Time magazine hasn’t announced its pick for “man of the year” yet, but we certainly know ours: Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the multinational force in Iraq and architect of the surge strategy that is turning the tide in the war. Petraeus formulated a brilliant counterinsurgency plan. He executed it with care and diligence. And when much of the country didn’t want to notice the security gains that the surge had wrought, he took the national media spotlight to defend his strategy and his honor. In all this, he was nothing less than masterly.
When Petraues testified on Capitol Hill in early September, much of the media and the Left simply refused to believe that violence in Iraq was down. The Government Accountability Office’s comptroller general had appeared before Congress to ask why the Pentagon was reporting much lower numbers of Iraqi civilian deaths than the GAO had (answer: the GAO assessment was based on incomplete figures). And the day Petraeus’s testimony began, MoveOn.org ran its infamous “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?” ad. It said that “every independent report on the ground situation in Iraq shows that the surge strategy has failed”; that Petraeus “is constantly at war with the facts”; and that the general “is cooking the books for the White House.” Throughout his testimony, Petraeus continued to suffer slanders from members of Congress who cared about politics more than truth. Hillary Rodham Clinton stopped just short of calling him a liar, saying that to believe his report required “a willing suspension of disbelief.”
Less than a month later, however, Petraeus’s critics had been effectively silenced. To its great credit, the Washington Post acknowledged this in a blistering editorial:
In September, Iraqi civilian deaths were down 52 percent from August and 77 percent from September 2006, according to the Web site icasualties.org. The Iraqi Health Ministry and the Associated Press reported similar results. U.S. soldiers killed in action numbered 43 — down 43 percent from August and 64 percent from May, which had the highest monthly figure so far this year. The American combat death total was the lowest since July 2006 and was one of the five lowest monthly counts since the insurgency in Iraq took off in April 2004. . . . It’s looking more and more as though those in and outside of Congress who last month were assailing Gen. Petraeus’s credibility and insisting that there was no letup in Iraq’s bloodshed were — to put it simply — wrong.
That the surge has worked is no longer up for debate. On a trip to Iraq the week after Thanksgiving, even John Murtha stated flatly, “I think the surge is working.” And in recent months the Democratic presidential candidates have accepted this reality too, sparring more over health-care plans than over who will pull out troops fastest.
Of course, the situation in Iraq is still parlous, and military successes will not automatically produce the national reconciliation necessary for long-term peace and stability. No one knows this better than Petraeus, who has forthrightly admitted that political progress in Iraq has been disappointing. That Petraeus has achieved so much in such a short time despite the frustrations of Iraqi politics is a testament to his skill as a strategist and a leader of men.
For making victory in Iraq look possible again, and for pulling a nation back from the brink of civil war, Petraeus deserves the praise and thanks of all Americans. With or without a Time cover, he is the man of the year.