In late 2011, I wrote a review of 2012 as though it had already passed. Then I reviewed my predictions against the newly-sealed historical record. Now, an exercise in the same: here is what happened in 2013.
Despite two years worth of calls for it, there was no intervention in Syria this year. While multiple videos made it out of the country attempting to prove that Assad had used chemical weapons, no government ever conceding a red line as crossed. Following Assad’s late-August ouster,* after a month of siege, the contours of a new Syria state could just be made out. Militias still clash, and the west’s long-hoped-for moderate coalition appears to have only been a pipe dream.
*”ouster” is a euphemism. “Brutal murder in the style of Qaddafi” is a more accurate description.
The world’s slowest nuclear program again failed to produce a viable weapon, and 2012’s talk of pre-emptive strikes subsided as the years-long impact of a tough sanctions regime became more widely known. The year lacked protests, and as the Ahmadinejad era came to a close, Khamenei re-asserted the public role & dominance of the Supreme Leader.
While Afghanistan has long faded from American popular consciousness, the drone war continued under the logic that “as long as there are dead Taliban, we can keep claiming fragile but reversible progress.” Turning points may have been reached.
In Yemen, while drones operated with impunity, the on-the-ground human intelligence that locates targets became almost impossible to obtain. A brutal campaign against the vulnerable humans that make this work has left the US blind to the situation on the ground. Rather that revising strategy away from tech solutions and air power, the United States has increased signature strikes, against what started as a small al Qaeda off-shoot but is now blossoming into a proper insurgency.
In Somalia and Mali, drones were the chosen solution to complex problems, based largely on a public that assumes drones require no deployment of Americans near the field of battle. GWOT, the unwieldy acronym that has now defined over 12 years of US foreign policy, began a full pivot to Africa.
Despite being largely absent from the presidential election campaign that both defined and drained all the energy from 2012, there are countries south of the Rio Grande and in 2013 what happened in them mattered politically. As the DEA mostly turned a blind eye to marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington, undercut cartels accelerated their violence. Monterrey descended into chaos, while the Mexican Naval Infantry were a rare successful institution in a country beset by failings.
In Venezuela, after Assad declined his offer of asylum from his hospital bed, Hugo Chavez never managed to recover and died quietly. A frustrating political process was complicated by divisions among former Chavezistas and the lack of an organized opposition, so the military stepped in to guide a transition. This move was welcomed by exactly no one, but as 2013 winds down that is where things remain.
Tensions over the Senkaku Islands / Diaoyu Islands / Tiaoyutai Islands / Pinnacle Islands remained as ridiculous as a power struggle over uninhabitable rocks could be. The United States, professing an Asia Pivot and committed to the security of the region, sent ships to calm tensions but failed to matter in negotiations, as a refusal by the Senate to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea excluded them from discussing the most peaceful solution possible. While no fire was exchanged, the frequent arrest of trespassing fishing vessels escalated to competing contracts for oil exploration being awarded by China and Japan. As of December 2013, no drilling had commenced, but news stories are already stuffed with “Eastern Guns of August” stories.