Excerpt:Â And so another year scuttles by. Like almost all years, this one is so checkered and mottled and diverse, it's hard to really evaluate. All the many hopeful signs of progress and achievement have been greatly offset by troubles, ominous signs and tragedies. Is the world a better place than it seemed 12 months ago? Your answer, like mine, may depend greatly on your place in this world â€“ and whether you've moved forward, lost ground or simply held your own. Among hopeful indicators, I list the apparent growing success of "the surge" in Iraq, and the lessening of the body count, particularly American bodies. Sadly, a lot of the violence continues, as Iraqis slaughter other Iraqis in senseless, random detonations and suicide explosions â€“ and our fine young patriots still live in constant danger as they try their utmost to secure a peaceful democracy for that long-plagued people. But al-Qaida has been beaten back, discredited, exposed for the brutal malignancy it is, and both Sunni and Shiite factions have had more than enough of that doomed movement.