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Obama Admits Failure on Mideast

Says he didn’t understand local politics

Marc Tracy
January 21, 2010
Obama at the White House yesterday.(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Obama at the White House yesterday.(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

In a new, year-in-review interview with Time (yesterday was the one-year anniversary of his inauguration, in case you forgot to buy him a gift), President Obama flatly acknowledges: “The Middle East peace process has not moved forward. And I think it’s fair to say for all our efforts at early engagement, is not where I want to be.” (This is via Ben Smith.)

Why the lack of progress? (Other than, “This is just really hard”—admittedly a legitimate answer.) Obama:

We overestimated our ability to persuade them to [start engaging in meaningful conversation] when their politics ran contrary to that. From Abbas’s perspective, he’s got Hamas looking over his shoulder and I think an environment generally within the Arab world that feels impatient with any process.

And on the Israeli front, although the Israelis I think after a lot of time showed a willingness to make some modifications in their policies, still found it very hard to move with any bold gestures. … Moving forward, though, we are going to continue to work with both parties to recognize what I think is ultimately their deep-seated interest in a two-state solution in which Israel is secure and Palestinians have sovereignty.

(He added that, in hindisght, he wished his administration had not raised expectations so high.)

All politics is indeed local. It can seem frustrating, that the domestic concerns of small populations have such a huge effect on the world. But such is the power that the state of Massachusetts wields. Oh, and Israel and the Palestinian territories, too. Incidentally, U.S. envoy George Mitchell is back in the region; he meets with Abbas today in Ramallah.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.