28 Dec 2013

Time’s up! Seven things that did not happen in 2013

From the ‘fiscal cliff’ from which America never fell, to an Iraq inquiry that is still to report back. Here are seven things that were expected to happen in 2013 – but did not.

Syria’s President Assad was not removed from power

The devastating rocket attack that saw sarin gas deployed in Ghouta last August marked a decisive step-change in the west’s attitude to Syria’s civil war. It led to David Cameron calling an emergency session of parliament to authorise military action, while US President Obama ordered the Pentagon to draw a list of potential air strikes with a launch date of 1 September.

What followed was an unprecedented international climb-down. After hours of impassioned debate, MPs vetoed the use of military force in London, leading to Washington aborting their mission days afterwards. President Assad meanwhile has remained in power, and in October he allowed UN inspectors to begin destroying his chemical weapons pile.

But many believe the move is calculated and has simply strengthened his grip on power Damascus. Syria’s president has even audaciously suggested that he should have been awarded the Nobel peace prize for the move, which was secured with the help of Russia. Next year will decide whether this strategy has been an effective form of peace-brokering or a dangerous form of appeasement.

The Chilcot inquiry did not report on the Iraq war

The shadow of Iraq still looms heavily over UK foreign policy, and yet Britain is still to formally identify the mistakes of the endeavour. That is because Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry, whose hearings took place between 2009 and 2011, has still not reported its findings.

Government sources suggested it would be published at the end of 2012. At the beginning of this year, the deadline was put back to the end of 2013. Much of the latest delay is thought to be down to disagreement between Whitehall and the US State Department and over declassifying confidential communications between George W Bush and Tony Blair in the build-up, during, and in the aftermath of the Iraq war.

If the delay continues into next year, there are concerns that the 2015 election could delay it even further.

The US did not fall off a ‘fiscal cliff’

This time last year looked very bleak indeed for the global economy. The US was teetering on the brink of a fiscal cliff, with more than $500bn in tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to be implemented unless President Obama and the Republicans could reach a deficit reduction deal.

Putting aside issues such as the two-week federal government shutdown in October and Detroit filing for bankruptcy, 2013 has been more positive from an economic and financial market standpoint than once expected. All major equity markets are up on a year ago, while the US has seen a small economic turnaround.

The deal Congress reached in January over the fiscal cliff saw the US Treasury pick itself up and grow. Even Europe has turned a corner: the eurozone has moved out of technical recession, with much of the continent now growing, albeit slowly.

Julian Assange did not leave Ecuador’s embassy

While Edward Snowden appeared to overshadow Julian Assange as the world’s most wanted whistleblower, there was little movement inside London’s Ecuadorian embassy, where the WikiLeaks founder remains in a bid to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sex-crime accusations.

Mr Assange has said he will not leave his five-metre-squared room even if the charges are dropped, out of fear of being extradited to the US to face trial there.

Instead, much of his outrage this year was directed toward Bill Condon’s film The Fifth Estate, which he described as a “massive propaganda attack”.

Neither Boston bomb suspect nor alleged Aurora shooter face imminent trial

They are two of America’s most high-profile murder suspects, and many expected them to face trial and be sentenced quickly. But nearly nine months on, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, accused of having detonated the second bomb during the Boston marathon on 15 April, remains in solitary confinement near Boston and is still to face trial.

Federal prosecutors want a trial in autumn 2014, while the defence says this target is “completely unworkable”.

Separately, James Holmes had was expected to go on trial in February for the July 2012 massacre during a midnight screening of the Batman film in Aurora, Colorado. But that has now been “postponed indefinitely” to deal with prosecutors’ requests for further evaluations of his mental health.

Warsaw’s climate change summit failed to agree a clear way forward after Kyoto

2013 was a year when environmentalists concluded it was “unequivocal” that global warming is human-induced. Yet there was a marked lack of progress in sealing a global agreement on measures to slow or halt man-made climate change.

An overnight marathon conference in Warsaw in November saw governments given until the first quarter of 2015 to publish their plans on how to curb greenhouse gas emissions from 2020. It means the quest to tackle climate change will neither be shaped nor defined until next year at the earliest.

The coalition did not collapse, and Labour’s leadership did not implode

The year started with Labour leader Ed Miliband under fire for failing to articulate his stance on an EU referendum, amid speculation about his relationship with shadow chancellor Ed Balls. That intensified during Labour’s “silent summer”, when Mr Miliband appeared increasingly absent.

Then came the party conference, a war on energy companies, a scrap with the Daily Mail and a clampdown on payday lenders.

Meanwhile the Conservatives and Lib Dems sharpened their differences – over Europe, welfare and free schools. But the coalition and Labour have remained intact and, barring catastrophe, all three leaders look set to take their party into the 2015 election.