WASHINGTON -- 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 has had more than its usual share of problems and challenges at home and abroad this year: the war on terrorism, Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the Gulf Coast hurricanes, persistent doubts about the economy and job layoffs among troubled businesses. But we are facing them, debating them, dealing with them and in the end will overcome them, as we always do. Certainly the world has many political, social and economic troubles of its own, from the Middle East to China, and the natural catastrophes that have 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 that our future will be a lot brighter in the year to come:
TERRORISM: It will be with us for a long time to come, but we've taken prudent security precautions and military/intelligence offensive actions to uncover, prevent and defeat it where we can. There is no doubt that since the devastating attacks on Sept. 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 we ever were before and we will no doubt be safer in years to come as we improve the 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 by disbelief and ridicule.
In fact, that has been the response from the pundits, critics and armchair analysts ever since Bush launched the military offensives to topple terrorist regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq.
They offered a seemingly endless list of reasons why his democracy-building plan wouldn't succeed and few if any reason why it would.
But last week's national elections in Iraq to choose a free, independent democratic government provide that the cynics and pessimists here and elsewhere were not only wrong but spectacularly so.
The latest reports from Iraq tell us things that we haven't been hearing in the past year: successful rebuilding is going on in many parts of the country, the economy (including a stock market) is growing, the country's information network (television and radio stations, wireless cell phones, a myriad of newspapers) has mushroomed. Most importantly, there have been great strides in the buildup of Iraqi security forces, offering hope that there will be some U.S. troop withdrawals next year.
THE U.S. ECONOMY: Has any sector of America been more besieged by doubt, fear and pessimism? Thankfully, those fears were not shared by the homebuyers, consumers and enterprising entrepreneurs.
Corporate profits, productivity, job creation and overall economic growth were all up. GDP at 4.3 percent. Unemployment a tad over 5 percent.
The core inflation rate modest, interest rates were low by historical standards, gas prices fell and U.S. manufacturing was 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 reality to the oft-repeated fears throughout the year that the housing bubble would burst (it only slowed from its overheated pace), corporate profits would fall, the economy would slow and things would generally get worse. It did not happened.
GLOBALLY: While the Iraqis were following 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, Communist North Korea and South Korea have taken steps to continue their dialogue with one another, China's free market economy continues to explode, much of it in U.S. and other foreign investment, while the protest movement is escalating its demands for more political freedom.
India's economy, in the midst of the largest war on poverty, after China, is growing by more than 7 percent a year, bursting with enterprises that are changing the face of a country once known only for its poverty and famines.
Vast problems of hunger, disease and war remain across the continent of Africa and most of Central and South America. Still, no one can look at the past 12 months and not agree that things are better in many places in the world, especially here at home, as we prepare to tackle the work that remains to be done in the year head.
A reason for confidence in this season of renewal, promise and light.