2013 revealed that President Obama is weak and meek

2013 revealed that President Obama is weak and meek. Credit: Olivier Douliery/ABACA USA/Empics Entertainment

The American presidency is the most glittering political prize on earth.

Part royalty, part chief executive, a newly re-elected President is at the pinnacle of his power and prestige.

And yet, and yet.

2013 revealed that President Obama is weak and meek.

The year began with the echoes of a madman's bullets ringing in America's ears. The Sandy Hook primary school massacre of a year ago was deeply shocking in its depravity and senselessness.

Every right-thinking person assumed, including the President, that Americans would finally agree to sensible gun-control reform.

Adam Lanza shot dead 20 pupils and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Nothing radical. No confiscation of weapons. Just improved background checks and a ban on military-style assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.

But the National Rifle Association of America resisted and Congress crumbled.

In one of the saddest moments I've witnessed in American politics, in mid-April the US Senate voted against even modest reform. A woman in the gallery above, who had witnessed gun violence, shouted the most powerful single words of the whole dishonourable debate: "Shame on you!"

Dylan Hockley, six, was killed in the Sandy Hook shootings. Credit: Nicole Hockley

The Sandy Hook families were defeated and President Obama - the advocate-in-chief for gun reform - looked feeble, unable to deliver change that he had promised.

President Barack Obama signs executive orders on gun violence in January. Credit: Reuters

It didn't get better later in the year for the White House. The President's greatest domestic achievement, health care reform, began to unravel under sustained political attack by Republicans and a disastrous website launch.

So where does a bruised and battered second-term President look for redemption? For foreign policy triumphs.

But on Syria, US policy has been so contorted, so hopelessly contradictory, that even it's advocates are embarrassed.

Ask the most basic question and the problem is clear: Who does America actually want to win? After three years and 120,000 deaths, there is no clear answer.

And remember the most central position of all? That any use of chemical weapons would cross an Obama "red line."

So when there was a blatant and harrowing use of sarin gas, observers knew that the President - if only to preserve his credibility - would order limited military strikes.

But in a move that caused the White House press corps whiplash, he readied the warships and then, wavering, referred the whole decision to Congress for approval.

To the surprise of no-one, war weary Americans besieged their representatives to avoid putting a toe in the Syrian quagmire.

A U.N. chemical weapons expert, wearing a gas mask, inspects one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack. Credit: Reuters/Mohammad Abdullah

President Obama was forced to accept that Syria's use of chemical weapons, the worst for decades, would go unpunished. Even President Putin took the credit and the prestige for a deal that ended up dismantling Syria's chemical weapons capability.

So everywhere the White House looks, it sees a bleak outlook for reform. At home and abroad Obama's enemies have out-manoeuvred him.

But 2014 could provide the two strongest Obama successes of all. They would form the basis of a legacy that is much less than he wanted; but meaningful all the same.

The last US troops will be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Credit: Lim Simon/ABACA/Press Association Images

2014 will see the end of America's longest war. The last US troops will be out of Afghanistan by the end of the year. That is a promise he will have kept and will allow the President to argue he ended the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to focus on nation-building at home.

But the second accomplishment 2014 may bring is the most important for ordinary Americans. The economy may finally gather some real momentum - ending this anaemic, jobless recovery that feels so fragile.

If Detroit roars, if Silicon Valley continues its astonishing growth, if American entrepreneurs rediscover their self-confidence it will be some exit for the President in 2016.

But America isn't just about a President.

So let's acknowledge that the newsmaker of 2013 is a young college-drop out.

Yes, we can all agree that the most high-profile American of 2013 is also the most invisible.

Edward Snowden is one of the most high-profile Americans of 2013. Credit: REUTERS/Glenn Greenwald/Laura Poitras/Courtesy of The Guardian

Step forward, Edward Snowden. Hero or villain, he wins my vote as the most influential American of 2013.