2004 has been a good year personally. On a broader level, it has been a pivotal year internationally. Several key moments that are worth highlighting in order of relevance:
1) Re-election of George Bush to a second term for President. This was an impressive achievement. Bush had lost the vast majority of popularity he gained from his actions post 9/11, registering in some polls slightly less than 50% approval ratings prior to his majority victory. The Bush campaign was brilliant. Brushing off the conventional wisdom that independents would decide the election, he secured and expanded his base. Not only did Bush win re-election, but he expanded yet again on the Republicans' majorities in both the House and Senate. Leaving domestic politics aside, the victory was a clear demonstration by the electorate that Americans support Bush's bold international vision, even though it is very unpopular abroad. This bodes very well for the Greater War on Terror and must have left the followers of Bin Laden and al-Zarqawi very much afraid.
2) The first democratic elections in Afghanistan. This is quite a turnaround from the Taliban running the country. Over 10.5 million people registered to vote. This change ends the stranglehold of the oppressive mullahs, allows education for women, and gives the people the opportunity to make their own destiny. While Europe and the left believe "War is not the answer", it is hard to see that without the US led invasion of Afghanistan, how the freedoms the Afghans now enjoy would have ever happened. What was once described by the Russians and English as the "Graveyard of Empires" is now a Muslim democracy.
3) The Battle of Fallujah. By destroying the last major base of operations for al-Zarqawi, where he and his minions committed gruesome torture and beheadings, the stage is set for January 2005 elections. It has been a terribly high price for America to pay, far greater than I had expected. However, 9/11 proved that accepting the status quo and appeasing the radical militant elements in the Middle East and allowing them to grow and establish firm bases of operations was a strategic blunder. While Bush may fail in creating democracy and security in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, the failure to act bold and try is not a solution, but rather prolonging another 9/11. Freedom is the only real solution to changing radical Islam. It will be a long and costly struggle, but freedom and our way of life are worth the sacrifice.
4) Real elections in Ukraine. The will of the people in not accepting a corrupt election in a former Soviet Republic was beautiful. The crowds taking to the streets, peacefully, demanding that their election be fair and rejecting the corruption of the old Soviet system was heartening. Democracy is gaining ground, even as the liberal left abandons those whose only hope of receiving freedom is from an active American foreign policy.
The common theme to be proud and encouraged by for 2004 is freedom and democracy. I pray for safe elections in Iraq next month. It is easy to lose site of the objective by focusing on the suffering of our men and women and the residents of Iraq. The Battle of the Bulge was a difficult time for Allied forces at the end of the Second World War in Europe, but it was a key to victory. 2004 was a year of progress achieved at a great cost. Hopefully in 2005, we will see the consolidation of our gains in '04 and an expansion of freedom.
Have a Happy New Year!