Every afternoon, the editorial and art staffs of Foreign Policy gather together to select which stories we'll highlight online the next day. It's a time to flag the biggest breaking stories and, sometimes, to have a bit of fun. Here are 48 of the best covers and headlines from the more than 500 we featured in an extraordinary year.
Above: When it was revealed that the 79 Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden took along a single dog, we couldn't resist finding an action shot of a geared-up combat canine. As for the headline, there were a lot of choices (Four Legs, One Mission…), but we ended up keeping it simple.
It was tough to choose which image to feature from this amazing collection of iPhone photographs taken by embedded journalists in Afghanistan, but this picture of an Afghan soldier in a sandstorm captured what we loved about this surreal, harsh, and beautiful series -- and the bleakness of the war effort.
All year long, we had a blast with the unlikely pairing of Vova and Dima: the tough-guy Putin and the mild-mannered Medvedev. But when Putin announced (to no one's surprise) that he was coming back to run once again for president of Russia, we wondered: Where's the love?
In the early days of the Syrian uprising, Bashar al-Assad (second from right, above) shaved his trademark mustache before giving a speech on promised reforms. Which got us thinking: What is it about dictators that makes them so fond of facial hair?
When noted contemporary artist Ai Weiwei ran afoul of Chinese authorities, we took a look at some artists less well-known (in the West, at least) who have cleverly thumbed their noses at the government. Plus, we found ourselves oddly fascinated by "naked push-up man."
From Tunisia to Yemen, demonstrators this year took to the streets to protest spiraling food costs, including the subsidized staple -- bread. We admit we found baguette head's improvised helmet a bit funny, but the protests themselves were no laughing matter.
The Libyan civil war was a brutal affair on the ground, and a number of well-known journalists sadly lost their lives covering the fight to dethrone Muammar al-Qaddafi -- including Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington. Here, we took a moment to reflect on the life and work of South African photojournalist Anton Hammerl, who was captured and executed by forces loyal to Qaddafi.
Saudi Arabia was mostly immune to the unrest across the Middle East this year -- save sending troops to quell protests in Bahrain and paying off its own citizens with hundreds of billions of dollars -- but a clever protest movement by Saudi women to advocate for the right to drive was one exception. The headline for Cameron Abadi's hilarious piece on the ridiculous arguments against allowing them behind the wheel basically wrote itself.
How can you go wrong with a picture of Sharon Stone and a glazed-over ex-Soviet premier? Anne Applebaum's portrait of Gorbachev as B-list celebrity just sealed the deal.
It's not only Hollywood starlets in slinky dresses who make the cover of FP. Joanna Kakissis's portrait of the feisty 62-year-old grandmother encapsulated the Greek austerity protests this summer. And we all got a bit excited about Louk, the sausage-shaped, tear-gas-immune riot dog, who seemed to have more fun protesting than anyone.
This one was all about color -- showcasing the wild, almost DayGlo, cheery propaganda art from the China of the 1970s, which contrasted with the grim reality of rural life in the country at that time.
We admit it: FP channeled the New York Post on this one.
Alanna Shaikh sure didn't pull any punches in her pointed article on why the CIA's fake vaccination plan to get Osama bin Laden's DNA will result in the deaths of thousands of Pakistani children. But FP's editors did -- the first pass at this headline was even sharper.
Is there a lamer superhero than Captain Euro? As the Captain America movie juggernaut rolled into cinemas this summer, we found a few other half-baked avengers of national identity. Johnny Canuck, anyone?
With an item as cool as this retro-futuristic Soviet-era vacuum, we just kept it clean for this cover.
This extraordinary image of Palestinian day laborers making their way across the border into Israel in search of low-paying construction jobs highlighted the barren opportunities for those caught on the wrong side of the tracks.
Roger Gastman's guided tour through the graffiti that adorned the walls of the Arab Spring took readers from the streets of Tripoli to the shattered houses of Tunisia's dictator.
Libyan men were considered to be just a bunch of unemployed bums by their female counterparts before the revolution, but when the fighting started -- say the women of Tripoli -- they got seriously sexy. Ellen Knickmeyer's wonderful article on the blooming of the sexual revolution in Libya captured an unexpected spoil of war. And FP's female editors swooned at the hunk above.
We're not quite sure whether FP coined the moniker "Merkozy" to describe the blossoming friendship between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, but we sure ran -- make that, had a long walk on the beach -- with it.
The timing worked out perfectly on this one. As voters went to the polls in Russia in early December, this extraordinary selection of portraits of dissidents and protest leaders synced perfectly with the wave of demonstrations over rigged elections that have rocked the Kremlin -- and Putin -- ever since. Above, Alexey Navalny's steely gaze speaks volumes about his commitment to the cause.
Thank you, Photoshop. For this list of Newt Gingrich's sci-fi (and frankly, bizarre) ideas for the future of U.S. weaponry, only a lightsaber would do.
Mossad, the Israeli spy agency, is no stranger to conspiracy theories about its nefarious activities around the world, but when news broke that Saudi villagers claimed that Israeli scientists were training vultures to spy on them -- and when an Egyptian "expert" speculated that a spate of shark attacks in the Red Sea was a Mossad plot against the tourist industry -- we just had to pick our five favorites.
