Aaron David Miller is a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. His new book, Can America Have Another Great President?, will be published this year. "Reality Check," his column for Foreign Policy.com, runs weekly.
It's 2013. Barack Obama has just been re-elected, the Democrats have retained their majority in the Senate. And the American president, freed from political constraints in a second term, decides to take on an issue that stymied him so badly in his first.
"Israeli-Palestinian peace is critically important to our national interests," Obama tells his new secretary of state (Kerry, Rice, Donilon -- take your pick). "If we don't move now, the two-state solution is dead."
"It means taking on Benjamin Netanyahu," the secretary responds.
"I'm ready for that," Obama shoots back. "And besides, it's time to find out whether I really deserve that Nobel."
According to popular legend, an American president, unshackled by the politics of reelection, is more willing and able to do forceful Arab-Israeli diplomacy (read: pressure on Israel) during a second term. Over the years, this notion and its rallying cry ("Wait until after November") has encouraged and sustained the hopes, dreams, and fears (in some cases) of Americans, Israelis, Arabs, Palestinians, assorted Europeans, and anyone else frustrated by the lack of progress and persuaded that domestic politics is the albatross around the president's neck.
But of all the urban legends swirling around the presidency and America's Middle Eastern policy, few are as compelling (or as wrong) as that of the empowered two-term president. Like the belief in the existence of a peace-process tooth fairy, it's more myth than reality, and here's why...