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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)

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.”

ISN Weekly Theme: US Achievements in Iraq

Welcome to Baghdad, photo: Austin King / flickr

Welcome to Baghdad, photo: Austin King / flickr

In the wake of US troop withdrawals from Iraqi cities and with the scheduling of full withrawal still ahead, the ISN looks at the past, present and future of US involvement in Iraq. With a new president, a new strategy and a set of new challenges at home, the level of US engagement is changing drastically and rapidly altering the realities and demands on the ground. Will Iraqi troops stand up once Americans stand down? Will political reconciliation and institution-building take root?

What is that A-Bout?

An alleged international weapons trafficker, searched for by Interpol and placed under an international travel ban by the UN, will soon be running free?

What is that about?

Kalashnikov: Photo: melomelo/flickr

Kalashnikov/Photo: melomelo/flickr

On 11 August, a Thai court ruled against extraditing Viktor Bout to the US. The US is accusing Bout of trying to sell weapons to the Colombian rebel group FARC, a group that is deliberately targeting Americans assisting the Colombian government in the drug war. (A year ago, ISN Security Watch featured an in-depth analysis on Victor Bout’s unsavory career: see part I and part II).

Yet unlike the US and the EU, Thailand does not consider the FARC a terrorist group – hence, in the eyes of the Thai judge, Bout cannot be extradited for ‘political’ reasons. This is a big slap in the face for US counterterrorism efforts. To capture international terrorists and those supplying them with weapons, the US relies on a strong network of allies – and Thailand has historically been a strong ally of the US.
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