Michael Barone

The world looks safer, friendlier, more hopeful than it did as we approached Christmastime last year.

Then, we were on the defensive, perhaps on the verge of defeat, in Iraq. The Europeans' attempts to persuade Iran to renounce nuclear weapons seemed to have failed. Hugo Chavez was using his near-dictatorial powers and the oil wealth of Venezuela to secure the election of opponents of the American "empire" in Latin America.

Today, things look different. And they suggest, to me at least, that the policies of the Bush administration, pilloried as bankrupt by the Democrats after their victory in congressional elections in November, have served American interests better than most Americans then thought.

Start with Iraq. The surge strategy, opposed by almost all Democrats in Congress and the party's presidential candidates, has clearly worked. Violence has sharply decreased; Iraqi Sunnis have turned against al-Qaida and toward the Shiite-dominated government; bottom-up reconciliation has gone forward in apparently all areas of the country. Polls show that despite minimal coverage in the mainstream media for many months, most Americans are coming to understand that the surge is working.

True, majorities still say that we should not have gone into Iraq in the first place. And George W. Bush's job rating has rebounded only a little, if at all. There is room for criticism of his record: If the surge has been so successful, why didn't he order it some months or even years earlier? But the prospect of a non-dictatorial Iraq, friendly to the United States, growing economically and peaceful enough to nurture civil society, is now within sight -- as it wasn't a year ago.

Then go to Iran. The National Intelligence Estimate unveiled Dec. 3 stated that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program back in 2003. But it also noted, though this didn't make the headlines, that the mullahs' regime is continuing its enrichment of uranium. Uranium enrichment is the single hardest part of making a deliverable nuclear weapon, and the NIE also stated that the mullahs could resume their nuclear weapons program anytime soon.

Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM