The year 2003 will be remembered as a year of war and conflict, and it will be measured as a turning point in the war on terrorism. The year began with a great debate about whether to go to war in Iraq and culminated with the capture of Saddam Hussein cowering like a rat in the corner of an 8-foot hole in the ground. Between those two bookends much has happened, and as the year comes to a close, we continue to fight remnants of the Baathist regime, the fedayeen and other international jihadists trying to use Iraq and our friendship with Israel as the tinder to ignite a new worldwide conflagration.
Afghanistan continues its struggle to stabilize after U.S. military surgery cut out the Taliban cancer. But it is still too soon to know whether the cancer was fully excised or whether the patient remains in only temporary remission. Meanwhile, we remain in a standoff with Iran and North Korea over development of nuclear programs and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And the threat of terrorism continues to percolate with bombings in the Saudi kingdom, in the streets of Turkey and with those Iraqis associated with the coalition. Despite all of the uncertainty and challenging problems, there is still much to be thankful for here at the dawn of the 21st century.
As Americans, during this holy season of Christmas and Hanukkah thanksgiving begins with our young men and women at arms who voluntarily, when called upon by their commander in chief to fight, made the sacrifice, and some the ultimate sacrifice of life itself, to defend the free world against a regime believed to be a threat to world peace. Our thanks continue for those soldiers who remain steadfast in a low-intensity war zone now that major hostilities are over. They persist against enormous odds attempting to help people of another land achieve the kind of freedom that we Americans too often take for granted - our God-given right to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness.
This is also the time of year to remember loved ones lost. In just the last few weeks, America lost two towering figures on the American political stage, and I lost two close personal friends - Robert Bartley and Sen. Bill Roth - both of whom played critical roles in the Reagan Revolution. From the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal, Bartley led a one-man army with little more than a pen with a singular yet profound mission: "free men, free markets."
Similarly, Roth, a champion for the taxpayer and a guardian against government waste, fraud and abuse, played a critical role in passing the Roth/Kemp/Reagan tax rate reductions in 1981. Roth also succeeded in enacting his signature legislation, the Roth Individual Retirement Accounts, and guaranteeing an enduring legacy among tax reformers. It is not an exaggeration to say that there would not have been a Reagan Revolution without two field generals named Roth and Bartley.
This year's end also gives us time for introspection, to put things into perspective and to plan for things to come. Gazing backward, I find great reason for optimism. Looking at the global condition during the last 100, 50 or even 30 years, there is much reason for hope and optimism. In 1900 the average life expectancy was only 30 years; today it's 67. Global poverty rates have declined more in the last 50 years than in the previous 500 years combined. The global economic pie has expanded from $4.98 trillion in 1950 to more than $33 trillion dollars by 2001. And, according to Freedom House, the number of free countries has doubled from only 43 in 1973 to 89 countries today. Furthermore, the report states, "The evidence of the ebb and flow of democracy during this 30-year period indicates dramatic changes in the global political landscape in the expansion of freedom." And, according to journalist Gregg Easterbrook, the air, water and landscape is cleaner and greener than ever.
Staring forward into the future, I believe freedom and democracy ultimately will encompass the world, or at least be taking solid root, hopefully by the end of this decade. That is not to suggest that there will not be troubles along the way. Our future is not preordained, which is why men and women of good will must act on their beliefs and why we must remain ever vigilant in the pursuit of our ideals of liberal democracy uber alles. And it is also why we must be willing to live and trade freely with all the risks and dangers that entails.
The most urgent issues currently facing the global community are international terrorism, which destroys the spirit; protectionism, which stunts trade and destroys opportunity; and unnecessary, man-made abject poverty, which persists in far too many nations. As Secretary of State Colin Powell, for whose rapid recovery from surgery we all are praying, stated many times, "Lifting humanity out of poverty is one of the greatest moral challenges of the 21st century." By continuing to champion global democracy, peace and prosperity, we can further freedom for all and bring hope to those who presently have none.