General David Howell Petraeus
General Petraeus is my Person of the Year for 2007. I’m speaking for myself, of course, but I suspect many veterans and active duty members will agree.
Confirmed in January and taking command of the Multi-National Force – Iraq in February, the General has been at the job for the bulk of the year. In that time, he accomplished something that very few people on this planet could: he changed the way America views its efforts in Iraq.
When he came into the job, the country was disgruntled. Military Times had just come out with the results of its annual poll among servicemen and women, and summed the results up this way: “Down on the war . The American military â€” once a staunch supporter of President Bush and the Iraq war â€” has grown increasingly pessimistic about chances for victory.” The January 15, 2007 cover of Time Magazine declared, “The Surge – Does sending more soldiers to Iraq make any sense?” In April, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid declared, “I believe myself that the secretary of state, secretary of defense and â€” you have to make your own decisions as to what the president knows â€” (know) this war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything…” (Fox News)
Into this maelstrom strode General Petraeus, the 54 year-old son of a Dutch immigrant (Washington Post). Imperceptibly at first, then more noticeably as the year matured, conditions began to improve. The General emphasized “securing the Iraqi people,” and clearing the streets of Al Qaeda – Iraq and other “mafia-like criminals” who had been preying on Iraqi civilians. He worked with local leaders and government officials to increase Iraqi participation in identifying and addressing problem areas. In an eloquent end-of-year letter to members of the Multi-National Force – Iraq, he described his strategy and summarized its successes.
When we started winning the war in WWII, the media trumpeted the news. Today, the best we can expect is silence (i.e., no Iraq questions in the last Republican Primary debate), or the declaration that Iraq has become a “non-story.” Anyone who has played offensive line will recognize that as a compliment.
The successes in Iraq have been earned by young men and women, working and fighting tirelessly on the other side of the globe. They have begun to break the backs and the will of the underworld champions of chaos and violence. The man who directed it all, while acknowledging that progress is fragile in many areas, can also truthfully declare “a newfound sense of hope upon which we can build.” The latest Military Times poll is summarized, “Positive outlook. The American military…shows increasing optimism about the likelihood of success in the war.”
There are many difficulties ahead, and men and women will continue to operate in harm’s way. But it seems apparent that a sea change has occurred, and General Petraeus is at the helm. In my opinion, he’s the Person of the Year.