Friday, December 30, 2005

People Who Really Mattered in 2005

Just before the holidays, Time published its annual "Persons of the Year" issue. I was slightly underwhelmed at their selections (Bill and Melinda Gates; rocker/activist Bono). Mr. and Mrs. Gates were cited for giving away much of their multi-billion dollar fortune for humanitarian and medical relief projects in the third world. However, Time failed to mention that some of Gates's largess also goes to population control advocates and pro-abortion organizations. Bono was lauded for his efforts to get the developed world to forgive debts by third world nations, so (presumably), they can borrow more money from the World Bank, and start the process all over again.

I was even less impressed with Time's companion piece, listing "People Who Mattered" in 2005. Some of their choices (President Bush, Tony Blair) were obvious; others were dubious (Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald) and many were simply ridiculous (Cindy Sheehan, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin; Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame). The entire list can be found here.

After reading the Time list, I promised to go the magazine one better, and publish my own list of "People Who Really Mattered" in 2005. With suggestions and nominations from dozens of readers, the alternative list has been compiled, and I am proud to present my listing of "People Who Really Mattered in 2005. As you read my list, I think you'll agree that their contribtions to the nation (and the world) far exceed those individuals recognized by Time. You'll also note very little overlap between my listing and the persons cited by the magazine.

Without further ado, here's my list of "People Who Really Mattered in 2005," presented in random order:

1. The Iraqi People. Despite a near-constant terrorist threat, millions of Iraqis continued the process of building a democracy in their country. The voted in overwhelming numbers--twice--and those purple-stained fingers were a dagger through the heart of the insurgency. Meanwhile, the Iraqi econonmy continues to improve, and Iraqis are assuming an even greater role in fighting the insurgents. It received scant attention in the western press, but the Iraqis actually took the lead in providing security for the December elections--a testament of how far they--and their country--have come in the past two years.

2. Lt Gen David Petraeus, U.S. Army. After leading the 101st Airborne Division in the invasion of Iraq, General Petraeus was given an even tougher job--training Iraqis security forces so Allied units could begin drawing down. A year ago, critics chided the Pentagon because only a handful of Iraqi units were on the battlefield. Over the past year, Petraeus and his team have trained more than 80 additional battalions, and a number of Iraqi units are now capable of conducting independent operations. The recently-announced reductions among U.S. forces in Iraq are a measure of how General Petraeus has succeeded in his mission.

3. The National Security Agency. The always-secretive intelligence organization has found itself in the public spotlight in recent weeks, thanks to a NYT disclosure about the agency's expanded domestic surveillance program, launched in the wake of 9-11. Liberals howled, but their protests fell largely on deaf ears. Turns out that the program was briefed to Congress on a regular basis, and strict legal reviews were conducted on a bi-monthly basis. Better yet, the program seems to have yielded real intelligence that helped thwart terrorist attacks, at home and abroad. In the dark days after 9-11, President Bush and the NSA did the right thing, utilizing warrantless wiretaps and state-of-the-art information processing technology to ferret out terrorist threats. We owe a debt to the men and women of the NSA for enhancing our security over the past four years.

4. Chief Justice John Roberts. Originally nominated to replace retiring Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Judge Roberts became the nominee for Chief Justice after the death of William Rhenquist. While liberals hoped to torpedo his nomination, Judge Robert's confirmation hearings were a tour-de-force; with his astounding intellect and considerable charm, Judge Roberts ran legal circles around his Democratic interrogators, making them look like struggling 1L students. With Roberts as Chief Justice (and the likely confirmation of Sam Alito to replace O'Connor), a genuine, conservative block is finally emerging on the nation's highest court, and Judge Roberts will be around to run the show for the next 25 years or so. Sleep well, Teddy.

5. Governor Haley Barbour. When Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, much of the nation's attention was focused on New Orleans, thanks largely to the incompetence of local officials who waited too long to start their evcauation, and left thousands stranded inside the city. Meanwhile, neighboring Mississippi bore the brunt of the storm, but there were far fewer problems, thanks to decisive leadership by Governor Barbour and his emergency management team. While Katrina (appropriately) destroyed the political careers of hacks like Ray Nagin and Kathleen Blanco, Barbour's approval ratings are above 60%, he's a shoo-in for a second term, and emerging as the first serious Presidential contender from Mississippi since Jefferson Davis.

