- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 1, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Person of the year - Gen. David Petraeus. In a year of housing foreclosures, bank and automaker meltdowns, bailouts and layoffs, we can almost forget that we still have heroes amongst us -men who make us want to stand at attention and salute. The leader of American troops in Iraq from Jan. 2007 to Sept. 2008 implemented a counterinsurgency strategy that significantly reduced the levels of violence in a nation on the verge of civil war. To the surprise of many, America - with Iraqi and some international help - suddenly began winning the war in Iraq. Bring out the champagne and raise a toast to the man who turned the tide. And this too, is the most underreported story of 2008; is this liberal media bias once again?

Political performance - President-elect Barack Obama.Mr. Obama ran two of the most effective campaigns in U.S. history. During the Democratic primaries and caucuses, he outmaneuvered the highly-favored Clinton machine. The underdog captured the nomination in a breathtaking showdown with Hillary Clinton that even resulted in moving the usually steely Mrs. Clinton to tears in New Hampshire. Mr. Obama was equally swift in crafting a stellar ground and fundraising organization that left Republicans in the dust during the presidential contest. This was a year of audacity and success for the junior senator from Illinois whose soaring rhetoric captivated American and world audiences.

Foreign leader - Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. In power since 2002, the Colombian president has worked to bring communist paramilitary groups to heel. In July, Colombian forces disguised as members of a Marxist terrorist group - the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC - rescued 15 hostages. These included three American defense contractors and former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who had been held captive for six years. Mr. Uribe has consistently outsmarted FARC; their ranks have shrunk from 20,000 a decade ago to 8,000 today. FARC leaders lament their “crumbling” organization. Well done, Mr. Uribe.

Movie - The Dark Knight;The superhero film based on the DC Comics character Batman can be viewed on a number of levels. The movie champions law and order and the courage of its hero. “The Dark Knight” is also a metaphor for President Bush’s lonely crusade against terrorists - as argued by screenwriter Andrew Klavan in a July 25 Wall Street Journal op-ed. And the movie also explores the very battle between the thankless pursuit of good and the insatiable, satanic lust for mayhem. Are all these themes in one movie about a man in a mask? Believe it: “The Dark Knight” has been ranked by many viewers as among the best films of all time.

Actor - Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight as The Joker; Mr. Ledger brilliantly embodies an ageless truth: Evil is a choice and will always be part of the human saga. The actor’s tragic death by a drug overdose this year adds even more poignancy to his on-screen achievement: We mourn the loss of an unusual talent and hope his performance is immortalized with a well-deserved Oscar.

Actress - Angelina Jolie in the Changeling; Miss Jolie is captivating in this 1928 period piece about the real-life story of Christine Collins, a single mother who desperately searches for her missing son. She must also confront corrupt officers within the Los Angeles Police Department who provide misleading information. The tale is grim, tragic and haunting: Yet, Miss Jolie inspires as a woman whose quiet dignity and determination prevail in her quest for truth. Remember when women didn’t use foul language? The movie is worth seeing - even if only to observe how a classy lady behaves under duress.

Athlete - Michael Phelps.The 23-year old swimmer, also known as The Baltimore Bullet, won eight gold medals in Beijing - the most gold medals at a single Olympics. He is the greatest Olympian, with a record 14 Olympic gold medals. Play it again, Sam: Raise the flag one more time for an Olympic marvel.

Team - The New York Giants. Their stunning upset of the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII will be remembered as one of the all-time classics.

Sports play - David Tyree’s Miracle Catch during Super Bowl XLII. It is the greatest play in Super Bowl history, according to ESPN SportsCenter - a play that seemingly defies the laws of gravity.The New York Giants wide receiver leapt, caught and held onto the football by pressing it against his helmet with a defender draped all over him, as the two crashed to the ground. Mr. Tyree’s grit and determination to hold onto the ball against the odds demonstrates that character - even more than talent - often makes the difference between victory and defeat.

