So Time has chosen Vladimir Putin as its Person of the Year. It’s a shame, but predicable, that Putin would be selected instead of the obvious choice: David H. Petraeus (he is the fourth runner-up, after Al Gore, J.K. Rowling, and Hu Jintao). We have seen czars before, and we have seen autocrats turn their nation toward oppression before. What none of us have seen before is a counterinsurgency plan that has made this much progress in this compressed a period of time.
Critics of the war in Iraq said that if we lost there, it would have awful ramifications for decades to come. The damage would be incalculable. It would destroy American credibility and destabilize the Middle East. It would be a bullet in the heart of the President’s Freedom Agenda. It would be a boon to jihadists throughout the world. Ethnic cleansing and genocide would follow in the wake of an American loss in Iraq. Those, we were told (with some justification), would be the consequences of defeat. The consequences for victory must therefore be equally enormous—for America, for the Middle East, and for the larger war against militant Islam.
At the beginning of the year, Iraq was on the precipice. A low-grade civil war was unfolding. Things were spinning out of our control. Today, the situation has reversed on almost every front—and it has happened faster than anyone could have anticipated, even those of us who supported the surge. And one man, more than any other, is responsible for turning things around: General Petraeus. He embodies human excellence and will enter the ranks as one of America’s greatest military commanders.
It can’t be said often enough: We have a long way to go before Iraq can be judged a success and we cannot let up even for a moment. But we now have a good shot at a decent outcome in an epic struggle. None of this would have been possible had it not been for General Petraeus. The good news is that Time, once hugely influential, is no longer so, and so the Person of the Year award carries less prestige than it once did. What General Petraeus and the extraordinary troops he leads have achieved will one day be found in history books, and not just military history books. What Time did will soon be forgotten, as it should be.