Around this time every year, most of us give lip service to new year's resolutions, goals and personal benchmarks. Some will not happen, others will be successes and a few will be gambles. President Bush's freedom push is certainly in the "gamble" category. But despite what you hear from naysayers, he didn't do too badly. And that's a good thing for the world.
Freedom had an excellent year in 2005. And W. deserves some credit for that.
The watchdog group Freedom House reports that, "On the whole, the state of freedom showed substantial improvement worldwide with 27 countries and one territory registering gains, and only nine countries showing setbacks. The global picture thus suggests that the past year was one of the most successful for freedom since Freedom House began measuring world freedom in 1972." For the Middle East, especially, the performance was the best, again, since Freedom House started keeping track over three decades ago.
"What does this have to do with W.?" you may ask. Consider this. In his second inaugural address this past January George W. Bush said, "All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you."
To be honest, even some of the president's supporters, folks who probably lost sleep during the 2004 election season, were skeptical about the newly re-elected president's idealism. One of my favorite writers, who had actually taken time off as commentator to help get Bush elected, accused the president of "mission inebriation." She cautioned that he and his posse "ease up, calm down, breathe deep, get more securely grounded. The most moving speeches summon us to the cause of what is actually possible. Perfection in the life of man on earth is not."
And here we are. The world ain't perfect. We probably haven't seen the "greatest achievements in the history of freedom," one of the loose long-term goals President Bush had set in his second inaugural address. That would certainly be overkill and an overstatement. But we haven't done too bad, and the president's potential rhetorical overreach, policies and principles have lead the way -- along with the bravery of Americans and Iraqis, among others.
Now, of course, the world has miles to go, mind you. Just in time for the Christmas season, Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in-between his vehement Holocaust denials, reportedly declared "I will stop Christianity in this country." In a first-of-its kind report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released eyewitness testimony from North Korea "of gruesome public executions for those possessing or importing Bibles or for groups discovered worshipping clandestinely." According to Freedom House, 45 countries remain "Not Free," representing 2.3 billion people -- 35 percent of the world's known population who "are widely and systematically denied basic civil liberties and basic political rights are absent."
At the end of the day (or year, as it is), the United States can't take all the credit or be responsible for the spread of freedom and democracy. However, we can play a role in promoting it. And we have. The way Bush put it in January was: "The great objective of ending tyranny is the concentrated work of generations. The difficulty of the task is no excuse for avoiding it. America's influence is not unlimited, but fortunately for the oppressed, America's influence is considerable, and we will use it confidently in freedom's cause."
As Freedom House reports, "Since the events of 9/11, the United States has made the promotion of democracy -- in the Middle East primarily but in other regions as well -- a greater priority among the broad mix of foreign policy goals ... the administration of George W. Bush, building on policies initiated by his predecessors, has pushed forward an agenda in which the advancement of freedom plays a tangible role ..." Freedom House also notes, "... But if the gains for freedom revealed in this survey tell us anything, it is that the policies of the United States, Europe, and other free societies are achieving some crucial goals. These efforts should be strengthened, not diminished" -- a statement that rings true beyond the analysts.
The words of one Iraqi voter leaving her voting station were much quoted in certain segments of the media: "Anybody who doesn't appreciate what America has done, and President Bush, let them go to hell!" You have to have an appreciation for the hell she lived under in Saddam Hussein's tyranny to fully get the sincerity of her words.
We'll debate the hows and how longs, as we should, but in the heat of political debates and trying to keep us safe, let's not lose sight of these brave people the world over who, with just a little help and inspiration, will work for a new future of freedom.