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.