A great general

David Petraeus has engineered one of the great turnarounds in American history

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Radical Islamists are driving Christians from the Middle East, said Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute.

Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio (jkelly@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1476).

"From Morocco to the Persian Gulf, we are seeing the rapid erosion of Christian populations, thought to now number no more than 15 million," Ms. Shea wrote in National Review. "The extinction of these ancient church communities will lead to ever more extremism within the region and polarization from the non-Muslim world."

There's one Middle Eastern country where the reverse is happening. Thousands of people attended Christmas services in Baghdad this year. Most of the worshippers were, of course, Christians. But in the pews with them were prominent Muslim clerics, both Sunni and Shia.

Hadi al-Jazail, a Shiite, was among the roughly 2,000 people who crammed into the Mar Eliya church in eastern Baghdad.

"May Iraq be safe every year, and may our Christian brothers be safe every year," Mr. al-Jazail told AP Television News. "We came to celebrate with them and to reassure them."

Last year this couldn't have happened. Al-Qaida had taken control of the Doura neighborhood in Baghdad, where most of Iraq's Christian minority lived, in 2004. Christians were threatened, some were murdered, many fled. But now al-Qaida is gone, and the Christians are returning.

Al-Qaida didn't leave of its own accord. In all of American history, only a handful of generals -- Grant and Sherman in the Civil War, MacArthur with the Inchon landing in the Korean War -- have turned a war around in so short a time as has Gen. David Petraeus. And no one has done it with so few casualties, or so little civilian "collateral damage."

What has happened in Iraq since the troop surge began about this time last year is a tribute to the kindness and the humanity as well as to the courage and skill of U.S. soldiers and Marines. And to the genius and leadership of David Petraeus. The surge strategy was mostly his idea, and he's implemented it brilliantly.

Grant, Sherman and MacArthur were national heroes. Their names were on everyone's lips. Parades were thrown in their honor. Grant became president. Sherman could have been, had he wanted to be. MacArthur was touted for the Republican nomination in 1952, which went instead to another successful general.

David Petraeus is a better general than were William Henry Harrison, elected president in 1840, or Zachary Taylor, elected president in 1848. Yet David Petraeus is the Rodney Dangerfield of successful American commanders. He didn't even make the top 10 in Gallup's poll of the most admired men for 2007, a list that was topped by President Bush, and includes former South African President Nelson Mandela, former President Jimmy Carter and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Americans don't think much about Gen. Petraeus because he hasn't been getting much attention from the news media. He finished fifth in Time Magazine's Person of the Year competition, behind Russian despot Vladimir Putin, environmental blowhard Al Gore, children's novelist J.K. Rowling and Chinese dictator Hu Jintao.

Back in 2006, when we were perceived to be losing it, the war in Iraq was voted the top news story in the AP's annual poll. But now that we're winning, the war in Iraq has fallen to third in the AP poll for 2007, behind the massacre at Virginia Tech last April and the mortgage crisis.

"The war in Iraq is the biggest nonstory of the moment, an overarching situation that is largely missing in action from the daily media rundown," wrote Joanne Ostrow, the television critic for the Denver Post.

For the first 37 weeks of 2007, the three network newscasts devoted a total of 1,659 minutes to the war in Iraq, said the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. In the subsequent 12 weeks, just 197 minutes.

"It's like ignoring D-Day," said Don Surber of the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail.

Success in Iraq is being downplayed because it is embarrassing to many journalists and Democrats, and disappointing to some. Does Hillary Clinton want a ticker tape parade for Gen. Petraeus, whom she, in effect, called a liar last September? Does Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid want to be reminded that he declared the war lost last April?

We have the finest military in the world. There is little indication we deserve it.



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