Time magazine ludicrously and destructively named the assassin Vladimir Putin as its "Person of the Year". The Sunday Telegraph, on the other hand, gives what by any objective standards is the right answer, for the right reason. General David Petraeus "has given another last chance to a country that had long since ceased to expect one. And for that, Gen Petraeus is Person of the Year."
To speak of that achievement is not to prettify the quality of life in Iraq in 2007. But what General Petraeus has accomplished is remarkable. I have had the good fortune to meet him and listen to his assessment of Iraq's security needs. He is a thinking soldier who understood immediately that nothing could be accomplished without adequate manpower. He has secured important successes against the enemies of nascent constitutional authority in Iraq. In particular, he has achieved the crucial success of turning Iraqi Sunnis in Anbar province and elsewhere against al-Qaeda.
The significance is immense. I supported military intervention in Iraq, and have never altered that view. When I wrote this piece in support of US-UK policy, however, the prospects of success were bleak. The Iraq intervention was not a blunder, or a mistake, or - still less - a crime. But for several reasons - the belatedness of the operation; the culpable incompetence of the Bush administration; the inhumanity of Iraq's Islamist and Baathist enemies - it came close to catastrophic failure. General Petraeus has given us and Iraqis the opportunity of establishing something better: not the fully-fledged federal democracy that we hoped for after the fall of Saddam Hussein, but a decentralised and pluralist Iraq where constitutional authority has something more nearly approaching a monopoly of the means of force.
I'm particularly glad the Telegraph has formally acknowledged this point, because the British press (at least those parts of it that I read regularly) has been generally slow in adapting to developments from Iraq. I'm sorry to say that The Guardian has been notably at fault. This piece by Suzanne Goldenberg, before General Petraeus's Congessional testimony in September, is a nice instance of a failure to separate political prejudice from news copy, and was unworthy of the newspaper. General Petraeus's unexceptionable observations about the failure of the Maliki government at national level to advance conciliation were unrelated to the success or otherwise of the "surge". I hope Ms Goldenberg is now suitably embarrassed by her arch interpolation that "the testimony from Gen Petraeus and Mr Crocker follows on from a string of unremittingly bleak assessments on the persistent dysfunction of Mr Maliki's government and the continuing sectarian violence". The assessment she was alluding to was that of the Government Accountability Office - which General Petraeus had no difficulty in pointing out had cut its analysis short in order to meet Congressional reporting requirements. The period immediately after that survey's conclusion had been particularly successful for Coalition forces and therefore - as those are of course troops operating under a UN mandate - for the international community.
Had Tony Blair and General Petraeus been, respectively, the leading political and military figures in the Coalition's Iraq campaign from the outset, much more might have been achieved. As matters stand, there is a serious prospect that Iraq will not only be free of Baathist tyranny but will also be the scene of a decisive defeat for theocratic and atavistic forces that stand for everything we progressives oppose. General Petraeus has brought Iraq and Western foreign policy to this point and yielded this opportunity.