NEW YORK, Dec 21 (Reuters) - "The American Soldier" was named on Sunday as Time magazine Person of the Year, giving credit not to those who formulate the foreign policies of the United States but those who face bullets and grenades as they execute those policies.
There was little disagreement in Time's newsroom that the U.S.-led war in Iraq was 2003's top story, Time Managing Editor Jim Kelly told Reuters. But he said there was a spirited debate about who would best represent that story as Person of the Year.
U.S. President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were candidates, but "the very messy aftermath of the war has made it clear that Washington's policy was going to have to be carried out day by day by the soldiers on the ground," Kelly said.
"We thought the title belonged to those people."
Time made a similar decision in 1950 when "The American Fighting-Man" got the title as the U.S. waged war in Korea.
Kelly said Rumsfeld, in a November interview, made the unsolicited suggestion that this year's honor go to all men and women who wear the U.S. uniform.
"It was the first time that I had ever interviewed a contender for Person of the Year who actually suggested someone else," Kelly said.
Internationally, the U.S. war in Iraq has been criticized as unilateral aggression. France, Germany and other traditional U.S. allies have refused to participate in the war or the conflict that has continued since President Saddam Hussein fell.
Bush calls the war part of a move toward democracy in the Middle East. But many Arabs view the Iraq invasion as carried out to serve the interests of Washington's ally Israel.
In agreement with the Bush administration, Time's cover story says: "To have pulled Saddam Hussein from his hole in the ground brings the possibility of pulling an entire country out of the dark."
12/21/03 08:00 ET