If I were the editor of Time magazine, I'd have three men on the famous year-ending issue. My men of the year would be Gen. David Petraeus, with Sen. John McCain and Joe Lieberman as his Beltway wingmen.
Not to crowd the cover too much, but the mission takes a few good men: I'd make sure that George W. Bush (the commander in chief who put Petraeus where he is) and the American soldier (who does the work every day) got in the picture as well.
When Mitt Romney appeared on "Meet the Press" a week before Christmas, there wasn't even five minutes of an hour-long program devoted to Iraq. That wouldn't have happened had Romney been on as recently as last spring and summer. Just ask the Senate candidates who were on the same program in the run-up to the November 2006 elections if they were asked about Iraq, and how often.
The reason Iraq has come off the top of many priority lists is success -- a vastly improved security situation. The reason for the success is Petraeus, the commander of the multinational force in Iraq. Petraeus is the architect of the "surge" counterinsurgency effort, which appears to be turning the tide on the ground. Rocket and mortar attacks have dropped to their lowest levels in 21 months. Car bombs and suicide attacks in Baghdad have plummeted 70 percent. Iraqi civilian casualties are down sharply throughout Iraq. And the number of U.S. soldiers killed in action has fallen for five months now and is at its lowest level in nearly two years.
McCain, a Republican from Arizona and war hero, was for the surge of troops in Iraq before even the White House was. Despite differences of opinion I have with the senator on a host of issues (ditto for Lieberman), on Iraq, he has been a leader, insisting on "no surrender" in a clearer and more passionate way than most politicians.
Lieberman used to be a Democrat -- he was even the Democratic vice-presidential candidate in 2000. His continued support of the effort in Iraq forced a change in his party status. Democrats ran an antiwar primary challenger against him in 2006, and while Ned Lamont won the Democratic nomination for Lieberman's seat, he lost the election to Independent Lieberman. Lieberman has a clear focus on what we owe our troops, our security and the Iraqi people. And on who our enemy is.
If there could be an anti-man, or woman, of the year -- maybe on the back cover -- I'd have a picture of the MoveOn ad, "General Petraeus or General Betray Us? Cooking the books for the White House", that ran when Petraeus was in Washington in September to report about the surge. Included on that back cover would be a Hillary Clinton image, perhaps in a Vanna White pose, welcoming that MoveOn ad. On Sept. 11, 2007, she said to Petraeus after his testimony on the surge's progress thus far, "I think that the reports that you provide to us really require the willing suspension of disbelief." Prior to Petraeus' testimony, one Democratic senator said of the usefulness of the MoveOn ad to Petraeus' detractors, "No one wants to call (Petraeus) a liar on national TV." But Clinton did.
Had they listened to McCain's speech to the Virginia Military Institute in April and taken it to heart, Hillary and the MoveOn crowd wouldn't have done anything so shameful. Democrats would have been falling over themselves to be first to condemn the ad. McCain bluntly stated: "Responsible political leaders -- statesmen -- do not add to the burdens our troops carry. That is what Democrats, intentionally or not, have done by failing to provide them with the resources necessary to succeed in their mission."
As we move toward 2008, McCain and Lieberman are not surrendering. They recently co-authored an op-ed in the Manchester, N.H., Union Leader newspaper: "Just as we have managed to turn failure into success in 2007, we can likewise turn success back into failure in 2008, if we are not careful." We owe Petraeus and his soldiers our continued support.
The senatorial team summed it up: "Simply put: A year ago, Al Qaeda was winning in Iraq. Now we are." That is in no small part due to some real leadership from our men of the year.