As we close this year on the low of Congress giving Bush more billions for war, and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, let’s remember some of the year’s gains that can revive our spirits for the New Year. Here are just ten.
1. With the exception of the White House, this has been a banner year for environmental consciousness and action. Al Gore and the scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won the Nobel Peace Prize. Green building and renewable energy have exploded. Congress passed the Green Jobs Act of 2007, authorizing $125 million for green job training. Over 700 U.S. mayors, representing 25 percent of the U.S. population, have signed a pledge to reduce greenhouse gases by 2012. Illinois became the 26th state to require that some of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources and Kansas became the first state to refuse a permit for a new coal-fired power plant for health and environmental reasons. That’s progress!
2. On the global environmental scene, the Bush dinosaurs were tackled head on. When the US delegation at the UN climate change conference in Bali tried to sabotage the negotiations, the delegate from tiny Papua New Guinea threw diplomatic niceties to the wind and said that if the U.S. couldn’t lead, it should get out of the way. Embarrassed by international and domestic outrage, the U.S. delegation buckled, and the way was cleared for adopting the "Bali road map.” Although it is a weak mandate, it lays the groundwork for a stronger climate agreement post-2012 when the first phase of the Kyoto Protocols ends.
3. Imagine living in a waste-free urban society? Well, it’s no longer a utopian dream but a well-thought-out plan for India’s state of Kerala. The plan to be “waste-free” within five years includes waste prevention, intensive re-use and recycling, composting, replacing unsustainable materials with sustainable ones, training people to produce these materials, and providing funds for setting up sustainably run businesses. The ground-breaking plan, spearheaded by a local grassroots movement, demonstrates how citizen groups can advance pioneering policies to heal the planet.
4. While the war in Iraq rages on, a new war was stopped. The specter of war with Iran loomed large throughout the year, with Washington accusing Iran of killing U.S. soldiers in Iraq and being a nuclear threat. Then in December came the National Intelligence Estimate showing that the Bush administration knew all along that Iran had shelved its nuclear weapons program in 2003. It exposed the Administration claims of an Iranian threat as unjustifiably inflated, and the winds of war were suddenly subdued. Nothing is guaranteed, but a U.S. military attack on Iran is less likely now than it was earlier in the year.
5. This year also brought a decrease in tensions with North Korea. Hostilities flared after North Korea successfully conducted a nuclear test in 2006. But the Bush administration, bogged down in Iraq and pushed by international pressure, agreed to negotiate. Following a series of six-party talks involving North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia, Japan, and the U.S, on March 17, 2007, an historic agreement was reached. North Korea agreed to shut down its main nuclear facility and submit a list of its nuclear programs in exchange for fuel and normalization talks with the U.S. and Japan. During this age of raw aggression, it is a welcome example of putting diplomacy first.
6. The Iraqi people have little to celebrate, but there was one important victory for the people this year. Remember how the Bush administration and Congress were insisting that the Iraqi Parliament pass a new oil law? Touted as a way to “share oil revenue among all Iraqis”, the oil law was really designed to transform the country’s currently nationalized oil system to one open to foreign corporate control. But opposition was fierce inside Iraq, especially from the nation’s oil worker unions. In a rare sign of independence from Washington and concern for domestic opinion, the Iraqi Parliament withstood intense U.S. pressure and refused to pass the oil law.
7. In early 2007, few Americans had heard of the private security company Blackwater. By year’s end, Blackwater had become infamous for the killing of civilians in Iraq. The radical privatization of our military to corporations like Blackwater that are accountable to no one was exposed for all to see. This frightening process is still well under way, with more private contractors in Iraq than soldiers, but at least the issue has now entered the public dialogue. And Blackwater has received such a black eye that it’s unlikely to get a new Iraq contract when the present one expires in May.
8. One victory on both the war and environmental fronts came in Australia, where Labor Party’s Kevin Rudd beat conservative John Howard to become Prime Minister. Howard was an enthusiastic backer of George Bush’s disastrous war on terror, from defending the Guantánamo prison and extraordinary rendition to sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. Howard also joined Bush in refusing to ratify the Kyoto Agreement, arguing it would cost Australians jobs. After assuming office on December 3, Kevin Rudd immediately signed the Kyoto agreement and he has promised to remove Australia‘s combat troops from Iraq by mid-2008.
9. Sometimes a loss is a win. Hugo Chavez had initiated a constitutional referendum that would have, among other changes, scrapped term limits. His immediate acceptance of a razor-thin margin of defeat before all the votes were even counted showed his democratic colors and made it a lot harder for Bush and the corporate media to label him a dictator. Despite the loss, Chavez remains extremely popular, especially among the poor and working class in Venezuela. And throughout Latin America, the historic transformation led by progressive leaders like Chavez continues to blossom.
10.Last but not least, this year saw the resignation of some of Bush’s closest allies in government—Donald Rumsfeld resigned as Secretary of Defense, Alberto Gonzalez as Attorney General, and Karl Rove as Deputy Chief of Staff. Best of all, we can give thanks that we only have ONE YEAR left of the criminal, war-mongering, constitution-shredding, rights-violating, torture-sanctioning Bush Administration! It’s just GOT to get better than this!
So here’s a toast to a green future, diplomacy, and surviving the last throes of the Bush regime. Que viva 2008!
Medea Benjamin ([email protected]) is cofounder of CODEPINK (www.codepinkalert.org ) and Global Exchange (www.globalexchange.org).