FP’s Most Popular Articles of 2012

From true spy stories to the sex lives of ayatollahs, here’s what you wanted to read in the past year.


It’s been a tumultous year in the world, from the seemingly never-ending U.S. presidential campaign to the ongoing chaos in the Arab world to the rising tension in the fast-changing Pacific. And Foreign Policy has covered all of it. Here’s what interested you most:

Grand Ayatollah or Grand Old Party?: In an election year, interest in all things political was bound to flare, but we were shocked by the huge reaction to this quiz. We asked readers to decide who said it: Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei or U.S. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum. While Santorum was unsuccessful in his bid to be the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, he certainly won a place in the FP record books. 

Why Do They Hate Us?: For FP‘s inaugural Sex Issue, Mona Eltahawy wrote a searing indictment of misogyny in the Middle East. Coming just as it became clear that religious conservatives would be the immediate winners of the Arab Spring, Eltahawy’s article hit a nerve, sparking a passionate debate over the role of women in the new Middle Eastern politics — and around the world.

Israel’s Secret Staging Ground: Mark Perry reported that U.S. officials believed that the Israeli government had quietly gained access to airfields in Azerbaijan — strategic assets it would find extremely useful in the event of a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

False Flag: Before his March blockbuster "Israel’s Secret Staging Ground," Perry had already attracted attention with his reporting on an Israeli plot that sounded ripped from the pages of an Ian Fleming novel.

The Revenge of Wen Jiabao: 2012 was a year of big changes for China’s political leadership, with new cadres filling the ranks of the elite Politburo Standing Committee in October, and a scandalous dismissal of former Politburo member Bo Xilai in March. John Garnaut’s unique insight took readers behind the scenes of Premier Wen Jiabao’s public critique of longtime rival Bo Xilai, and into the shadowy history of these two men and the China both claimed to represent.

The Fast and the Ridiculous: In early 2012, the Justice Department suddenly found itself embroiled in allegations of gun-running in a federal probe of the ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious, in which more than 1,000 weapons disappeared from federal oversight and ended up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels. James Verini provided the story behind the spin in an exploration of U.S. and Mexican conspiracy theories on guns, crime, and backroom government deals.

The Ayatollah Under the Bed(sheets): While countless politicians and pundits agonized over Iran’s nuclear diplomacy this year, not one made the connection between the Situation Room and the bedroom. Karim Sadjadpour, however, boldly argued that to understand Iran, one needs to understand the sexual perversity of the country’s leaders. From the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s detailed pronouncements on bestiality to the Iranian government’s highly unsuccessful efforts to censor pornography, Sadjadpour revealed the connections between sex, politics, and religion in Iran — and why some unmentionables need to be mentioned.

The True Spy Story Behind Argo: Nate Jones added another layer of meta in this story on Argo, the movie about the movie that saved six U.S. Embassy staffers during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. He found a firsthand account by the CIA case officer who came up with the outlandish exfiltration scheme, revealing fascinating behind-the-scenes details — for instance, that the fake movie studio meant to fool Iranian officials had been convincing enough to receive a script from Steven Spielberg.

Think Again: The Bin Laden Raid: High-profile assassinations inevitably become the stuff of conspiracy and wild projections, but none more so than this. Noted writer Mark Bowden, author of Blackhawk Down, cut through the conspiracy with six popular myths about the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Kill the Messenger: On Feb. 22, veteran war correspondent Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times of London made her final report from Homs, Syria. Questioned by CNN’s Anderson Cooper on why people should be shown images of the shelling, Colvin answered: "I feel very strongly they should be shown…. That baby probably will move more people to think, ‘What is going on, and why is no one stopping this murder in Homs that is happening everyday?’" In this compelling article, Robert Young Pelton shared the plight of journalists like Colvin in their efforts to bring the news — and themselves — home.

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