Monday, May 23, 2011

Netanyahu's rules of debate

If it had been a fight, they would have stopped it.
  Friday's showdown between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wasn't close, and it wasn't pretty -- though Netanyahu didn't want to leave any obvious marks. The end result was that our president is suddenly aware that Chicago rules don't work on tough-minded leaders of countries surrounded by terrorists.

The battle between the warrior and the academic was bound to turn out this way. President Obama was a community organizer once. Netanyahu was commander of the Israeli Defense Forces' elite special forces unit, Sayeret Matkal. Faculty meetings can get rough, but not as rough as the hostage rescue mission to free Sabena Flight 571.

So the president's absurd declaration about 1967 borders is off the table. In fact, the table is gone. Israel can wait out the 20 months left to Obama's presidency, or even 48 months if American voters insanely choose to experiment with epic incompetence at the top for another term. Israel isn't going back to the Auschwitz borders, and only a naive and inexperienced academic would think that Thursday's speech would do other than worsen prospects for a negotiated settlement.

Netanyahu's take-down of the president should be on the TiVo of Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels, Jon Huntsman (and, yes, Rick Perry if what I have been hearing is true). One of those men will be standing opposite the president in the debates of September and October of 2012, and Netanyahu showed exactly how to respond to the prolixities and pauses of the teleprompter-dependent president.

First, let the president talk, and talk, and talk. (And talk.) His frequent rhetorical cul-de-sacs numb the minds of listeners and set up the opportunity for sharp contrasts between the definitive and the ambiguous, the purposeful and the feckless.

Second, look right at him when responding. This so unnerved President Obama that his anger and frustration was visible. Whether he brought the sense of superiority to the White House or whether it erupted there, the president does not care for people who challenge him directly, cannot seem to believe that anyone would have the temerity to do so. This is the sign of a deep insecurity, and Netanyahu used it.

Next, speak from specifics, using facts and especially history. Netanyahu used history to spank the president on Friday. A GOP nominee armed with specific references -- not just to Obama's many blunders but also to clear evidence of the American exceptionalism that Obama has clearly rejected -- will put the wordy academic on his heels.

Finally, express core truths bluntly -- especially the harshest ones, such as the nature of Hamas. The president has been shrinking from clarity for more than two years, whether it is clarity on Iran, on the butcher Assad and the nutter Chavez, and most recently on the key Palestinian problem -- that Hamas, like Hezbollah to the north, wants Israel destroyed.

Netanyahu showed a worldwide audience that purposefulness can be as polite as it is pointed, and that Obama has a glass jaw. A clenched glass jaw, but a glass jaw nonetheless.

Israel isn't going back to the 1967 borders. Hamas cannot be a partner in peace negotiations. And Israel is a friend and a valued ally, not a lap dog. The president would do well to figure out that our country prefers Netanyahu's approach to his. Even the president's own party does.

Examiner Columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at

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