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This paper presents a mathematical framework for the evaluation of the performance of proactive and reactive routing protocols in mobile ad hoc networks (MANETs). This unified framework provides a parametric view of protocol performance, which in turn provides a deeper insight into protocol operations and reveals the compounding and interacting effects of protocol logic and network parameters. The parametric model comes from a combinatorial model, where the routing logic is synthesized along with the characterization of MAC performance. Each wireless node is seen independently as a two-customer queue without priority, where the two types of customers are unicast and broadcast packets. The model captures the essential behavior and scalability limits in network size of both classes of routing protocols, and provides valuable guidance on the performance of reactive or proactive routing protocols under various network configurations and mobility conditions. The analytical results obtained with the proposed model are in close agreement with simulation results obtained from discrete-event Qualnet simulations.