6. Michael Yon. While the MSM told us that Iraq was going to hell in a handbasket, Michael Yon, a former Green Beret and independent journalist, decided to have a look for himself. Funded largely by contributions from readers of his blog, Yon spent a year in Iraq, on the front-lines with American troops. Along the way, he set the standard for combat coverage of that conflict, providing first-person accounts that recall the best work of Ernie Pyle. His dispatch from 31 August 2005 "Gates of Fire," may be the finest piece of combat writing I've ever read.

7. Lt Col Erik Kurilla. The second Army officer on our list, Lt Col Kurilla led the unit profiled by Michael Yon in many of his postings. Lt Col Kurilla's battalion (1-24th Infantry Regiment) played a decisive role in the liberation of Mosul, restoring order and relataive calm to a city that had been overrun by terrorists. Kurilla led from the front, inspiring his men and striking fear into the hearts of the enemy. Kurilla's retiring CSM (Command Sergeant Major) describes him as the "best battalion commander" in the U.S. Army, and there are many who would concur with that assessment. Lt Col Kurilla was seriously wounded in a close-quarters, hand-to-hand fight with the terrorists in Mosul last August; he is expected to make a full recovery. Kurilla is the living embodiment of the superb, small-unit leadership that has turned the tide against the terrorists in Iraq.

8. Condolezza Rice. MSM types have focused on her flair for fashion, or her "rock star" personna" during trips abroad, but our new Secretary of State is making a real contribution in her clear articulation of Bush foreign policy, and her efforts to shape up Foggy Bottom. There have been a number of "retirements" since Dr. Rice moved to the State Department and there seem to be fewer leaks as well. Given her success in those areas, perhaps a promotion to run the CIA (or the entire intelligence apparatus) might be in order.

9. Lt Gen Russell Honore. Amid the chaos in New Orleans that followed Hurricane Katrina, General Honore provided the only real example of leadership and stability, detailing how rescue and relief operations would proceed. And, true to his word, the military took charge and began the long task of getting New Orleans back on its feet. General Honore also deserves special credit for his "handling" of the press. Refusing to tolerate fools among the Fourth Estate, Honore coined a phrase for them ("Stuck on Stupid") that became part of the national lexicon.

10. Porter Goss and John Negroponte. While Secretary Rice took on the difficult task of fixing the State Department, Mr. Goss and Ambassador Negroponte faced more difficult challenges--fixing the CIA, and unifying the intelligence community under the new Director of National Intelligence (DNI) construct. At the CIA, Goss and his management team forced a number of suspected critics and leakers into retirement, undercutting the agency's semi-declared war on the Bush Administration. However, leaks of sensitive information were still coming from Langley at year's end, suggesting that Goss's reform program has a ways to go. As DNI, Negroponte faced an even tougher battle, although he flexed his muscle early by challenging a proposed spy satellite system.

11. Melanie Morgan. The long-time morning co-host at KSFO Radio in San Francisco, Ms. Morgan is also a co-founder of Move American Forward, a California-based lobbying group that has been extremely effective in advancing the conservative message. Amid the "Summer of Cindy (Sheehan)" in Crawford, Texas, Ms. Morgan and her organization staged a highly effective counter-protest. She also led a group of radio hosts to Iraq, in an effort to balance the "doom-and-gloom" reports from the MSM. Ms. Morgan even made seven trips along Baghdad's infamous Airport Road, demonstrating that the security situation had dramatically improved, and MSM accounts were misleading, at best.

12. Sean Hannity and Oliver North. Best-known as conservative pundits and media personalities, Sean and Ollie have also been in the forefront to help the families of service members killed in Iraq. In less than three years, their "Freedom Concerts" (held every summer) have raised over $5 million to fund scholarships for the sons and daughters of deceased service members. Virtually all celebrities--including Michael Moore--claim to "support the troops" but Hannity and North put their time and money where their mouths are.

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