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In our attempt to follow the publishing tradition of end-of-the-year recaps, during the first week of every new year, we like to look back on the previous twelve months and ask, “What was the single most thought-provoking event?” We define this as the event that inspired the most post ideas, asked the most questions and, usually, provided the fewest answers. Because we don’t like to “chase the news”, it allows us to reflect on an event we probably didn’t write about.
Previous years provided easy targets. Looking back on our first seven months of blogging in 2009, the failed Iranian Green revolution provided few quick or easy answers. Looking back on 2010, we couldn’t hide our fascination/admiration/contempt for Wikileaks. Last year, four huge events stood out--the debunking of Greg Mortenson (which we declared our most thought provoking event of the first six months), the death of Osama bin Laden (which kind of inspired this entire series) and we didn’t even get time to discuss that military intervention in Libya that somehow went well. In the end, though, the Arab Spring fascinated us more than either of those three events to become our most thought-provoking event of 2011.
This month the On V offices have been abuzz with discussion over the most thought provoking event of 2012, and one thought stands out: there just isn’t much to choose from.
The election sucked up most of this year’s news coverage. The Iran situation continued to simmer like a pot on low, but it didn’t boil over. Just at the end, Israel and Palestine went at it again, but it seems like that happens every six years. Syria continued to slaughter civilians. Wars continue around the world that the media doesn’t cover at all. Gun violence, from Trayvon Martin to Aurora, CO to Newtown, CT, kept news channels busy, but that doesn’t involve foreign affairs.
We haven’t mentioned probably the two biggest words related to military/foreign affairs--two words we have barely used on the blog--Benghazi and Petraeus. The first was a terrorist attack on foreign soil, symbolic of the growing pains associated with building new democracies and the so-called “Arab Winter”. Linked to Benghazi as head of the CIA is General David Petraeus, whose entire career was apparently a fraud because he engaged in sexual relations with a woman who wasn’t his wife. (Sarcasm.)
In the end, we couldn’t decide whether the downfall of General Petraeus or the “Arab Winter” asked better questions: Does one affair discredit an entire wartime legacy? Is General Petraeus the latest Greg Mortenson or Stanley McChrystal? How does the severity of Benghazi relate to the terrorism of the last year? And if democracy really is so messy, should we just support dictators? And most importantly, do we have to write about a sex scandal?
For Petraeus, we have a number of longer posts. For Benghazi, we have a bunch of quick hits that we will roll out over a series of posts.
While the collapse of Petraeus’ career and the Arab Winter are separate events, we couldn’t choose between them. So for the next three weeks, we fire off our contemplative thoughts on the two most thought-provoking events of the last year.