I've never been a big fan of New Year's resolutions. They often have the feel of death-bed conversions, of passionate commitments to do the right thing after most of the pleasures and benefits of doing the wrong thing have run their course.
Shame and a hangover on New Year's Day might provoke us to vow, without much chance of success, to never drink again. Still, who knows when we might commit to a new and better course that could improve our lives?
Accordingly, a couple of years ago, in the spirit of the season and with hope for the New Year, I presumed to propose three more or less unrelated national resolutions. Two are still worthy goals, at least in my opinion, but we haven't made much progress toward them.
First, I proposed that our country resolve to make 2012 the year in which we finally begin to take climate change more seriously. Two years later, our denial has shaded into resignation: We know that significant climate change is happening, but, for the most part, we try not to think about it.
I also proposed the quixotic notion that our nation resolve to save the Post Office. I like the idea that the United States Postal Service is an essentially democratizing influence, a public entity that ties every citizen to every other and, in line with its original intention, still draws the nation together. Everyone who has an address is included and gets the same service, and the 1 percent pay the same as the 99 percent. Well, we all have to have our dreams.
Finally, I proposed that our nation resolve to learn something good from a bad war. In mid-December of 2011, President Obama welcomed home the last American combat troops from Iraq. After nine years of war, Obama said, with stunning understatement, "Iraq is not a perfect place." But at least, he added, "we are leaving a sovereign, stable and self-reliant country with a representative government elected by its people."
Of course part of the president's job is to cast our nation's actions in the best possible light, but even two years ago this hopeful estimation of Iraq was unduly optimistic. On Christmas Day, the New York Times reported that the United States is currently rushing Hellfire missiles and surveillance drones to Iraq to help suppress the highest level of violence since 2008, the result of a Qaeda-backed insurgency against an exclusionary Shia-dominated government. More than 8,000 Iraqis have died this year from the violence.
In short, Iraq is a mess. But it would be a disservice to our troops who served there if, amid the rest of the chaos in the Middle East, we casually forget that this unnecessary war arose from the ignorance, arrogance and incompetence of the Bush administration.
At this point, though, there's not much to be gained from continuing to blame George W. Bush for the disaster in Iraq, except to the extent that doing so reminds us not to keep believing that we can accomplish very much in that dangerous region by bombing more Muslims.
Which leads to a fine New Year's resolution for 2014: Let's find a way to make peace with Iran.
The current Geneva agreement with Iran is a rare opportunity. Both sides gave a little and received a little; uranium enrichment is slowed and sanctions are eased. This opportunity for rapprochement mustn't be allowed to slip away.
Unfortunately, radicals on both sides, motivated by fear or pride, threaten the moderation needed to make the agreement work.
But in many ways we have more in common with Iran than with Saudi Arabia or China. Many young Iranians are inclined toward modernism and secularism. More contact with the West would have the positive effect of urging them away from the radicalism that currently dominates Iran's government.
Successful re-engagement with Iran would be an excellent goal for 2014. Let's make it happen. Happy New Year!
(John Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas.)