Top Ten Things Americans can be Thankful for 2011

News is too often defined as bad news. At a time when many Americans are unemployed or under-employed, or have lost their homes or seen their value plummet, it is hard to be too sunny. But the US does have a lot of good news stories to celebrate, despite the adversity we are currently facing, and it is in the tradition of this day to highlight those things for which we can be grateful.

1. The Iraq War is finally over. Not just major combat operations. Not just a phase of the war. The whole. War. Is. Over. Done. Complete. Out of there. US troops are going to be out of the country by the end of the year. Those who cavil that maybe a few trainers or embassy guards will be left behind don’t remember when there were 160,000 US troops in that country during a time of fierce fighting and civil war. As someone who followed the war intensively, I feel cheated that our troops will have no parade, and there will perhaps be no public ceremony marking the milestone. But it was a horrible thing, a great catastrophe for all concerned, and we can all be thankful that the war has ended.

2. Al-Qaeda, the radical organization that attacked the United States on September 11, 2001 and threw the country into a decade of militarism, has lost its leader and been rendered “operationally ineffective” and is within two arrests of being more or less rolled up.

3. The United States lost no troops in the Libya War. The international intervention was relatively successful in preventing a massacre and further repression of the Libyan population in cities such as Benghazi, which had risen up against the regime of dictator Muammar Qaddafi. The worst prognostications of critics were never realized. The US and NATO never had to commit ground forces. Libya did not splinter. Tripoli did not fall into chaos and looting when the revolutionaries took it over. Initial shortages of food and water were quickly overcome by the civil authorities and outside aid agencies. The recent capture of key regime figures such as Saif al-Islam Qaddafi has made it unlikely that there is anyone to lead a rear guard insurgency against the new Libya. A new, national unity government has been formed around a political liberal, PM Abdel Rahim Keeb. Indeed, cabinet is remarkably secular in make-up. Libya faces many problems, coming out of a civil war and decades of the brutal rule of a mercurial tyrant. But so far things have turned out about as well as could have been expected, and the United States (which had suffered at Qaddafi’s hands in incidents such as the bombing of a US airliner over Lockerbie in the UK) came out of the war without casualties.

4. There is now an unambiguous Arab democracy, Tunisia. Of the 22 member states of the Arab League, most are absolute monarchies, authoritarian Arab nationalist regimes, or military dictatorships. Freedom House ranked only 3 Arab states as “partly free” in 2010– Lebanon, Kuwait and Morocco. All three have regular parliamentary elections, but politics are constrained by militias or monarchs in ways that curb key liberties. (Iraq has also now had two regular parliamentary elections, but is classed “not free” because of political instability and widespread violence).

Tunisia’s parliamentary election of October 23 was free and fair, and genuinely popular parties won, made a coalition with one another across ideological divides, and promptly formed a government (processes that seem to take forever in Lebanon). At the moment, print censorship has been abolished. Big questions remain as to whether the Muslim religious party, al-Nahda, can rule a civil state effectively and without imposing religion. But the establishment of a thoroughgoing Arab democracy, and the aspirations for such a system in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain are good news for the US.

5. Violent crime continues to decline in the United States, with violent crime and property crimes falling 6% in 2010, according to a recent FBI report. Murder, rape, robbery and other serious crimes have fallen to a 48-year low. Whatever the reason for the decline (which is country-wide, and, indeed, mirrored in Canada as well), it argues for repeal of those ‘three strikes and you’re out’ laws that have filled up our prisons. The bad news: Americans say in opinion polls that they think crime is getting worse.

6. American democracy remains vital at the grass roots level, whether on the left or the right. The remarkable enthusiasm around the 2008 elections, the vitality of the 2010 congressional elections, the rise of the Tea Party and of Occupy Wall Street, student demonstrations and mobilizations for recalls and defeats of long-term incumbents– all of these developments point to a continued participatory democracy that is a good omen for the future.

7. American innovation and ingenuity remain strong in the face of challenges such as high petroleum prices and climate change from burning coal, gas and oil. Iowa now gets 20 percent of its electricity from wind turbines, and some close observers believe it could eventually go to 50% (as Denmark plans to do).

8. I know it seems as though it is a long way off, but it isn’t. India and Pakistan are taking serious steps to normalize their trade relations by the end of 2012. Anything that reduces tensions between the Asian giants is good for world peace (the US is a de facto ally of Pakistan and would likely get pulled in were relations to deteriorate). Moreover, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hopes that Indo-Pak trade volume will be up so much that it will spill over onto Afghanistan and contribute to a “New Silk Road” into Central Asia and China. Afghanistan, otherwise resource-poor, could gain in prosperity from this trans-Asian trade, easing the US transition out of that country.

9. Rates of heart disease in the US have fallen significantly since 2005. Better cholesterol treatments and a slight decline in smoking may be among the causes.

10. American scientific and medical research is still world class, despite threatened federal and state cutbacks in support. US medical researchers at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in California have discovered that stem cells can be used effectively to repair hearts damaged by a heart attack. If the findings are true, they could lead to a revolution in medicine. Whether other major organs can be similarly repaired also needs investigation.

9 Responses

  1. A welcome antidote to the gloom! Your reading of the rise in grass root level politics does point to the irony of Western Governments cheering on the Middle East yet panicking when their own populace protest. In the UK we have even had Murbarak type threats to social media because it enables people to organise.

    We are seeing a resurgence in real politics which has also snuffed out cults like Al-Qaeda which thrived in a vacuum. Of course were it will lead is big question. Surely not a replay of the Thirties?

