It was a year marked by tumultuous global events and dire economic realities. From long-awaited U.S. military triumphs to social change, 2011 was a very politically active year. Here's a list of the top 9 political events from 2011.
Shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
On January 8, Arizona Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was meeting with constituents when she and 18 others were shot at a shopping center near Tucson. Six people were killed, including a federal judge, though Giffords, who was shot point blank in the head, survived. The shooter, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, was declared incompetent to stand trial and has not revealed why he tried to kill Giffords. The incident, which took place soon after a politically divisive midterm election, prompted discussion about the heated rhetoric politicians and others employ.
The protests that began in Tunisia and spread throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa eventually become known as the Arab Spring. Fueled by unemployed young citizens and frustration with longtime leaders and corrupt police, the protests have prompted the overthrow of three leaders, in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, and the emergence of democratic elections. Other leaders have vowed to step down from power when their current terms end. Though the protests began as nonviolent endeavors, struggles in many of the countries have been bloody.
Killing of Osama bin Laden
The mastermind of the 9/11 attacks that killed about 3,000 Americans as well as other terrorist attacks was shot and killed by Navy SEALs on May 2. The event was considered a crucial blow to the Islamist militant group al Qaeda and one long sought after by American military since September 11. After the covert mission at a compound in Pakistan, bin Laden's remains were disposed of at sea. President Obama's decision to execute the dangerous stealth raid has been praised by military officials and described as a "gutsy call" that paid off.
Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell
After years of lobbying by liberal and gay rights groups and more recently the likes of pop star Lady Gaga, Congress passed a repeal of the 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" law that barred gays from openly serving in the military. The law was signed by President Obama despite protests from some military leaders, notably from the Marines, who claimed the change in policy would interrupt service and potential weaken the military. After months of preparation, the policy was officially ended as of September 2011 and even staunch opponents of the repeal admitted no harm had come from it.
Occupy Wall Street
Protesting income inequality and corporate dominance, activists decided to camp out near New York's Wall Street. The movement spread throughout the United States and even spilled into other countries. Protesters have spent time railing against the wealthiest 1 percent and coined the slogan "We are the 99 percent." The movement, though criticized for lacking a coherent message or political goal, has helped change the political discussion from the Tea Party obsession with deficits to one of economic "fairness."
GOP presidential race
From Donald Trump to Herman Cain, the Republican race to pick a presidential nominee has been a roller-coaster ride. Businessman Trump flirted with the idea of jumping into the GOP field, but has decided instead to wait and see who the nominee is, floating the idea that he may run as an independent. The GOP electorate, hungry to find an opponent for President Obama, has keep politicos on the edge of their seats, bouncing from front-runner to front-runner over several months. Cain, once one of the top candidates, was forced to suspend his campaign after a series of sexual harassment and misconduct allegations. But more than the distractions, the race has forced introspection by Republicans on what their priorities are and likely making a choice between a candidate who represents ideological purity or one with the best chances of winning the White House.
Greece debt crisis
A variety of economic factors and political decisions left Greece teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and caused a panic in the euro zone, culminating in a series of monetary bailouts. But the Greek crisis, which may end up being repeated in Italy and other European countries, has had an enormous impact on the European bloc and worldwide. And the uncertainly of how Europe will cope with the situations has dragged on throughout 2011, leaving economies struggling to come out of recession even more hamstrung.
Debt ceiling fight
In a showdown set up by the midterm elections that saw Republicans take over the House of Representatives and provide a foil to President Obama, a Democrat, lawmakers wrangled several times over raising the federal debt ceiling. Though both sides recognized it needed to be done, Republicans sought to secure as many spending concessions from Democrats as possible to make good on campaign promises of getting the country's fiscal house in order. But the stalemate and brinkmanship that highlighted how difficult compromise is to come by in Washington, D.C., led a bond rating agency to downgrade the country's credit rating.
As of mid-December, the final combat troops from the United States were removed from Iraq, marking the end of the war that began in 2003. The war began under President George W. Bush under the assumption that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and after the nation refused to fully cooperate with the international community regarding inspections. After the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime, no such weapons were found, though the leader was hunted down, tried, and later executed for crimes against humanity. In total, the war is suspected to have cost about $1 trillion, the lives of about 4,500 U.S. soldiers and those of at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians. An additional 32,000 U.S. soldiers were also wounded.
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