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January 1, 2007

2006: The Year Progress Took A Step Back


For those of us with a continued and intense interest in the clash of civilizations, it was clear what the year 2005 stood for by its conclusion. The year of Arab Democracy, as it can be called, saw incredible changes, from the immensely successful elections in Iraq, to the freeing of Lebanon from Syrian occupation, to municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, and to the ever so slow, yet observable, liberalization of Egyptian politics. The year 2005 was a reason for hope in the Middle East, and much of the world.


The 12 months that followed, however, were not of the type to sustain such hope. Whether in the U.S., the Middle East or elsewhere in the world, there was little reason for optimism and modest progress in important areas. Now there is no doubt that there were some reasons to cheer, and it would be shameful if some of the most significant went unmentioned, despite being the exception in an ugly year.


Good news outdid the bad news in the category of deaths. While the termination of Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi represented our ultimate superiority in the Iraq conflict, Saparmurat Niyazov’s recent passing gives hope to that poor mess of Turkmenistan. Former dictator Augusto Pinochet’s demise also closed a painful chapter in Chilean history. Other dictators’ suffering, whether physical in Cuba or political in Iran, provides for further exciting developments to watch in 2007.


International elections were also generally pleasing. While Iranians dealt their president a blow at the polls, the Canadians, Swedes and Dutch finally realized that economies can grow with the election of conservatives to office. And in one of the rare 2006 developments in Arab democracy, women in Kuwait were able to vote for the first time as the Persian Gulf continues to make strides in the right direction, however painfully slowly.


On the U.S. front, we had an incredibly quiet hurricane year, despite Al Gore’s predictions of doomsday. The Dow Jones went crazy breaking records, with no signs of stopping anytime soon. America’s population grew to 300 million, fueled by a respectable birth rate for a developed country and the votes of countless immigrant feet. And of course Senator John Kerry reminded everyone why his presidency would have been as ugly as his wife. Wait, that was a botched joke. What I really meant by that is that President Bush’s policies are broken. Whoops!


Now despite all of this good news, it is quite worrisome that some of the best episodes to come out of 2006 concern the election of right-wing Swedes and the simple lack of significant hurricanes. As unpleasant as it would be, a realistic look at 2006 leads to a deluge of disturbing and often terrifying developments that must be taken very seriously.


The Middle East in 2006 did not look good, to say the least. Despite strong economic development, Iraq remains in a state of war and high sectarian tensions. Lebanon, which had high hopes following the Cedar Revolution in 2005, has fallen into a political emergency that could very well develop into yet another civil war in that country. The unsuccessful Israeli war on Hezbollah, of course, did not help the situation, as it weakened the Lebanese government while strengthening the armed domestic opposition. The Palestinian territories also took a turn for the worse with the victory of Hamas at the polls.


Despite playing an active role in destabilizing both Iraq and Lebanon, Iran and Syria are now getting friendly looks from some U.S. politicians, taking us back to the failed days of appeasement. Much of the Muslim world further demonstrated the need for U.S.-led change in the region through the masses’ irrational reaction to simple academic quotations by Pope Benedict XVI. Further scares were given by Iran and North Korea, each of which proudly revealed substantial advancement in its nuclear research.


On the home front, the Democrats took back Congress, with one of their first actions being the appointment of a Congressman who does not know Al Qaeda’s religious affiliation to a crucial intelligence leadership post. With their kissing up to Syria and Iran, raising taxes and the minimum wage, and blocking potentially solid judges, Democrats will manage to take America back socially, economically and on the international level.


All of this, of course, is not to expand on some of the less significant yet nonetheless sad events of the last year, such as Steve Irwin’s tragic death, Pluto being demoted to sub-planetary status, and that hideous painting, the Scream, being found after having been stolen. For these reasons and more, 2006 is not a year to be missed. Hopefully, history will look at it as nothing but a bump in a general trend of progress, although that remains to be seen. For now, we can be content with loving 2006, or rather, the fact that it has ended.


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