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Given his lack of democratic legitimacy, it is delusional to imagine that Abbas can carry out the brutally painful concessions a final peace deal would require. And it is delusional to imagine that Hamas will permit the success of a peace process meant to further marginalize it; indeed, it has already greeted the start of direct talks with terrorist attacks. “Fresh strategic thinking” would have meant U.S. support for a Palestinian unity government, including Hamas, which empowered Abbas to negotiate a deal with Israel that the Palestinians could then vote on in a national referendum. (While Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, its leaders have repeatedly said that if the Palestinian people vote for a two-state solution, they will accept the results). Not coincidentally, this is the path that Malley proposed. Instead, the Obama administration is launching a peace process with the same structural deficiencies that plagued the one launched by Condoleezza Rice near the end of the Bush administration. It is doing exactly what Power promised it would not: taking the safer, more familiar approach, even though it has already failed.
On Afghanistan, the story is much the same. For almost nine years now, the Afghan War has enjoyed widespread bipartisan support, even as the rationale for fighting it has eroded. By last summer, when Obama launched his Afghan policy review, it was clear that Hamid Karzai’s government could not be the credible, vigorous local partner that, according to counterinsurgency theory, America needs to vanquish the Taliban. And it was clear that the global al Qaeda threat, which has declined substantially as a result of nine years of global pressure, now emanates less from Afghanistan than from the frontier regions of Pakistan. Yet despite this, according to White House leaks, beginning to immediately withdraw troops from Afghanistan was never an option; the debate was over how much to increase them. In other words, Obama’s Afghan deliberations, for all their supposed analytical rigor, operated within the same narrow parameters that would likely have defined Afghan policy under President Hillary Clinton or, for that matter, President John McCain. When he finally unveiled his Afghan policy last December, Obama did insist that he would begin withdrawing troops next summer. But as soon as he did, military leaders began contradicting him. And if a genuine withdrawal was politically unthinkable last summer, it is hard to see how it will be more thinkable next summer, assuming the military still vociferously objects, which it almost certainly will.