What a year of huge stories: the Dow descended, Obama ascended and the world had the pleasure of getting to know a family of Palins, a country called Georgia, a pregnant man (remember that?) and the opportunity to say buh-bye to scores of commercial banks. But amid all the economic crises and political campaigns, much was happening beyond the front pages of America's newspapers: attacks in Africa and Afghanistan, important health legislation, even a few Pentagon snafus that largely escaped the public's attention. What follows is NEWSWEEK's list of 10 stories that deserved more ink and airtime in 2008. And tell us which events and people you think were undercovered during the year, in our comments section below. The best responses will be featured on Readback, our feedback blog. In the meantime, our picks:
1. Already at War in Afghanistan
Throughout the campaign and Barack Obama's subsequent preparations to take office, the president-elect has mentioned that he would look into a surge in Afghanistan to fight against the Taliban. Maybe that's too late, considering the current administration spent 2008 increasing the amount of troops deployed there by more than 85 percent. The Defense Department reported during the year that troop levels have reached their highest levels in Afghanistan since 2001, with roughly 40,000 American soldiers fighting. Though troops in Iraq were once triple that number, the lack of coverage (and antiwar protests) surrounding Afghanistan could lead to a longer war and continued deployment.
2. Chaos in Congo
In October, the United Nations sponsored a partial ceasefire between the Congolese government and rebel leaders of the African nation, which has been in demographic and political disrepair for more than a decade. A mere week later the ceasefire fell apart, paving the way for continued devastation in a violent country where an estimated 5 million people have already been killed. As militia groups—even entire countries—have joined the fighting, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is quickly becoming Africa's worst war zone.
3. U.S. Nuclear Fuses Arrive in Taiwan
Oops! In March, it was announced that the Pentagon had accidentally shipped nuclear fuses in place of spare helicopter batteries that the Taiwanese government had ordered in 2006. The larger problem here? It highlights a string of incidents in which the Pentagon has mishandled nuclear equipment. Not surprisingly, the Chinese were disappointed; Washington quickly sent a nervous missive insisting that America stands by its policy not to arm Taiwan.
4. Insurance Coverage for Mental Health
Nearly everyone bemoaned the "sweeteners" that were part of the $700 billion financial bailout passed by Congress in October. But one unexpected—and undercovered—surprise was that the plan included the passing of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. Under this bill, employers who provide insurance coverage for the treatment of physical illnesses must now do so on an equal basis for mental-health coverage, beginning when plans renew after October 2009. Sweet, indeed.
5. Iraq Goes Ignored
Though studies vary, 2008 was likely the year when casualties hit the 1 million mark in Iraq. So why are news outlets pulling their correspondents from Baghdad bureaus, and where did all those Iraq headlines go? Ironic, considering that Obama was elected partly on a get-out-of-Iraq platform.
6. Solar Energy? Not So Hot.
As solar panels have become a common solution for providing clean energy, it was revealed in the fall that a compound involved in their production may be the farthest thing from green: nitrogen trifluoride is used to treat titanium solar panels, and reports show that the gas may be 20,000 times worse than carbon dioxide at contributing to global warming. Worse yet, the Kyoto Protocol—which provides regulations for greenhouse gases—still says nil about protecting the environment from this gas.
7. Our New Missile-Defense Program ...in India
After meetings in New Delhi, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates quietly announced in February that the United States may develop a missile-defense shield on Indian soil. The program is admittedly in very early stages, but as countries around Asia ascend to economic power, meddling with a missile shield on the Subcontinent could have detrimental effects for stability between the United States and China, and tilt the power balance throughout the region.
8. A Kick in the Knee to Venezuelan Relations
In September, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela decided to expel the American ambassador from his country after saying he had learned of an American plot to stage a coup against him. This was the low point in a year of deteriorating relations between the United States and the oil-rich South American nation.
9. Fairly Fighting AIDS ... Finally
As President Bush's approval ratings hovered at historical lows, one unsung success was his role in contributing billions to the fight against AIDS, mostly through funding programs in Africa. In 2008 he also signed a renewed and expanded President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which, among other things, paved the way for reversing a longstanding regulation that prevents those with HIV from visiting or immigrating to the United States. The Department of Health and Human Services still has to approve this change, so the fight isn't over—but Bush won this round.
10. Church Refuses Protection From Pedophiles
When delegates from the Southern Baptist Convention met in June, they went on record to admit that sex abuse is reprehensible, sinful—and happening. That said, they refused pressure to create a database that would screen church workers and, presumably, prevent pedophiles from re-employment. It's a blow to many congregations around the country, as local churches are forced to rely on mere instinct (or God's will?) in the hiring and screening of their staffs.