U.S. combat operations in Vietnam began in 1965 and lasted until a formal ceasefire in 1973. By that measure combat operations in Afghanistan, which began in October 2001, became the longest-running war in U.S. history when they entered their ninth year in the fall of 2009. Henry Kissinger, who negotiated the Vietnamese ceasefire under Nixon, said the request by U.S. commanders to increase troops "poses cruel dilemmas" for President Obama. And so the president underwent a 92-day review of U.S. policy in Central Asia before announcing Dec. 1, "It is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan." The president told cadets at West Point, where he spoke: "As your commander in chief, I owe you a mission that is clearly defined, and worthy of your service."
Ironically, that mission is modeled after the surge strategy in Iraq that Obama voted against as a U.S. senator. And while the president has criticized CIA operations in the war on terror, he also as part of his review authorized an expansion of CIA involvement in Pakistan: the increased use of unmanned drones to fire missiles at al-Qaeda and Taliban safe havens, and covert operations to support Pakistani forces in Taliban-controlled areas.
The protesters who turned out in Copenhagen's cold Dec. 12 to declare war on global warming and call for "climate justice now" were only the leading edge to year-long buildup to an international treaty governing carbon emissions. Behind the scenes in Denmark, where 15,000 negotiators, environmental groups, officials, and heads of state gathered for the two-week UN conference on climate change, pressure mounted over how to reconcile not only rich and poor nations but also the discrepancies in climate data. Those gaps came to scandalous light when over 1,000 emails originating with leading experts in Britain were made public-revealing a scientific community unsure of its methodology on how to measure global temperatures from the past and paranoid about internal doubts being laid bare to public scrutiny.
In late December 2008 Israeli Defense Forces launched a wave of airstrikes on the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip-in response to weeks of stepped-up rocket launches on Israeli citizens by Hamas, the militant group that controls the Palestinian area. By the time the campaign ended, 1,400 Palestinians had been killed and 13 Israelis. The lopsided death toll-plus collateral damage that left thousands of Palestinians without water and electricity in the area of 1.5 million-set the stage for international condemnation aimed at Israel.
When a UN commission headed by South African Judge Richard Goldstone in September issued a controversial report charging both Israel and Hamas with war crimes in the course of the 22-day operation, the response was almost scripted: The UN Human Rights Council selectively endorsed the report, citing Israel only for violations. Raising red flags over Goldstone's research methods and process, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 344-36 in November on a resolution calling the report "irredeemably biased" and asking President Obama to reject it.
But no one was rejecting Gaza's flowers. In a rare easing of its blockade, Israel in December allowed shipment of Gaza's entire harvest of 35 million roses, carnations, and chrysanthemums to European markets-the first since 2007.
With U.S. military casualties at their lowest in the almost seven-year war (150 for 2009 as of Dec. 15 compared to 314 in 2008), and violent deaths of Iraqis at their lowest point since 2003, it's tempting to forget the Iraq War is still on. But five simultaneous bombings Dec. 8 were potent reminders. The well-coordinated, sophisticated attacks hit government and university buildings, killed 127, and wounded more than 500 Iraqis. They followed similar bomb attacks in August and in October.
Iraqi forces shouldered responsibility for the security breaches and for the aftermath, following a security agreement with the United States signed in 2008 that prompted U.S. forces to pull back from Iraqi cities in June, with most to be out of the country altogether by the end of 2010.
"It is time for us to transfer to the Iraqis. They need to take responsibility for their country," President Obama said during a five-hour visit to Iraq in April where he met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. After lengthy political wrangling, Maliki announced in December that the country will hold national elections March 7, a required benchmark on the road to further U.S withdrawal.
In March joggers discovered the headless bodies of three men near a bullfight ring in Tijuana. The corpses were also missing their hands, and one its feet, and nearby a note from drug traffickers labeled the men "snitches." This, all a $10 cab ride from San Diego.
The narco-wars sweeping through Mexico involve at least four drug cartels and thousands of victims. What began as infighting over the most lucrative drug routes into the United States has escalated into all-out turf wars fought simultaneously with a stepped-up battle between cartels and Mexican authorities.
In Ciudad Juarez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, more than 2,250 killings took place this year. That's a rate of 173 per 100,000 residents and compares with a rate of 37 in Baltimore, the deadliest U.S. city with a population of more than 500,000. Drug war killings in Mexico easily top combat casualty rates in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other allegedly hotter wars around the world.