2011 was a bad year for bad guys.
Spurred by the self-immolation of a 26-year-old street vendor, the Arab World erupted in protest. Within weeks, so-called “Twitter Revolutions” had toppled dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt. Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi fell shortly thereafter, in a campaign featuring NATO warplanes, hipster rebels sporting improvised weapons, and home-made “bulldozer battleships“. 2011 also saw the spectacular demise of al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden, plucked from under the noses of the Pakistani military,in a raid fit for Hollywood–complete stealth helicopters, stealth drones, and SEAL dogs. And, of course, let’s not forget the death of ronery North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il.
But it was a bad year for heroes as well. Not long after raiding Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbotabad, thirty-one Americans–many from from the US Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six–perished in a horrific Chinook crash in Wardak Province in eastern Afghanistan. 2011 also saw the capture and detention of another veteran of the Osama bin Laden raid: the RQ-170 stealth drone which beamed back images of the raid to President Obama and his advisers in Washington. And while US troops nonchalantly departed Iraq, long-standing sectarian violence raged anew, as did violence in Afghanistan.
2011 was just as dangerous for journalists as it was for soldiers: award-winning photographers Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros were killed by mortar fire near the contested Libyan city of Misrata while covering the NATO-backed rebellion.
It was a dangerous year on the social media front, too. Twitter users were once again reminded to be discreet in their online dalliances: a “social media spy“–or perhaps merely an insidious lobbyist–cozied up to defense wonks on Twitter. And who could forget the “Gay Girl in Damascus“?
Of course, America’s rivals had their successes as well. But though some may have freaked out when China launched a new carrier and stealth fighter–experts doubt the rustbucket’s utility, and the J-20 stealth fighter isn’t quite that stealthy. And Iran’s claims of a secret weapon to hijack drones in flight? Probably little more than a divining rod.
A year of Twitter fights and Twitter fight clubs, the death of COIN (or maybe not), 2011 was certainly a memorable year, despite the dearth of Misha Collins news. Even with election season heating up, 2012’s got a tough act to follow.