  2. After the non-stop Republican debates, where war and woe are their only staples, it’s refreshing to hear some good news.

    I think I can speak for everyone who frequents this site, we are really thankful for Informed Comment.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. Wholeheartedly agree on the middle & near east issues.
    When the Iraq war loomed, I remember I was clueless but still thought noooo, nooo, this is all wrong. Now, a decade later after extensive traveling to middle & near east countries (not professionally) I am surprised how easy it is to tell correct and helpful Western interaction from the wrong types in most instances, yet how woefully ignorant most Westerners are.
    While this is ok for Mr Everyman, perhaps the biggest and saddest revelation of the past decade for me was just how ignorant those with responsibility (politicians, media people) are, too. In that respect, Obama was exceptional and it worries me what will come after him. Laughing about Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich is fun as long as they stay where they are … I´m afraid of 2012.

    Since yours is a positive article, I want to tune in again with my last sentence: let´s make sure that all this progress in 2011 supported and carried in part by thoughtful und helpful US (and European) foreign policy will not be endangered by nationalistic populism. Life is getting financially tighter for Americans and Europeans and still, most of them followed the Arab spring with altruistic sympathy which is absolutely great given where we come from (just remember how many ridiculous prejudices European peoples harbored against their next-door neighbor not even a century ago – not to mention the racism all whites shared towards anyone who was not white and Christian!)

  4. Wondering, amidst the bits of Wonderful pointed out here, and as I gather the elements of my own potentially wonderful family-and-friend Thanksgiving gathering on a beautiful post-cold front Retail Thursday Before Black Friday:

    If Tunisia is now an Arab Mediterranean democracy, with about 20% larger population than Israel, albeit less than half the GDP, with a bit of petroleum extraction and some motions toward “green energy,” and presumably subject to the same manufactured-“defence”-demand for military hardware, software and “training,” will the parts of the US political economy that are so dyseconomically engaged with Israel, on the ground (among others) that the nominal form of government is a “democracy,” now be pitching for similar involvement with the powers that will come to be in Tunisia?

    And since the Tunisian PTB, past and delicately present, are engaged with French elements to build a couple of nuclear power plants as part of their national energy mix, will we all have to live in fear that a world conflagration might start with the blathering and manufactured controversy of some set of Armageddonists and hegemonists and defenceniks over a fee- and profit- and personal-power-generating initiative to bomb, bomb the nukes before the engineers can get too far into construction? (Not, given the realities of seismicity and Murphy’s Immutable Law and the other happenstance-ities of the Universe, with the unfortunate and now largely invisible examples of Chernobyl, TMI, and Fukupshima, that Atoms For Peace is or ever was such a good idea… link to en.wikipedia.org)

    Gotta add that around here, our grass roots are afflicted and their growth warped by a nasty, persistent, self-serving set of kleptocratic parasites, home-grown and invasive (from Kansas, I understand, and other places.)

  5. I appreciate today’s positive message and this column’s consistent informative analysis and perspective. Many thanks for this service. Sorry to “cavil” on one issue–the war in Iraq as over. It is fact the Moqtada has stated ANY Americans left in Iraq after December 31 constitute a continued occupation, and that the Sadrists will resist that continuing occupation. Is he serious? He usually has been. If the Sadrists–a million member strong in 07–attack a “continuing occupation,” then what? How long is this “war over” going to last?

  6. Iraq… remember Iraq?

    Bombed back to the stone age.

    It’s former government uprooted, hunted down, and killed or imprisoned. Leaving it a socially, culturally, and economically destroyed nation, and all of that done based on nothing but lies?

    The Pentagon, an now you, say we’re leaving.

    Reluctantly:

    As US exits Iraq, a top general’s warning

    Baghdad, Iraq

    As American forces finalize their departure from Iraq, a top challenge for Iraqi security forces will be curbing the continued presence of Sunni and Shiite militant groups, said the top US general in Iraq.

    Gen. Lloyd Austin told journalists today that troops “worked as hard as we could for as long as we could” to train Iraqi military and security forces for a “historic transition” that will see all remaining US units gone by the end of the year.

    Already, fewer than 20,000 American troops are in Iraq, down from a high of more than 170,000. They are packing their bags and hardware on just eight bases that remain, from the peak of 505 across Iraq. US troops have been virtually absent from Iraqi towns since 2009, so most Iraqis will notice little difference when their government assumes full control…

    link to csmonitor.com

    But we really aren’t going to be gone at all:U.S.military presence will continue in Iraq

    By Walter Pincus November 21 2011

    The last 24,000 U.S. troops are scheduled to leave Iraq in the next few weeks so that most can be home before Christmas.

    The departure is required by the 2008 Iraq-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement signed by Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and then-President George W. Bush and approved by the Iraqi parliament, giving it the status of law.

    Meanwhile, don’t believe those agonized voices on Capitol Hill complaining that “having won the war” President Obama is “about to lose the peace” because he didn’t negotiate well enough with Maliki to allow 10,000 to 15,000 U.S. troops to remain.

    There will be a U.S. military presence. The Office of Security Cooperation (OSC), operating under the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, will have several hundred military personnel, and at least an equal number or more U.S. contractors, who will work with Iraqi security forces. Ongoing negotiations with Iraq about OSC activities will determine exact staffing numbers.

    Normally, such an office would focus on training for the $8 billion in equipment that Iraq has purchased from U.S. companies. Under current plans, the OSC will do much more…

    link to washingtonpost.com

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