It’s time once again to take a look back at the year known as 2016. For me, this year has gone by quickly. At times, I felt that the clock just needed to stop – that time should graciously give us a break and let us catch our collective breathes and just think for a moment.
But she doesn’t. She moves on – she refuses to slow down and wait. We are now 15 years past the historic events of 9/11. We’re 75 years past the catastrophic events of Pearl Harbor. War rages in Syria and Iraq. But time keeps moving. And because she does keep moving, it’s a worthwhile effort to stop and bear witness to some of the highlights of this past year. Here are my top five:
1.) Election of Donald Trump:
In a surprising victory, Donald Trump will become the next president of the United States. Hillary supporters and still drying their eyes and borrowing
emotional therapy animals to cope with this devastating loss. For me, I’ll just wait and see. What I know is that what’s been going on for the last 8 years has only produced an America that is poorer, has few jobs opportunities, a weaker military and a fatigued foreign policy reputation. All the while terrorism and an uncontrolled border have made our nation less safe.
So, I’m willing to see what will happen with a president who is putting together a cabinet of highly successful businessmen and well-respected Generals. I’m all for smaller government, fewer regulations, more freedom and a government that understand that individual rights comes from God, not from government.
But you’ve got to admit – it was a crazy, nail-biter of a campaign season – revelation after revelation, scandal after scandal, WikiLeak dumps, lost emails, private email servers, the Russians? (Well, we’ll see…) And then the landslide electoral vote victory for Trump, in defiance of all the polls. Hmmmm, what an unpredictable world.
Well, finally. I didn’t know how much more the UK was going to be able to take. They had always had one foot sort of out the door with their refusal to adopt the Euro as their currency. But now, finally they have voted to depart from the European Union and regain their autonomy over so many things – not the least of which is their trade, immigration, jobs and their way of life. Good for you, England. (Oh, and watch out, the rest of Europe – because it’s not looking so good for some of you. And Angela Merkel – banning the full burqa now is just a little bit too late, don’t you think?)
For a terrorist organization that wasn’t even on President Obama’s intelligence radar, they sure have continued to make a name for themselves and shatter lives and towns along the way. The end of 2016 showed some effort to reclaim control of the city of Mosul from ISIS. The battle has lasted far longer than necessary and when the city is liberated, one will have to count the cost in human lives. According to CNN, 2000 Iraqi troops have been killed while engaging ISIS in battle in the month of November. Of course the Iraqi government denies these numbers – and actually, reporting the numbers (if they are accurate) would only encourage ISIS to fight harder.
The eventual outcome will be the liberation of Mosul from ISIS control, but one will also have to recognize that ousting ISIS from Mosul does not eliminate their ideology. They are not done yet. According to Frontline, the black flag of ISIS flies in 16 countries with 40 groups.
In connection with ISIS, we’ve seen a year where you couldn’t imagine things getting worse in Syria – but they did. Who’s not currently involved in this country? The US, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Syria, the Kurds and others are all there. As confusing as it may appear, Syria’s war is a war for regional dominance and power. It’s President Assad vs. his country. It’s Iran vs. Saudi Arabia. It’s Sunni vs. Shiite. It’s the US/NATO vs. Russia. It’s the Kurds vs. continuing to be denied autonomy. (And at times Turkey vs. the Kurds). At stake is regional influence as well as energy deals, naval interests, religious contentions and the growth of terror groups.
What is tragically clear is that about 500,000 Syrians have been killed throughout this conflict. According to the UN, about 11 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes (including the 4.8 million who have fled to neighboring countries for safety.) The city of Aleppo remains one of the more poignant places and images of a country that has decided that its citizens no longer matter. The big winners: Russia, Iran and Assad. The losers: Humanity.
5.) Death of Fidel Castro:
At the age of 90, Fidel Castro, revolutionary and former leader of Cuba, died. And world leaders have had a variety of reactions. Some of the Cuban people viewed him as a father. He was hailed as a great leader by people like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un of North Korea. Oh, and by Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada.
But maybe those folks are overlooking the fact that Castro is responsible for stripping away many civil liberties and executing tens of thousands of Cubans. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who fled Cuba as a young girl, says that some in the world want to romanticize Castro’s legacy and in the process, whitewash all of his crimes as if he was some folk hero. Here is how Ros-Lehtinen described Castro when she spoke on the House Floor:
“I have repeatedly come down to this very podium to call my colleagues’ attention to the threat that Fidel Castro and his regime pose to the U.S. and our national security. This thug, Fidel Castro, who attempted to infiltrate every level of our government through its intelligence services – like convicted Cuban spy Ana Belen Montes;
This despot, who allied himself with our greatest threats like Iran and Russia, and allowed Russia to put up a facility in Cuba in order to spy on our nation. This autocrat who told the Iranian Ayatollah that both Iran and Cuba would bring the U.S. to its knees and who tried to bring the world to nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. …Mr. Speaker, (this) Fidel Castro is dead and Cuba and the world are better for it.”
Sure, Castro provided free education and healthcare. But what good is knowledge and good health if you don’t have the freedom to think and express and say what is important to you? What good are these things if you are not free to live out God’s plan for your life?
As we look back at just these five events that shaped the past year, each person must take a minute to reflect and put these (and other) events into the context of their lives and their own personal stories. And once you’ve done that, you’ve got to ask questions about your own life, your own story and what you can do to make a difference in this world. For me, my 2017 starts by bringing context, truth and leadership principles in places like Poland, Iraq, India and more. Where will your 2017 take you?