Category Archives: PhotoGallery-Category

Afghan strategy=Military+Foreign Aid

Cover_USAIDAfter months of deliberation, urgent appeals from his top generals and resistance from members of his own party, President Obama announced a troop surge in Afghanistan. While he’s sending in reinforcements, he said they are a short-term solution. Combined with help from NATO allies, the deployed troops will come close to the amount requested by General McChrystal to wage a counterinsurgency campaign. Troops will take the fight to the Taliban in an attempt to provide breathing room for Afghan forces to develop the competence necessary to secure their country.

Success will be defined with much more than just boots on the ground. Victory requires a civillan force to help Afghans cultivate their land, build government institutions and deliver public health. The administration has emphasized that development is a high priority for foreign policy beyond conflict zones, like Afghanistan and Iraq. From Secretary of State Hilary Clinton:

A personal priority for me as secretary is to elevate and integrate development as a core pillar of American power. We advance our security, our prosperity and our values by improving the material conditions of people’s lives around the world.

But over the last two decades, US foreign assistance has faltered. There were once tens of thousands of people with expertise in farming, engineering and governance. Staff cuts have made the US Agency for International Development (USAID) little more than a grant-making institution. President Obama has ordered a civilian surge which places USAID right in the center of success.

Listen to Arrested Development: Short-Changing Foreign Aid.

Scooting around Saigon

scooters3If there is one word to describe Saigon, it is “scooter.”

While scooters/mopeds/small motorcycles are ubiquitous throughout Asia (East, Southeast, South), I have never seen anything like the swarms of scooters in Saigon.

Analogies are endless: they are like a plague of locusts buzzing through the streets, an endless army of leaf-cutter ants, shimmering schools of minnows, stampedes of cattle. Picture the movie “The Birds” except without the death and gore – the streets throng with that kind of volume of scooter traffic. It’s endless and unrelenting.

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A growing strategic partnership


from CNN

The White House is hosting its first formal state visit for India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. India has become a major player in global affairs and this formal state visit indicates how important India is to the US when it comes to issues like climate change, economic growth and countering extremism in South Asia.

India has become a major trading partner with the US, with $61 billion in trade in 2007. The US is India’s second-largest trading partner. India is also one of the biggest donors in Afghanistan, with $1.2 billion in aid, sharing some of the burden of stabilizing Afghanistan and providing civilian support.

Colin Cookman, Special Assistant for National Security and Brian Katulis, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress write:

Prime Minister Singh’s visit comes during a sensitive period for U.S. diplomacy around the world. The luster is wearing off from the Obama administration’s initial honeymoon period of foreign policy, leading to growing questions about what the Obama administration has tangibly achieved with its new style of diplomatic outreach. President Obama’s trip to Asia last week raised some concerns in India that the United States was acceding to China’s growing power without demonstrating India’s important role, and this state visit is aimed at signaling the importance of U.S.-India ties. Gaining India’s cooperation on a range of issues will be an important test of the Obama administration’s ability to achieve results in his foreign policy.

With changing power centers in the world, the US needs to make sure it has the right people in the right places. Alongside the new towers and growing population, the US has opened its first new consulate general in over a decade in Hyderabad, India, reflecting the growing economic and strategic relationship between the US and India.

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Listen to the rest of America Abroad radio producer Matt Ozug’s piece in Diplomacy Under Fire.

Extending a hand to the world court?

iccIn a break from the past, the Obama administration has signaled its willingness to engage the International Criminal Court (ICC) by participating in a conference with members of the ICC. The US has not changed its policy on joining the court and still has major concerns over international prosecutors potentially trying US officials and the US military. The suggestion that an unaccountable prosecutor, independent from the Security Council and the rest of the UN system, remains a point of contention. From the Washington Post:

Although U.S. officials have come to support prosecutions of specific cases, such as in Darfur, they have long worried that an international criminal court might seek to constrain U.S. military action around the globe by carrying out politically motivated prosecutions of American soldiers. “There remain concerns about the possibility that the United States . . . and its service members might be subject to politically inspired prosecutions,” [Stephen J. Rapp, the U.S. ambassador at large for war crimes] told reporters in Nairobi.

