Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Time?s Person of the Year


Here's one reason Time should have named Gen. David Petraeus its Person of the Year. In fact, here are 70 reasons:

Seventy senators voted last Tuesday to provide $70 billion more to fund the Iraq War, and the latest cash came free and clear. No timetable for withdrawal. No deadlines. No strings attached.

Who would have thought this possible a year ago? Or a half-year ago? Surely not the Iraq Study Group, which wanted a staged withdrawal. Surely not the nation's mediocracy, which had decided Iraq's "civil war" was "lost." Surely not Democrats, who'd taken control of Congress and wanted out of Iraq. Surely not their sunshine Republican allies, who wanted either to play commander-in-chief or buck up their 2008 election prospects. If President Bush wouldn't declare defeat and bring the troops home, Congress would defund the war by hook or by crook.

How to explain last Tuesday's 70-30 vote? One man and the troops he would represent if he had been named Person of the Year: Petraeus, the architect, implementer and public face of a surge and counter-insurgency strategy that's pacified Baghdad, Anbar province and, apparently, even Washington, D.C.

Time Person of the Year Vladimir Putin has had a big impact on Russia and the world. But is it greater than the surging Petraeus' impact on Baghdad and the U.S. political world? That's by no means clear, but let's assume their impacts are equal. Shouldn't a tie go to the U.S. general? After all, Putin's doing something that comes easily to Moscow strongmen--consolidating power, centralizing authority, crushing dissent, liquidating enemies of the state and looking out for the interests of Mother Russia. Time "Man of the Year"? Old Joe Stalin's been there, done all that.

Petraeus is achieving something new and positive that our smart set deemed impossible last January: defeating an insurgency and giving Iraqis a chance to establish a functioning, representative government that provides a Mideast-level of security for its people.

Obviously, there's a ways to go. The fact is, success won't be clear until long after the bulk of our forces have come home. But consider where we were last year at this time. Former war supporters were set to negotiate the terms of our surrender. Even one-last-chance supporters of the surge were not sure the additional troops, changed rules of engagement and Petraeus' counterinsurgency strategy would work. The surge simply beat the "All is lost!" alternatives and "This will never work!" certitudes.

Go no further than the Time archives. Columnist Joe Klein wrote that "it is possible that the situation is beyond salvage." His conclusion: "The U.S. military campaign to stabilize Iraq has failed. We have lost control of Anbar province, the Sunni stronghold. We are losing the battle for Baghdad."

In another column, his conclusion was even grander: "The United States has lost the war in Iraq."

The only course, Time's Michael Duffy reported, was "an exit strategy from Iraq that can salvage U.S. prestige and avoid turning the civil war into an even wider and more violent catastrophe."

Petraeus' surge? Klein wrote that "it probably won't" work. Not enough troops, and the ones he'll have are tired, overextended and not trained to the counterinsurgency task at hand. No credible indigenous government with the ability to counter an insurgency ("The idea that Nouri al-Maliki's government is responsible is laughable: it's little more than a fig leaf for Shiite militias.") Besides, Klein continued, "this is no longer an insurgency; it's a civil war."

And today? Attacks in Baghdad have fallen almost 80 percent since November 2006. Murders are down by 90 percent, and car bombings by 70 percent. Anbar province is no longer "lost." Even Democratic Rep. John Murtha, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, deigns to say the surge is working.

Again, there's more work to do, and it's not just Petraeus and our troops who are doing the work. Here's a headline from Thursday's Guardian in England: "A surge of their own: Iraqis take back the streets." It topped a story about Sunnis and Shias joining "concerned local citizens" security patrols. "Though life in Baghdad is still far from normal, and the security situation still perilous," Michael Howard reported, "the capital's remarkably resilient population has begun to believe that the momentum for peace may be sustainable if it is left up to ordinary citizens."

Reason No. 71 (and counting) for why Gen. David Petraeus should have been Time's "Person of the Year."

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