Since 1927, the year Lindbergh flew the Atlantic
in his single-engine Spirit of St. Louis, Time has devoted its
final cover of the year to the Man of the Year. The Lone Eagle was first.
In the 1930s and 1940s, FDR was the Man of the Year three times. Stalin, Truman,
and Churchill made it twice, though the selection of Churchill in 1949 seems
dubious, as he had been out of power four years, while Mao was seizing China
by the throat in the bloodiest revolution of the century.
Hitler was chosen in the year of Anschluss and Munich, 1938. Gen. Marshall
made it twice, as did Ike, in 1944 as victor of Normandy and, 15 years later,
In the 1960s and 1970s, JFK made it once, LBJ and Nixon twice. Nixon's 1972
designation was shared with Henry Kissinger. In 1979, the dark and brooding
face gracing Time's cover was that of Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini.
And Time got it right. For Time's Man of the Year, now Person
of the Year, is the figure who, for good or evil, dominates the news. Yet this
year Time could not bring itself to name the obvious choice. Instead,
it chose you and me, all of us citizens of the digital democracy who create
on the Worldwide Web. Why the cop-out?
Perhaps it was Ahmadinejad's hosting of a conference of Holocaust skeptics,
including David Duke, that caused Time to recoil. Perhaps it was fear
that the face of the Iranian president on the cover of Time would repel
the American people and be death for sales.
Surely that was the reasoning behind Time's refusal to name Osama bin
Laden in 2001, choosing Rudy Giuliani instead, though history is unlikely to
conclude that Rudy, his crowded hour notwithstanding, was the central figure
of that annus horribilis.
Richard Stengel, editor of Time, as much as concedes he could not bring
himself to choose by the traditional standard, if that meant choosing Ahmadinejad:
"It just felt to me a little off selecting him."
Understandably. But the refusal to select Ahmadinejad reveals an unwillingness
to confront hard truths. For putting his face on Time's cover would have
done a useful service, jolting America to a painful realization. Not only George
Bush, but the United States, its Arab allies and Israel, had a dreadful year,
as Iran emerged as first beneficiary of a war fought by this country at a cost
of 25,000 dead and wounded.
What the choice of Ahmadinejad would have said is that Iran is in the ascendancy
in the Middle East and it is not inconceivable that the United States is headed
for defeat, not only in Iraq but Afghanistan.
The Taliban have come back. The Pakistanis have ceded them sanctuary. Some
NATO nations are refusing to risk troops in combat. And it has been some time
since guerrillas who enjoyed a privileged sanctuary in that part of the world
failed to expel European soldiers perceived as imperial occupiers.
Islamists control Somalia. Anti-Americanism is rampant in Lebanon – after Condi
Rice blocked a UN cease-fire resolution to stop Israel's bombing last summer
in what was supposed to be a campaign to clear Hezbollah from her northern border.
The Beirut government could fall at any moment or be forced into a coalition
Even Bush's defense secretary concedes we are not winning in Iraq. It may take
a "surge" of 20,000 to 40,000 troops to stave off defeat before the end of Bush's
term. On the West Bank and Gaza, Hamas and Fatah appear on the brink of civil
war. The elections Bush demanded produced dramatic gains for the Muslim Brotherhood
in Egypt, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine, and Moqtada al-Sadr in Iraq.
Eighteen months ago, Ahmadinejad was the unknown mayor of Tehran. Today, he
is the visible face of anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism, both a cause of and
the personification of our failures. He has defied Bush's demand that he give
up the enrichment of uranium, split the Security Council, mocked the Holocaust,
called for the end of the Zionist state and the expulsion of America from the
Mideast, terrified the Sunni monarchs, and united the Arab and Islamic masses
behind his defiance.
His trip to the United Nations, where he ran circles around U.S. journalists,
was a diplomatic triumph. And he has done it all not with military power – Iran
would not last a week in an all-out war with the United States and has no defense
against Israel's nuclear weapons – but with theatrics and rhetoric.
He inspires all who hate Israel and Bush's America. And, according to the Zogby
polling today, that is a majority which, in some once-friendly nations, is approaching
Ahmadinejad, a man of words without real power, is the big winner of 2006,
because Bush, America, and Israel were the big losers.
Why do a billion Muslims prefer Ahmadinejad to America? That is the question
that needs to be addressed.
COPYRIGHT CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.