We try to refrain from bad puns like this (well, sometimes), but Eric Abrahamsen's piece about how Mao killed Chinese humor -- and how the Internet was bringing it back -- was just too much for us to resist.
Christopher Alexander's powerful postmortem on the Tunisian autocracy called for an epic-sounding headline and, of course, a picture of the creepy Ben Ali.
It's not an alien landing or a future nightmare from a reincarnated Leni Riefenstahl. And frankly, with a picture like this, this remarkable photo essay of a booming, multibillion-dollar Buddhist cult in Thailand didn't even need a headline.
Dan Drezner (perhaps FP's most colorful -- and blood-splattered -- blogger) ran wild with the undead in 2011, taking off from his hit textbook (yes, apparently there is such a thing), Theories of International Politics and Zombies.
In January, as Egyptian authorities attempted to shut down Facebook and Twitter to curtail growing protests in Tahrir Square, we wondered whether it was actually possible to pull the plug on the little blue bird. Turns out, it's a lot more complicated than logging out.
Just four days into the protests in Tahrir Square, Robert D. Kaplan's article foretold a vastly more complicated U.S. role in a more unstable Middle East.
The day before we published this cover, immediately following a speech by President Hosni Mubarak in which he was widely expected to step down in some fashion (but didn't), we led with the headline "Disappointment Square." Less than 18 hours later, he was gone and FP captured the exuberant celebrations in the streets of Cairo.
Sometimes it's hard to resist a shot of the famously smug former secretary of defense. Here, Bradley Graham and Peter Baker dissected Rummy's long-awaited memoirs.
The picture above was perhaps our favorite caricature of Mubarak -- perfectly capturing his craven, corrupt visage. And Human Rights Watch's Peter Bouckaert's accompanying piece captured the soon-to-be-deposed dictator's fevered last roll of the dice.
Does this one really need much in the way of explanation? The year's favorite "Explainer" was made even funnier with the addition of Tiffany blue.
With echoes of the barricades in Paris, the photo above -- and the remarkable collection of images in this photo essay spanning the 18 days of the Egyptian revolution -- was one we won't soon forget.
Zombies, UFO Buddhists, and now alien cattle? FP's in-house Optimist, Charles Kenny, as usual saw the bright side.
Ever wondered what the lonely Hamid Karzai thinks about long into the night at the presidential palace in Kabul? Ahmed Rashid, who knows Karzai about as well as any writer, went to find out, uncovering the frosty relationship between President Barack Obama and his Afghan counterpart.
Brothers from another mother? Not exactly. This remarkable collection of portraits of the Chinese diaspora around the world asked important questions about whether Beijing is a new colonial power.
Ben Wildavsky's article "Think Again: Education" reassured worried American parents that Amy Chua's millions of Tiger Moms -- and their hyperaccomplished children -- weren't about to take over the Ivy League … just yet. (But seriously, one hour of TV a day is the limit.)
Speaking of Chicken Littles and doomsday predictions, Michael Lind took a whack at the most annoying sky-is-falling clichés in political and academic circles. No comment on the rubber-chicken metaphor.
It's a pun. Get it? And FP contributing editor Christina Larson's dispatch told of dirty, clogged Chinese rivers that stunk just as much as our joke.
As NATO bombs and U.S. Tomahawk missiles fell in Tripoli, we looked back at the remarkable Qaddafi clan -- before many of its members met their untimely end months later.
Would you believe this euro/apple image was already in someone's stock-art library? (We couldn't find anything with Eve and the serpent.) And Wolfgang Münchau's prescient article from April of this year was similarly way out in front of the story.
Once again, we went with the tabloid treatment to mark the end of the long and violent standoff between former President Laurent Gbagbo (above) and President-elect Alassane Ouattara. It was an ignominious end for Gbagbo, who was eventually cornered in a hotel room and now finds himself on trial at The Hague.
That's actually a real picture of FP's Optimist, Charles Kenny -- whose British roots we channeled in the Beatles-inspired headline text.
First it was Ben Ali who fell, then Mubarak -- then Greg Mortenson? The 60 Minutes report that led to the fall of the author, self-promoter, and occasional philanthropist inspired perhaps our most memorable headline of the year.
Associate editor Joshua E. Keating's look at how countries are what they eat was one of our most read articles of the year, and we just loved this illustration of a camel jockey riding through Tahrir Square with a bucket of KFC.
Ah, the corn rocket. What more needs to be said? Actually, Editor in Chief Susan Glasser had a few ideas and impromptu one afternoon came up with an accompanying song.
Before the burqa and the burqini, Western beach clothes weren't so unusual on the Egyptian riviera. This unique collection of photos from the 1950s looks back at a lost era along the shores of Alexandria.
Was there some sort of wedding this year? While the world went gaga over Will and Kate, the crack team at FP stayed on top of what really happened around the world -- from stalemate in Libya to arrests in China to the drug war in Mexico.
To all our readers, and to Grace Van Cutsem (forever to be known as "frowning flower girl") above, here's to an equally extraordinary 2012.