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The Sick Man of North America

January 31, 2012 ·

My modestly priced new ebook covers the worsening health of U.S. foreign policy and the efforts to revive the patient.

A century ago, the Ottoman Empire was falling apart as a result of disastrous wars and economic decline. Dubbed “the sick man of Europe,” the Ottoman Empire was not ultimately able to pull itself together. It expired in the flames of World War I, but not before pulling down a good chunk of the world order with it.

Sick Uncle SamToday, the United States faces considerable economic challenges and has suffered numerous setbacks because of our own disastrous wars. Our reputation in the international community remains quite low. We are coming dangerously close to earning the epithet of “the sick man of North America.” And our decline in health also threatens global stability and security.

Every week for the last six years, I’ve written a column called World Beat about the health of U.S. foreign policy. With a few exceptions – the recent overture to Burma, the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq – the diagnosis has been dismal. For the first couple years, I chronicled the insanities of the Bush administration. For the last three years, I’ve dissected the policies of the Obama administration. There has been, alas, more continuity between the two administrations than anyone predicted when Barack Obama took office.

I had low expectations for Obama from the beginning – not because I doubt his talents as an individual, but because I fear for the health of our political institutions and I recognize the power of our economic elite. Obama lacks the leadership skills, the political intention, and the congressional backing to transform institutions and challenge entrenched economic power. U.S. foreign policy remains on the same perilous trajectory that Bush and his cronies launched it on. And so we are still the sick man of North America, dangerous in our relative decline.

Cover art by Adwoa Masozi.In All Over the Map: the Best of World Beat, I’ve brought together a collection of the best of these columns. This modestly priced ebook covers the worsening health of U.S. foreign policy and the efforts to revive the patient. It looks at movements around the world that champion peace, democracy, and economic sustainability. It profiles the people and the ideas that can guide us out of our perilous predicament. The book includes essays on the death of Osama bin Laden, the continuing U.S. drone wars, graphic novels that cover global affairs, the use of dance therapy with child soldiers, the dissident art of Ai Weiwei, the politics of the Muslim Brotherhood, the politics of overseas adoption, eyewitness reports from Korea and Albania, and much much more.

Hope was the watchword of the 2008 elections, and it propelled Obama into office. We must still hope. Quoting a famous African proverb, Hillary Clinton is fond of saying that “it takes a village to raise a child.” Similarly, it takes an electorate to raise a president. We can still push Obama – and subsequent presidents – in the direction of democracy, equitable prosperity, and environmental sustainability. We can still push the international community toward these goals. All Over the Map is a guide to the vital signs of the United States and the world as well as the methods to improve our chances of recovery.