Writing at the Atlantic, Michael Koplow observes that in the vice presidential debate last week, Joe Biden referenced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by nickname only—and presumed (correctly, one imagines) that most viewers knew exactly who he was talking about. Koplow also notes that “Bibi” was raised in a discussion about Iran, and that this tells us something about the prime minister’s familiarity with American voters and officials and the issue foremost in his mind during the course of that relationship. (Koplow doesn’t mention that the public’s proclivity, especially in Israel, to call the prime minister “Bibi” prevailed over Netanyahu’s initial objections, as recounted in Jonathan’s 1996 piece on the subject.)
Koplow writes that Biden may have referred to Netanyahu this way in part to demonstrate his foreign-policy chops against an opponent less experienced on the topic, but cautions that Bibi’s familiarity with the American public (and vice versa) carries with it some downside: Netanyahu, having warned of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East for so long, may have less credibility; the constant use of his nickname may make Netanyahu overly familiar here, and thus taken less seriously; and that it conflates Netanyahu’s position on Iran with that of his country when, if I may paraphrase Golda Meir, it is a country of eight million prime ministers. Yet it’s possible to discern which of these theories is window dressing and which tell us what we need to know about Netanyahu’s standing in America.