Gen. David Petraeus left Iraq last week, handing over command of the multinational force to Gen. Ray Odierno.

With storms of the meteorological and financial sort dominating headlines, you had to search to find news of the departing commander or the turnaround he led.

Even without the storms, it's doubtful that Petraeus would have made the front page. In the international edition of America's newspaper of record, the handover in Iraq appeared on Page 11. What a difference a year makes.

Last September, talk shows and newspapers buzzed as Petraeus went to Capitol Hill to defend his report that U.S. troops were making significant strides in bringing security to Iraq.

On "Meet the Press," Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., now his party's vice presidential nominee, said Petraeus was "dead flat wrong."

In a Senate hearing, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., now his party's presidential candidate, trivialized Petraeus' claims of progress as "changing the definition of success" and called for "an immediate removal of our troops from Iraq's civil war."

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., delivered the most noteworthy insult, telling Petraeus his report required "the willing suspension of disbelief." And the left wing anti-war group MoveOn placed its infamous "General Betray Us" ad in the New York Times claiming Petraeus was "cooking the books for the White House."

Petraeus, as it turns out, was right. You no longer hear much talk about the United States being mired in an unwinnable civil war, or about an immediate — "not six months from now," Obama emphasized — withdrawal.

There are no longer any doubts about a real decline in violence. But you can be forgiven for not being entirely clear why that is so.

Biden, reappearing on "Meet the Press" 12 months after his "dead flat wrong" comment, offered his explanation. The surge helped, he allowed. But the real key to progress in places like Anbar province was that "they did what I'd suggested two-and-a-half years ago: gave local control." Yeah, that's the ticket.

Or maybe not. There's an Army field manual with the simple title, "Counterinsurgency." It bears Petraeus' signature.

The field manual is not what you might expect from a document describing military doctrine. It is a 282-page scholarly treatise about how the United States — which has always prepared to fight big wars — can prevail in small, unconventional wars. It served as the blueprint for Petraeus' command in Iraq.

Counterinsurgency efforts are long and difficult. The enemy has many advantages, including its ability to cleverly manipulate global information sources. "However," the manual says, "by focusing on efforts to secure the safety and support of the local populace, and through a concerted effort to truly function as learning organizations, the Army and Marine Corps can defeat their insurgent enemies."

Obama this month conceded that the surge "succeeded beyond our wildest dreams." And that's as close as you'll get to finding an apology for the character assassination of Gen. David Petraeus.

But what if American troops had immediately departed Iraq one year ago? What if, on top of a miserable occupation, the United States had piled the surrender of Iraq to al-Qaida terrorists and Iranian supported death squads? Would the world be a better place today? Would Iraqis and Americans be more secure?

We don't have to ponder such unpleasant questions because a West Point graduate with a Princeton doctorate did his duty and endured the outrageous conduct of some of his fellow citizens. Last week, Petraeus left Iraq a far better place than when he assumed command. And last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., killed a resolution that would have commended him and American military personnel for their service.

At the change-of-command ceremony in Baghdad, Petraeus thanked his troops for altering the situation in Iraq from "hard but not hopeless" into "still hard but hopeful." Very few people who should have done so thanked Petraeus and the men and women who served under him for a job well done.


EMAIL: jgurwitz@express-news.net.