier in tears after seeing someone killed thinks, ‘Something’s wrong with me; I have post-traumatic stress,’ ” or P.T.S.D., Dr. Seligman said. “The idea here is to give people a new vocabulary, to speak in terms of resilience. Most people who experience trauma don’t end up with P.T.S.D.; many experience post-traumatic growth.”

And perhaps give a new definition to “bravery.”

Page 509 of 531