The ICC was established in 2001 to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Its chief prosecutor is pursuing war crimes cases in Congo, Uganda, the Central African Republic and the Darfur region of Sudan. It has become one of the key actors on the world stage to bring justice and affect the peace process in situations of ongoing conflict. The struggle for the US is about what America’s relationship should and could be with the ICC.

What is the future path for the court and the critical benchmarks going forward? John Bellinger, former Legal Adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Leslie Vinjamuri, Assistant Professor of Politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London discuss whether cooperation between the US and the ICC is possible and if the ICC it has the clout and international buy-in to extend its de-facto jurisdiction beyond Africa.

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Learn more about the ICC in Judging the International Criminal Court.

Alpaca: It’s not just for sweaters anymore

food4First, for some context. I am writing currently from Cusco, Peru where I am on a 2-week journalism program. It is the Gatekeepers Editors trip organized by the International Reporting Project at Johns Hopkins University. We are traveling the country to learn about health, environment, development, resource, and indigenous issues, and we are also learning about another growing sector of the economy: gastronomy.

Peru is an export nation. Gold, silver, oil, coffee, and now asparagus. The nation is growing into an agricultural force, providing an assortment of fruits, grains, and vegetables for the world market. But it’s not just providing the raw materials. Peru is now an exporter of cuisine, and not just the traditional Andean dishes of lomo saltado or chupe. Today, the country is leading a movement in Nuevo Andean cuisine.
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USAID in Ethiopia

ethiopia-usaid2A few fast, fun facts about Ethiopia: it’s home to the second largest population in Africa, with 83 million people. The majority either farm or raise livestock. But only 12% of the land is suitable for agriculture, and of that, only 1% is irrigated. So you’ve got millions of people watching the heavens, relying on the rain to grow the crops that would feed this nation. Add to that the fact that historically there have been droughts every three years – with major droughts happening every decade or so. It all makes for some serious topsoil erosion. The dry and dusty topsoil eventually ends up as river silt that flows toward the Nile delta. As one development worker put it to me, Egyptian farmers have been reaping great harvests for three thousand years courtesy of Ethiopian silt.

That’s just the agricultural side. Add it all up and you get some major challenges for development. It’s no wonder that the Ethiopian mission is USAID’s (United States Agency for International Development) largest in sub-Saharan Africa. Addis Ababa is teeming with development workers. Conservatively there are easily 400 foreign nationals in that line of work here. And every NGO and foreign mission employs many more local staff. At USAID there are 7 local staff for each American. That’s not including the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), the US State Department, DOD (Department of Defense) and other US agencies who’ve all taken a slice of the development pie in recent years. Over the coming month, America Abroad will be exploring how the bureaucratic jungle of agencies try to work together to make life for Ethiopians more secure, healthy, and economically well off. It’s a tall order given some of the natural demographics working against them.

What everyone here will tell you is that it’s all about food, food, and more food (though that may not be reflected in the way Congress allocates USAID’s budget here). The challenge is getting Ethiopia off of it’s reliance on imported subsidies/relief and begin to develop the natural capacity of this country to feed itself – in spite of environmental challenges and a population that’s doubling every generation. What’s encouraging is that most aid workers say that things are in fact trending up, and the situation has significantly improved in 25 years. In 1984, Bob Geldoff and the BBC trained the world’s lens on the famine (don’t say the F word here today) that killed a million Ethiopians. Despite a doubling of the population since then, this country has not seen loss of life on that scale since. Still, nobody will tell you Ethiopia is out of the woods. This year the government announced that 6.3 million of its people are at risk of starvation. A number that’s considered low if anything. Add to that the more than 7 million who are permanently “food insecure” and you start to see the scale of the problem.