Entrepreneur - Rachel Ray.This year the cook extraordinaire and the host of The Rachel Ray Show won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Talk Show. She has sold millions of books, created her own food vocabulary and has shown America that a “yum-o” meal can be prepared in 30 minutes flat. Rachel Ray is now a household name, pun intended.

Economic news - Paying less at the pump. Gas prices soared to record levels in the summer, but they have dropped by nearly $2.44 per gallon since July.

Most improved - Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. Mr. Maliki’s wartime leadership has become more effective. His stalwart alliance with America has resulted in placing 13 out of 18 provinces under the control of Iraqi security forces. His courage and commitment to democracy is a model for the region, as the new Iraq remains one of the best hopes for transforming the Middle East.

Newcomer - Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. The Republican vice-presidential candidate galvanized the conservative base and injected much-needed energy into John McCain’s election campaign. Her grand entry at the Republican convention in which she squared off boldly and defiantly against her critics signaled the emergence of a new generation of conservatives. “What’s the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick, she said to a roaring crowd. And a star was born.

Visit by a foreign leader - Pope Benedict XVI. During the Holy Father’s April visit, he provided piercing moral clarity on the great issues of our time. His tour of Ground Zero, his invocations for peace, his apology for the Catholic Church’s sex-abuse scandal and his interfaith efforts won accolades. In Washington, he met with 200 representatives of five religions -Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Jains - and called for greater dialogue among them. This man’s heart is as impressive as his formidable intellect; his visit cast a spiritual glow on millions - regardless of their class, gender, race, ideology or religion.

Humor - Tina Fey’s impersonation of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. The actress’s Saturday Night Live skits added comic relief to campaign 2008 - and were the most hilarious moments of the year. “I can see Russia from my house,” said Mrs. Fey, spoofing Mrs. Palin’s claims that she has foreign-policy credentials. Even many of Mrs. Palin’s fans laughed and winced at the same time.

Act of justice - Indictment by International Criminal Court of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. More than 250,000 people have been killed in Darfur and 2.5 million have been displaced as a result of a government-backed genocide against rebel ethnic groups. The July indictment of Gen. Bashir is a step in the right direction - but even more determination is required by the international community to end the worst mass-killing of our time.

Medical discovery - Scarless surgery. A woman’s appendix can now be removed with internal incisions - and no scars. California surgeons have paved the way.

Campaign slogan - GOP slogan: Drill, baby, drill.;GOPAC Chairman Michael Steele led the chant at the Republican National Convention in September. This is the only campaign slogan of 2008 that will resonate for decades to come as we ponder how to end our dependence on foreign oil. Drill now, drill here, drill there, drill everywhere: Drill, baby, drill.

Best interview - CBS News anchor Katie Couric exposed Barack Obama’s incoherent view of the surge strategy in Iraq. He stammered, he stuttered and he made no sense. Miss Couric interviewed then-candidate Obama on July 22 in Amman, Jordan, in the midst of his world tour. Mr. Obama insisted that the troop surge in Iraq was successful but that he was right in his initial opposition. Miss Couric was relentless in her questions. By refusing to accept a simple answer, she exposed Mr. Obama as just another flip-flopping, opportunistic politician, rather than the embodiment of a new ethical standard.

Most dignified during a breakup - Shania Twain. Her husband of 14 years, Robert “Mutt” Lange, ran off with her best friend - a woman’s worst nightmare, indeed. Yet, the country music star kept her dignity and showed remarkable restraint. She mourned the demise of her marriage by relocating to her native Canada from Switzerland and staying out of the limelight during much of the ordeal. For her outstanding poise, when she appeared at the Country Music Awards in November she was greeted with a resounding standing ovation.

Best dressed - Cindy McCain. Did she ever have a hair out of place? Cindy McCain graced the campaign trail with elegance, flair and femininity. She added a splash of glamour and gentility amidst the fray.

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