- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 18, 2005

It’s time we took stock of things to see how we’re doing — if only to reply to the grouches among us who have been Bah-Humbugging just about everything this year.

America had more than its usual share of problems and challenges at home and abroad this year: the war on terrorism, Afghanistan and Iraq wars, Gulf Coast hurricanes, persistent doubts about the economy and job layoffs in troubled businesses. But we are facing them, debating them, dealing with them and in the end will overcome them, as always.

Certainly the world has many political, social and economic troubles of its own, from the Middle East to China, and the natural catastrophes that struck millions of people. But there are inspiring developments and sweeping political currents across the globe, too, that give us reason for hope in this season of peace, good will and rebirth.

Here’s why I think there is every reason to believe our future will be a lot brighter in the year to come:

Terrorism: It will be with us a long time, but we’ve taken prudent security precautions and military/intelligence offensive actions to uncover, prevent and defeat it where possible.

There is no doubt that since the devastating attacks on September 11, 2001, we have made huge strides, offensively and defensively, to protect our homeland and way of life. Of course, we’re not fully safe, but we are certainly safer in this age of terrorism than ever before and we will no doubt be safer still as we improve programmatic and technological security tools that have been and will be deployed.

The war in Iraq: If anyone had predicted five years ago that the United States would be successfully planting the seeds of two democratic countries right in the heart of the Middle East’s terrorist breeding grounds, it would have been greeted with disbelief and ridicule.

In fact, that has been the response from pundits, critics and armchair analysts ever since President Bush launched the military offensives to topple terrorist regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. These observers offered a seemingly endless list of reasons why his democracy-building plan wouldn’t succeed and few if any reasons why it would.

But last week’s national elections in Iraq to choose a free, independent democratic government proved the cynics and pessimists here and elsewhere not wrong but spectacularly so.

The latest reports from Iraq tell us things we haven’t heard in the last year: successful rebuilding in many parts of the country, a growing economy (including a stock market), a mushrooming Iraqi information network (television and radio stations, wireless cell phones, a myriad of newspapers).

Most important, there have been great strides in building up Iraqi security forces, offering hope of some U.S. troop withdrawals next year.

The U.S. economy: Has any sector of America been more besieged by doubt, fear and pessimism? We can be thankful those fears were not shared by homebuyers, consumers and enterprising entrepreneurs.

Corporate profits, productivity, job creation and overall economic growth were all up. Gross domestic product is at 4.3 percent, unemployment a tad over 5 percent.

The core inflation rate is modest, interest rates have been low by historical standards, gas prices fell and U.S. manufacturing has been making a comeback. The stock market, too, defied the skeptics and by last week had resumed its year-end rally, with the Dow once again nearing 11,000.

Compare this to frequently expressed fears throughout the year that the housing bubble would burst (it only slowed from its overheated pace), corporate profits would fall, the economy slow and things would generally worsen. It did not happened.

Globally: While the Iraqis followed in our footsteps by voting for a constitution and a new government, the Israelis and Palestinians had taken major strides on the U.S.-led roadmap to peace, the Saudis seemed to be experimenting more with local democratic elections, while Pakistan was cementing its alliance with the U.S. in the war on terrorism.

In Asia, South Korea and communist North Korea have taken steps to continue their dialogue with one another, China’s free market economy continues to boom, much of it in U.S. and other foreign investment, while the protest movement escalates its demands for more political freedom.

India’s economy, in the midst of the largest war on poverty, after China, is growing more than 7 percent a year, bursting with enterprises that are changing the face of a country once known only for poverty and famines.

Vast problems of hunger, disease and war remain across Africa and most of Central and South America. Still, no one can look at the last 12 months and not agree things are better in many places in the world, especially here at home, as we prepare to tackle the work that remains in the year head.

A reason for confidence in this season of renewal, promise and light.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.



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