In my short time here, I’ve met some amazingly committed, hard working, and innovative aid professionals. Some come from abroad, but many are Ethiopian, who are rolling this boulder uphill. While it seems a long, long way from the political wranglings happening on Capitol Hill about the future of USAID, most folks here are keenly watching who will finally be appointed to head the United States Agency for International Development; and nervously waiting to see if, alongside Diplomacy and Defense, Development will really be Obama’s third – and equal – “D.”

Arrested Development: Shortchanging Foreign Aid on next month’s America Abroad.

Behind the Music

behind the musicEver wonder what the music is you hear in our programs, or why we use certain pieces of music? Well, here’s some insight.

Music is a critical component of our radio programs, and radio journalism in general. It can be a subtle mood “enhancer”, a punctuation mark, a palate cleanser, or an inside joke. Music is commonly used at the beginning and end of segments to set a mood, create some pacing, and provide a cue that a segment is beginning or ending. We often use music under long segments of narration at the top of a story and sometimes in the body of a piece if there is a long stretch of dry (meaning lacking background sound, not boring) narration.

Sometimes music is used to create a sense of a scene or chapter in a piece. Music often serves as a transition – an abrupt start or end to a piece of music cues that something new is coming up. It can reinforce tone – serious, exotic, even chaotic. There are times in a piece where the listener needs a moment to digest a sequence of serious and complex information, and music can provide a pause – since long periods of silence don’t go over particularly well in radio – to give the listener a few moments to absorb what he or she has just heard.

For example, if you listen to the first few minutes of our October program on the economic relationship between the US and Mexico, you will hear several different pieces of music (actually, because there is such a rich body of music to draw from for a Mexico program, we used a lot of music in the hour). Since the intro to the show was on the long side, I decided to use different pieces of music to maintain momentum, and to reinforce some of the thematic points in the script (plus, you can never have enough Los Lobos in a program). The songs start “hot” in the clear for a second, and then continue for a bit then fade. The hot start signals a “chapter” and then when the music fades out, it draws the ear in deeper to the conversation. Then, the next piece comes in to signal another point and chapter.

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Opposition leadership in Malaysia

ibrahimA recent article by Maznah Mohamad, a visiting senior research fellow at the Asia Research Institute of the National University of Singapore, questions the role of religion in Malaysian politics. He claims that its hard to distinguish Islamic radicals from Islamic moderates, saying that Islam and the government have essentially merged.

For two decades, the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) government invested enormous public resources in building up a network of Islamic institutions. The government’s initial intention was to deflect radical demands for an extreme version of Islamic governance. Over time, however, the effort to out-do its critics led the UMNO to over-Islamicise the state.

The UMNO’s programme has put Sharia law, Sharia courts, and an extensive Islamic bureaucracy in place, a collective effort that has taken on a life of its own. The number of Islamic laws instituted has quadrupled in just over 10 years. After Iran or Saudi Arabia, Malaysia’s Sharia court system is probably the most extensive in the Muslim world, and the accompanying bureaucracy is not only big but has more bite than the national parliament.

The struggle to define the role of religion in a democracy is one of the many challenges facing Malaysia. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has been at the center of these debates for more than three decades – as a student leader, a finance minister and as deputy prime minister. In 1998, Anwar began six years of solitary confinement on charges of sexual misconduct and corruption that were eventually reversed.

AAM’s Katherine Gypson sat down with Ibrahim to discuss the political landscape in Malaysia, the politics of a new trial he faces in November and how it will affect his plans to run for the position of Prime Minister in 2010. Watch >

New report on international religious freedom

President Obama’s credo of a “new beginning” between the US and the Muslim world is one of the US’s most innovative cornerstones in foreign policy. The State Department just published its 2009 annual report on international religious freedom. The report was presented by Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton and Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Michael Posner stressing the report was published in the “spirit of dialogue and cooperation.”

Currently, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a 56-nation consortium of Islamic nations, is pressing the UN Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution broadly denouncing the defamation of religion. This effort is regarded as a reaction to perceived anti-Islamic incidents such as the publication of Islam-critical cartoons in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005 causing outrage among Muslims worldwide.

