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The end of the year brings with it a few significant endings, including an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, and the deaths of Vaclav Havel, Czech playwright and former president of Czechoslovakia, and Kim Jong Il, communist leader of North Korea.

In the aftermath of 9/11, and in response to threats later shown to be unfounded, the United States preemptively invaded Iraq in 2003. Unlike the previous Gulf War, however, this war, and the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, did not end quickly, and became costly in dollars spent and lives and reputation lost.

And so the fateful question: Was it worth it?

Certainly a difficult question to answer, in part because the full costs (and benefits) can only be guessed at. And the costs to families who lost sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, and to veterans who lost time away from loved ones, became unemployed, or who face months and years of trauma and recovery, the costs are incalculable.

Would Saddam Hussein eventually have developed – and used – weapons of mass destruction? Would the Iraqi people eventually have revolted against Saddam the Dictator? Will Iraq be a better nation as a result of the U.S. involvement, or will resentment grow with lingering turmoil? Has defense spending helped the U.S. economy, or did the hundreds of billions of dollars spent for war rob dollars from domestic programs.

What might be different now if the United States had only fought in Afghanistan, or had not gone to war at all in the 21st century?

The questions go on and on.

In 1997, an amendment to an international treaty was negotiated to reduce emissions that might be a cause of global warming. Canada and many other nations eventually ratified the agreement, termed the Kyoto Protocol. In doing so, Canada obligated itself to reduce emissions by 6% from 1990 levels by 2012. One report estimates that Canada’s emissions of greenhouse gases are around 20% more than in 1990. The greater portion of those emissions result from transportation, electricity generation, and fossil fuel production.

Rather than spend billions of dollars in carbon trading or penalties, Canada formally withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, shortly after participating in global climate talks in Durban, South Africa. Jobs and the economy have been cited as factors influencing the decision, along with a sense that the agreement penalized rich, industrialized nations (such as Canada and the United States) without putting sufficient restrictions on rapidly developing nations (such as India and China).

This weekend, Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong Il died. Geographically and philosophically, they were worlds apart.

Havel was a dissident playwright who coauthored the Charter 77 human rights manifesto in 1977 and was a leader of the nonviolent Velvet Revolution in 1989 that brought about the end to communist rule in Czechoslovakia. He was elected president of Czechoslovakia, and after the nation peacefully split in two, was elected president of the Czech Republic.

In contrast, Kim assumed leadership of North Korea after the death of his father, Kim Il Sung, in 1994. The supreme leader made military and nuclear spending a top priority and has largely isolated North Korea. He managed to irritate most Western leaders (particularly U.S. presidents) while also obtaining political concessions and economic aid.

The big questions regarding North Korea are who will take over leadership and what changes might result. Immediate speculation is that Kim’s young son, Kim Jong Un, is the most likely successor.



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