After his strong reelection in late 2012, President Barack Obama was optimistic as he started his second term. He wanted to push through major reforms, and nail down his historic legacy. Continuing obstruction from opposition Republicans was not in the plan. Instead, 2013 turned into a fiasco that is likely to put a damper on his effectiveness for the rest of his final term in office. And the problems could continue making waves into Congressional elections in November, when Democrats could have an even tougher time holding onto their seats. Much of the blame is put at the feet of opposition Republicans in Congress, who control the majority in the lower house and have enough strength in the Senate to block debate, and thus voting, on major issues. But even Obama-friendly analysts say he did not grapple enough with Congress to put through his plans. This was Obama’s year of flops: » Healthcare “Obamacare,” the president’s biggest and most important reform, became his greatest disaster. Its internet launch on October 1 flopped, and millions of US residents who were without health insurance were affected. Obama needed to apologise several times. Republicans were handed success on a platter, particularly since the problems took weeks to resolve. » Immigration More than 11 million undocumented immigrants currently live in the United States, and the US economy would not be viable without them. Obama made legalisation for many of them a major issue, with plans to allow them to gradually become US citizens. However, Republicans in the House of Representatives opposed the move, although many of their leaders acknowledge the need for such reform. It seems doubtful whether Obama can push through immigration reform in the three years he has left in the White House. » Weapons After the shocking Newtown school shooting in December 2012 killed 20 children and six adult educators, Obama took the initiative. He declared that nothing would be more important than protecting children. He tried to capitalise on the public pressure for tougher gun laws. However, Obama’s plan was rather modest. He tried to put limits on the sale of particularly dangerous military-style rifles and to subject potential weapon buyers to thorough investigation. The initiative met with resistance in Congress, and instead of fighting for it Obama let it fizzle out, his critics say. » Finance In October, the world’s largest economy once again stood on the edge of fiscal disaster. Opposition Republicans blocked the budget, and all but essential federal operations closed for more than two weeks. The second punch – a fight over raising the US debt ceiling, a step needed to prevent default – was only avoided at the last minute. To Obama’s relief, Republicans and Democrats finally came together in late December to pass a budget that will fund the government for the next two years and avoid partisan gridlock. But in February, there could be another fight over the debt ceiling. » NSA espionage Revelations that the US secret service had been monitoring the cellphone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel sparked a confidence crisis. Only a few weeks earlier, Obama had said: “If I want to know what Chancellor Merkel is thinking, I will call Chancellor Merkel.” Other countries in Europe and around the world were also outraged by the massive US data surveillance programme abroad. Obama’s reaction was lukewarm – he has promised to announce reform measures in January, based on advice from a special panel he appointed to study the problem. » Guantanamo Obama renewed a pledge he made in his 2008 presidential campaign: closure of the controversial US detention camp on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. An estimated 160 suspected terrorists remain there, often for many years without formal charges. At one point this past year, more than 100 were on hunger strike and some were subjected to forced feeding. Congress has opposed Obama’s plans to transfer them to domestic jails and courts. But in a move in late December, Congress did lift some restrictions on his ability to transfer detainees out of the prison to other countries. » Syria Following the latest use of chemical weapons by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, the United States prepared a military strike. Warships deployed off Syria’s coast, US allies were mobilised, and Obama appeared to have decided on a strike. However, opposition built in Congress and Obama faced a dilemma. He had, after all, declared repeatedly that the use of poison gas would mean Syria had crossed a “red line.” Only a Russian diplomatic initiative to convince Damascus to allow the international community to destroy its chemical weapons got him out of trouble.