When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully. — Samuel Johnson
So, soon, it will be sayonara 2006. As we ring in the new, what sort of year was the old we ring out — the good, the bad, the bizarre?
Abroad, the news was of Iraq — ever Iraq: its first elected government installed at last, the conviction of Saddam, and (for him) the genuine prospect of a noose. And of Iran enriching uranium and building nuclear centrifuges; of North Korea lofting rockets capable of carrying nuclear payloads it insisted it can produce; of Sudan, and Ethiopia advancing on Mogadishu. Of Guantanamo, rendition, jihadist telephone surveillance and sleuthing the jihadist money trail. Mexico with a shadow presidency; Hugo Chavez subbing — and well — for the wasting Comrade Fidel; Ehud Olmert taking the reins from Ariel “The Bulldozer” Sharon.
The year 2006 was the trial of Saddam Hussein, and the trials of Lebanon under the yokes of Syria, Iran and Hezbollah. An electoral victory for Hamas. The arrest in Britain of jihadists intending to blow up multiple aircraft. Pope Benedict XVI inspiring jihadist ire. The Chinese economic dragon rampant, and China’s Three Gorges Dam ramping up.
Nationally, let’s see. The nation’s population hit 300 million. The Dow and gold set altitude records. It was BlackBerry settled, Samuel Alito in, Donald Rumsfeld out and Barbaro scratched. Layoffs at GM and Ford. Illegals demonstrating in the streets under the flags of their first allegiance, Barry Bonds clobbering past the Babe, Congressman William Jefferson stashing his money in his freezer and winning landslide re-election. A faceful of shot for Harry Whittington from his good buddy the veep. Warren Buffet teaming up with Bill and Melinda Gates to do a whole lot of good.
The year brought death to Sago coal miners near Buckhannon, W.Va.; to five Amish girls in Lancaster County, Pa.; and to three climbers on Mount Hood. School choice turned 50, as did the Interstate highway system. 2006 was the year of cutie Katie bombing at CBS, Tour de France winner Floyd Landis likely doping, the price of gasoline plunging, Zacarias Moussaoui escaping the juice for life, Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff moving toward a long day’s night in infamy. It was, as well, the bald eagle — and perhaps nuclear power — redux.
Constitutional amendments limiting marriage to a man and a woman cruised to passage in seven of the eight states; Congressman Mark Foley and the New Jersey Supreme Court eased the way. The Democrats took control of both congressional houses. Google bought YouTube; USAir tried to buy Delta. Richard Armitage joined Karl Rove and Scooter Libby in dubious repute. Joe Lieberman won for losing. Ground was broken for a memorial to Martin Luther King on the D.C. Mall.
And these names, among others, departed the stage: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Slobodan Milosevic. Augusto Pinochet. P.W. Botha. Pierre Amire Gemayel. Jeane Kirkpatrick. Coretta Scott King. Milton Friedman. James Van Allen. Caspar Weinberger. Betty Friedan and Mickey Spillane. Byron Nelson and Red Auerbach. John Kenneth Galbraith and Kenneth “Kenny Boy” Lay. Jack Palance and James Brown. Hundreds of Americans fighting for liberty and thousands of Iraqis, et al.
If a symbol exists for 2006, perhaps it is a noose — or the prospect of one — not only to concentrate Saddam’s mind but the West’s.
Corruption and Iraq — and an irresolute electorate — have changed the partisan complexion of Congress. Will Iraq now be exploited in the American conscience to secure our defeat there — and more broadly the defeat of the West in World War IV, wherein jihadists seek a worldwide caliphate under the scimitar?
In formulating its answer, this nation now embarks on determining its fate. The question is framed in these ways: (1) Press on or withdraw? (2) Persuade more Western allies to join the enterprise, or not? (3) Send more troops, and if so (a) how many, (b) for how long, (c) who will they be, and (d) whence will they come? We cannot send troops we do not have. Nor can we call yet again upon those (too many of them Guardsmen and Reservists) who already have served in the war zone too long and too many times. Will the government institutionalize universal service for the young to generate military manpower and to instill the sense of sacrifice broadly that success in war requires? Will it dramatically increase pay, benefits and other encouragements for volunteer enlistment? Will it restore a draft?
2006 concentrated the public mind — put the question, dangled the noose out there before a country, a culture, enervated and effete; 2007 and 2008, with their debates and elections, will provide the answer. We speak here of the future of the United States and of free people everywhere — of what the realm of liberty, long term, will be. Edmund Burke said it well: The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedients and by parts. If liberty is the ultimate cause, then in answering the questions posed in the year now ending, America and the West will rally around the only salvational response.