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Associated Press/Photo by Carolyn Kaster

Top 10 stories of 2009

News of the Year | WORLD's editors rank the most significant news stories from the past year

1. Inauguration of President Barack Obama

The year began on Jan. 20, millions of Americans believed, when Barack Hussein Obama II, the first African-American elected to the nation's highest office, took the oath before an estimated 2 million onlookers on Washington's National Mall, with another 38 million watching on television. Obama pledged to "begin again the work of remaking America," but by year's end was himself looking for an image makeover: Despite winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama's approval rating of 80 percent in January had plunged to 48 percent by mid-December. (See also "Winners," Jan. 2, 2010.)

2. War in Afghanistan and Pakistan

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In the face of growing insecurity and casualty numbers (from a low of 49 U.S. military personnel killed in 2002 to a high of over 300 in 2009), President Obama undertook an extensive review of the U.S. Afghan war strategy and announced Dec. 1 he would increase U.S. troop levels by an additional 30,000. The encroachments of al-Qaeda and Taliban elements in both Afghanistan and Pakistan appeared to persuade the president of the need for further armed confrontation, as he defended the war mission to cadets at West Point and, ironically, before the austere gathering of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee and its guests in Oslo. Having opposed the 2007 surge in Iraq, the president reportedly told Gen. David Petraeus about Afghanistan, "What I'm looking for is a surge." The stepped-up strategy is to include expanded use of U.S. drones in border regions and increased humanitarian aid along with engagement with Afghanistan's government. (See also "Wars," Jan. 2, 2010.)

3. War in Iraq

While U.S. casualties in Afghanistan climbed, they declined in Iraq, reflecting not only overall improved security but a U.S.-Iraq security agreement signed in 2008 that saw U.S. troops pulling back from frontlines (and out of cities) in summer 2009, ahead of the anticipated pullout of all U.S. combat forces by 2010. But Iraqi forces struggled to keep the peace: Massive bombings took a toll in August and September. On Dec. 8 five simultaneous bombings in Baghdad, targeting government buildings and schools, claimed 127 lives and injured more than 500. Despite the ongoing unrest the government has scheduled nationwide elections for March 2010. (See also "Wars," Jan. 2, 2010.)

4. Climategate

The discovery in November of emails showing doubt and disagreement among the world's leading climatologists over the extent of global warming is eroding confidence in the science that led to the Kyoto Protocols and the effort to agree on a treaty controlling carbon emissions at Copenhagen. Experts who have long operated as "second-class citizens" in the climate world because they doubted the data showing a dramatic rise in world temperature in the last 100 years now are finding their voices again. That didn't stop the EPA from announcing massive new emissions standards via the Clean Air Act starting next year, but it will make it harder for the agency to find broad consensus for its directive. (See also "Wars," Jan. 2, 2010.)

5. Healthcare debate

It's yet to be seen if Congress can reconcile the thousands of pages of House and Senate legislation and the issues dividing not only Republicans and Democrats but dividing the Democratic Party itself in the massive attempt to overhaul an industry representing one-sixth of the country's economy. (See also "Politics," Jan. 2, 2010.)

6. Recession

By the third quarter of 2009 there were halting signs that the nation's worst recession since the Great Depression was coming to an end, as housing declines and stock market losses eased. But the economy has lost more than 7 million jobs since economists say the recession began in 2007; and in 2009 the unemployment rate soared to over 10 percent, its highest rate in over 25 years.

The continuing stall produced a historic takeover of the U.S. auto industry: an $81 billion "investment," or bailout, depending on who's talking-prompting The New York Times to use the word "nationalization" to describe what once was an iconic symbol of American ingenuity and independence. (See also "Losers," Jan. 2, 2010.)

7. Nidal Hasan, Fort Hood, and the domestic terror threat

Army officials have not said whether they will seek the death penalty in the court martial of Maj. Nidal Hasan, the gunman behind the Fort Hood killings. They have said that doctors will evaluate Hasan by mid-January to determine his competency to stand trial as well as his mental state at the time of the shooting. Hasan is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the Nov. 5 shooting on the Texas Army post. He remains hospitalized in San Antonio, recovering from gunshot wounds that left him paralyzed from the chest down. Separately, U.S. law enforcement in 2009 foiled five domestic terror plots-suggesting that the threat of homegrown jihadists is on the rise. (See also "The Buzz," Jan. 2, 2010.)


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