For many political watchers 2013 will be remembered as the year of the disastrous government shutdown and the even more disastrous Obamacare rollout. But the shutdown came and went, arguably leaving the GOP’s more mature leaders in firmer control of their troops and disgracing the shutdown squad. Obamacare was hobbled and in turn hobbled the Democrats, but the final reckoning comes this year as Dems must decide whether to jettison the individual mandate and voters will have to decide whether to jettison the Democrats who brought us Obamacare.

A boy rides on a tricycle along a damaged street in the besieged area of Homs, January 1, 2014. Picture taken January 1, 2014. REUTERS/Yazan Homsy (SYRIA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) A boy rides on a tricycle along a damaged street in the besieged area of Homs, Syria, last week. (Yazan Homsy/Reuters)

However, two developments were more lasting and significant than either of these, and will be –unlike the ills of the shutdown and Obamacare — virtually impossible to reverse.

On the domestic front gay marriage reached a tipping point. The Supreme Court in two somewhat muddled decisions struck down DOMA and revived gay marriage in California. While the reasoning was a mish-mash between states rights and the 14th amendment, the momentum against limits on marriage is now irreversible. Eighteen states  and the District of Columbia now recognize gay marriage. Popular opinion has shifted decisively in favor of gay marriage. Whatever one’s views, this is a dramatic shift in public morals and in an institution that was considered inviolate for millenniums, and the the trend will not reverse itself.

Ironically, the gay marriage revolution is the bright spot in the marriage picture, with heterosexual marriage in decline and single parent households surging. Perhaps marriage will be reinvigorated in the 21st century; those desirous of a happier, more stable and prosperous society should hope so.

On the international stage, Iran and its junior partner Syria are in ascendancy. At some future date peace and stability may abound, but nothing will reverse the murder of more than 130,000 Syrians or the “red line” Bashar al-Assad crossed with near-impunity. In the hellish place liberals once thought (foolishly) to be a partner in the “peace process” (another foolish idea), thousands of jihadis poured into Syria and have taken up arms, Hezbollah has upgraded and expanded its missile cache, hundreds of thousands of refugees flock to fragile regimes and diseases like polio have made a comeback. This monstrous event, Elliott Abrams tells us, has ramifications far beyond Syria:

Certainly our inaction in Syria has been noted in Jerusalem, where our resolve to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program is the critical concern. When Moscow judges what we will do as Russia presses Ukraine, and when Beijing estimates the American reaction to a new “air defense zone” in the East China Sea, the gap between words and actions in Syria must be high on the agenda.

But the reputation that will in the end suffer most is Obama’s. He is presiding over a humanitarian disaster where war crimes and atrocities occur each day and he responds with speeches. He is conceding a strategic victory to Iran and Hezbollah, who have decided to win in Syria and have rejected the administration line that “there is no military solution.” He has weakened our own alliances, for example dragging British prime minister David Cameron into a dispiriting defeat in the House of Commons when he rushed to join a military strike that Obama soon abandoned. He is endangering our safety by allowing jihadists to turn Syria into their world center of activity. And over the next three years, he is likely to reap what he has sowed. The problem is, so will we.

Whatever Syria was is no more and whatever form it takes (a unified state, separate states, or unremitting chaos) will reflect the horrors that befall the world when the U.S. president thinks up reasons not to act. This human and geopolitical disaster will be a stain on the legacy of every single senior official –not just the president — who failed to act, made excuses not to act and defended not acting.

And then there is Iran. With advanced centrifuges and international acquiescence, Iran is on the cusp of obtaining a nuclear arms capability. It pursues terrorism even while keeping up the pretense of negotiations with the West — striving for acceptance by the West while behaving in ways antithetical to an ordinary nation state.  Sanctions have not dislodged the regime nor caused it to rethink its nuclear arms ambitions. The Iranian defiance and U.S. diplomatic panic have gone a long way toward cementing Iran’s ability to retain some enrichment capacity. With the weakening of sanctions our ability to force Iran to give up its illicit weapons program is greatly reduced.

Several options remain. Congress can pass sanctions over White House objections and thereby force Iran to capitulate. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) is looking to do just that. Alternatively, Israel may strike Iran or the U.S. may strike Iran (the latter is almost impossible to imagine given the president’s behavior). And then there is the unimaginable (until recently): Iran gains nuclear weapons capability. If Congress finds a nuclear-armed Iran horrifying and wants to avoid a Middle East war it will need to pass a final sanctions bill, the last chance to peacefully disarm the mullahs.

Marriage and the Middle East were irrevocably changed in 2013. Every other domestic and international event pales by comparison. The first is perhaps an inevitable consequence of the tide of inclusion that flows in one direction in America. The latter the result of monumental incompetence and flawed policy — a catastrophe that was as avoidable as it has been petrifying.