At the presentation of the report, Clinton expressed that she “strongly disagrees” with such efforts to implement anti-defamation policies, saying they would restrict freedom of expression and religion. From the AP:

The best antidote to intolerance is not the defamation of religion’s approach of banning and punishing offensive speech, but rather a combination of robust legal protections against discrimination and hate crimes, proactive government outreach to minority religious groups, and a vigorous defense of both freedom of religion and expression.

Referring to Obama’s Cairo speech and his “new beginning” policy, Clinton stressed that freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. Therefore, the 2009 report has a special focus on efforts to promote interfaith dialogue and tolerance. “These important efforts built on the shared values and common concerns of faith communities to achieve lasting peace.”

Regarding recent developments on religious freedom, Posner stated he sees a mixed picture of positive and negative trends. He mentioned a rising consciousness in the world for the necessity of interfaith exchange and cooperation.

There really is a sense of a growing recognition that there needs to be more dialogue and more effort across faiths to figure out where is common ground, where are differences and how do we navigate those differences.

Assistant Secretary Posner added that religion-based violence doesn’t only happen in the Middle East. Violence also occurs in the US and Europe, citing two examples: an Egyptian woman murdered by a racist perpetrator in a German courthouse and the murder of a guard in the Washington DC Holocaust Museum by a radical anti-Semite.

He also mentioned that blasphemy laws and tremendous inter-faith tensions in the Central Asian republics are increasingly posing stronger restrictions on religious groups and their rights to register or receive funds.

Learn more about the US’s interest in promoting international religious freedom, listen to The First Freedom.

Senator Kerry’s Strategy

KerryWhile in Afghanistan on a fact-finding trip that turned into a combination of diplomatic maneuvers and political strong-arming, Senator John Kerry spoke with an officer on the ground who summed up the U.S.’ role in the conflict.

“We haven’t been fighting in Afghanistan for eight years. We’ve been fighting in Afghanistan for one year, eight times in a row.”

Recalling this discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations Monday, Senator Kerry spoke of his own frustration with the Vietnam War more than thirty years ago. Kerry famously testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he now heads, posing the question “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

Kerry spoke of the unfortunate symmetry between the fearful faces of Afghans watching American armored personnel carriers roll by and “an image I recognized from forty years ago.”

But the parallels between Afghanistan and Vietnam end there for Kerry. He acknowledged that while the war in Afghanistan was not “a mistake,” the strategy – or lack thereof – following the U.S. 2001 invasion had certainly created an impossible situation.

“Because of the gross mishandling of this war by past civilian leadership, we have no good options.”

Kerry added later:

“You cannot understand the degree to which the Bush Administration turned its back on Afghanistan. “

Kerry set out two major justifications for an increase in troops:

One – “We start from the premise that Al-Qaeda remains at the center of our mission. They still want to attack us, they are still trying to attack us and we have interrupted plots globally over the last few years.”

Second – “What happens in Afghanistan has an impact on Pakistan…We have enormous strategic interest in what happens in Pakistan today. It is a fragile democracy that is fighting a determined insurgency.”

Following up, Kerry said U.S. strategy should be informed by “two basic truths:”

First of all, we can’t draw down large of numbers of troops today in order to shift – as some would like to see – to a narrow counterterrorism mission.

Second, we simply don’t have enough troops or resources to launch a broad, nationwide.

Kerry said “achieving our goals does not require us to build a flawless democracy, defeat the Taliban in every corner of the country, or create a modern economy—what we’re talking about is “good-enough” governance.”

Saying he is “wary of overextension,” Kerry suggested the U.S. does not need to win “every village and hamlet, especially when non-Pashtun ethnic elements are already hostile to the Taliban.”

After $243 billion and eight years, Kerry defines success in Afghanistan “as the ability to empower and transfer responsibility to the Afghans.” The opportunity for such a success may be only further complicated by the November 7th elections Kerry helped make possible.

See the prepared text of Kerry’s remarks here.