Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- Few will argue with the notion that a large majority of Americans are in a "sour mood" in this election year about the country's general direction.

Americans have turned darkly pessimistic about their nation, a mood fed by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; $3-a-gallon gas; anxiety about the economy; a jittery stock market; and an overall belief that not much is getting done in Washington these days.

Interviews with politicians and pollsters in various parts of the country suggest that other things are feeding this depression, from higher property taxes, corruption at many levels of government, and a diet of news that is always bad, or at least spun that way on television and in newspapers.

At the risk of disagreeing with the conventional wisdom of the American people, I would argue that there are many reasons to feel good about the general direction of events at home and abroad.

Much of the story in Afghanistan and Iraq is about unremitting violence at the hands of the hated Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists, who have slowly but inexorably raised U.S. casualties. But the military mission that was the major U.S. geopolitical objective there has been achieved: freely elected democratic governments that are functioning as best they can, though still in their infancy.

The agreement last month to form a government in Iraq is historic and beyond the terrorists' power of to reverse. From time to time, our TV screens are filled with a few thousand demonstrating youths, expressing anger at the United States (usually instigated by the terrorists). But keep in mind that these demonstrators do not represent the 25 million Iraqis and millions of Afghans who voted for self-government.

Sure, we are appalled by the persistent bloodshed there, but what we are on the verge of accomplishing -- pro-Western governments planted in the heart of the Middle East's terrorist breeding grounds -- will yield rich dividends for future generations at home and abroad.

The growing threat of a nuclear-armed Iran has been the focus of global fears that have led to soaring oil prices and destabilized the region.

However, the Iranians are now sending signals they want to talk to us, and, last week, the United States said it would join in European talks about Iran's nuclear program -- with certain provisos. Namely, they must first suspend their uranium enrichment and reprocessing of spent nuclear materials.

This is a big breakthrough for the Bush administration in what has been a very sticky, diplomatically difficult security issue that could turn the heat down significantly in a region fraught with peril.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.