Tuesday, January 03, 2006

What the World Won in 2005

Amir Taheri, New York Post:
Tired of reading bad news for a whole year? Well, here is some relief: 2005, designated by doomsayers as annus horriblis, drew to a close as one of the best years of the new century so far. Let us start with the good political news. READ MORE

The annual report of Freedom House, which measures the advance of liberty across the globe, describes 2005 as the best year since the reports started in 1975. Of the 198 member-states of the United Nations, only eight — Cuba, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Sudan, Uzbekistan, Syria and Libya — experienced setbacks in terms of freedom in 2005. By contrast, 27 nations advanced towards greater freedom — an all-time record.

In Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine peaceful revolutions succeeded in toppling despotic regimes and installing people-based governments. There were clean elections in other countries emerging from decades of dictatorship, civil war and anarchy. One was Liberia, arguably the world's most unfortunate nation in recent memory.

It was also in 2005 that Afghanistan and Iraq adopted new democratic constitutions. Afghanistan held presidential and parliamentary elections while Iraq organized a constitutional referendum and two general elections. Predictions that Afghanistan and Iraq were about to plunge into civil war or disintegrate proved groundless as did Noam Chomsky's "scientific forecast" that 6 million Afghans would die as a result of their liberation from the Taliban.

There was more good news across the broader Middle East region.

Egypt held its first presidential election in conditions that, though not ideal, represented improvement on past exercises. Indeed, it was the first genuinely contested general election in Egypt since the 1952 military coup d'etat.

Saudi Arabia also held its first elections, albeit at the municipal level and without the participation of women. In neighboring Kuwait, however, women won the franchise after 40 years of struggle. Lebanon recharged its national batteries with a "Cedar Revolution" that culminated in the expulsion of Syrian troops after three decades of occupation.

Libya's follow-through on its decision to abandon its weapons of mass destruction programs was also good news. The quantities of chemical and bacteriological "substances" that Col. Moammar Khadafy handed over to the United States and Britain were large enough, if converted into weapons, to kill tens of millions of people.

Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza was good news, especially since it led to a re-organization of the Israeli political scene and the emergence of a new centrist force promising peace.

I also regard the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the new president of the Islamic Republic as good news. The reason is simple: Ahmadinejad has the courage, some might say recklessness, to cast aside the hypocritical mask worn by his two predecessors (both businessmen-mullahs) in a strategy of deception. He has eschewed taqiyah (dissimulation) and that, believe me, is welcome news. His presidency will force the people of Iran and the rest of the world either to come to terms with the Khomeinist revolution or to challenge it in a meaningful way.

In Europe, the best news, perhaps, was the rejection by the French and the Dutch of the proposed European Constitution — a convoluted document produced by technocrats with little regard for democratic principles. The secret of Europe's success as a civilization has been its diversity, a fact that always allowed those who thought and did things differently to find a home within the continent. The scheme to kill that diversity by inventing a European super-state is the worst threat facing European civilization.

Opposition to the liberation of Iraq was supposed to topple the governments of Britain, Denmark and Australia, which are committed to helping Iraq. But that didn't happen. All three won new mandates, at times with increased majorities.

Opponents of the liberation, however, did not fare so well. Gerhard Schroeder, the most opportunistic chancellor that federal Germany has had since its creation, was chased out of office by Angela Merkel, who had shed no tears over the demise of Saddam Hussein.

In France, President Jacques Chirac, who had also done all he could to keep Saddam Hussein in power, ended up losing every local, regional and European election that his party contested, not to speak of his humiliating defeat in the European Constitution referendum.

Even when the year was marred by bad news, some good eventually evolved in every case.

The Asian tsunami, which struck five days before 2005 started, claimed many lives. But it also ended the 40-year insurgency that had claimed over 100,000 lives in the Indonesian province of Aceh. By November, according to U.N. reports, more than 60 percent of those affected by the tsunami had been re-housed and helped to return to work, an unprecedented achievement by any standards.

Good also came out of the earthquake that devastated Kashmir. The tragedy forced India and Pakistan to open the cease-fire line for the first time since 1947 and, more importantly, to agree on a framework for resolving an issue that has kept them in conflict for half a century.

Deadly hurricanes also claimed many lives the United States. But predictions of economic collapse and racial war in the wake of Katrina proved groundless. It did hurt the economy momentarily, but did not provoke the black-vs.-white conflicts that some had hoped for. The claim that most victims of the hurricane had been poor blacks was debunked when the final list showed that the majority of the 3,400 people who died had been white and middle-class. And the number of deaths was far below the "tens of thousands" predicted by doomsayers.

There was also good news in the bad news that, though forecast, never materialized. The "Arab street" which was supposed to explode didn't — except in the form of backlash against terrorism in Morocco, Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Oil reached the $70 per barrel mark — yet did not trigger an economic slump. The global economy absorbed the shock with relative ease, growing by 3.4 percent, better than the Consensus Forecasts had predicted in December 2004.

The U.S. economy, which, if we believe The New York Times, has been on the verge of collapse since Bill Clinton left office, grew by a staggering 3.5 percent. Even Japan, emerging from a decade of stagnation, achieved a 2.4 percent annual growth rate.

The much predicted bursting of the Chinese bubble did not happen. In fact, China ended 2005 becoming the world's fourth largest economy with a dazzling 9.3 percent growth rate. India, too, did well with a 7.5 percent annual growth that has already made it one of the world's 10 largest economies.

All this, of course, will not drive doomsayers out of business. They will say: OK, 2005 wasn't bad, but wait for 2006.

The Persian poet Saadi, however, is said to have worn a ring bearing the hadith: "There is good in what happens" (Al-khair fi ma waq'aa). His English colleague Shelly had a ring with a different message: The best is yet to come!

Happy 2006 to all.