Is 2011 the Bad Year for Bad Guys?

A heartening trend: Bin Laden's dead, Mubarak toppled and Mladic captured

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Early yesterday morning, when news first broke that Bosnian Serb war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic had been captured, Middle East commentator Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi tweeted a comment he'd heard from a BBC World Service news anchor: 2011, the anchor observed, "is turning out to be a bad year for bad people."

It's a conclusion others are drawing as well. After all, as winter has turned into spring, we've seen uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt topple autocratic rulers, pro-democracy protests and rebellions in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, and other Arab countries threaten authoritarian regimes, Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo cede power to  internationally recognized leader Alassane Ouattara, Navy SEALs kill Osama bin Laden after a 10-year manhunt, and Serbian police arrest Mladic after a 16-year manhunt. How should we make sense of these events? Here's what people are saying:

  • May: A 'Bad Month for Evil Men' Writing in The Telegraph, former British army chief Richard Dannatt declares that "for those decent people who want to live in peace, prosperity and freedom these have been encouraging days." He even draws a parallel between the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the war in Libya. Dutch U.N. peacekeepers, he points out, were supposed to keep the Bosnian town of Srebrenica safe, but instead they failed to stop Mladic from killing 8,000 Muslim men and boys there in 1995. "Will the decent people of Misurata and Tripoli be let down in the same way that the people of Srebrenica were?" he asks.
  • Is Capturing Your Enemies Always Good? When officials in Western democracies hunt for terrorists or war criminals, the BBC's Mark Urban explains, they often argue that while there may be revenge attacks if they capture their target, the enemy organization would have carried the attacks out anyway. But is that always true? The arrest, trial, and execution of Saddam Hussein, he points out, galvanized the Islamic insurgency and inflamed tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the country. Will al-Qaeda's internal power struggle in the wake of bin Laden's death outweigh any revenge attacks the group may carry out? Will Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi respond to the bombing of his compound and war crimes charges by fighting to the death and causing more bloodshed? Urban thinks the arrest of Mladic will cool ethnic tensions in the region.
  • Pakistan vs. Serbia The Atlantic's Max Fisher notes that Mladic, like bin Laden, was an "internationally wanted war criminal who spent years hiding peacefully under the noses, and possibly the stewardship, of a sympathetic government." But there's one critical difference, he adds: "Pakistan's government, despite years of U.S. cajoling and begging" never handed bin Laden over. Serbia, Fisher continues, was motivated to capture Mladic because doing so would further its bid to join the European Union, and enjoy the economic benefits that come with it. The U.S., Fisher concludes, should be incentivizing Pakistan economically to embrace civilian rule and tone down its nationalism, but instead its reinforcing Pakistan's bad behavior with the war in Afghanistan and generous aid. 
  • Who's Left on the Most-Wanted List? The AP surveys recent developments in the world and wonders who's still left on the world's most-wanted list. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and al-Qaeda leaders Ayman al-Zawahri and Anwar al-Awlaki are on the list, as is Alois Brunner, who is accused of helping deport tens of thousands of Jews across Europe and was last seen in Syria in 2001. He's "the most important unpunished Nazi war crimes suspect who may still be alive," according to the AP.

The connection between Mladic and bin Laden, by the way, didn't just start yesterday. Earlier this month, a U.N. war crimes prosecutor urged Serbia to try harder to find Mladic in the wake of the al-Qaeda leader's death during a visit to Belgrade. "Sometimes persons are hiding in a place where you are not thinking they are hiding and sometimes it is much easier than you think," he said. "It was also very difficult to find the location of Osama bin Laden," Serbian President Boris Tadic responded.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.