David Ignatius says in looking at a possible nomination of Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense, the issue for the White House "is whether Hagel would be the best manager during an important inflection point in Pentagon history."
The debate over whether Chuck Hagel should be appointed secretary of defense has centered on his sometimes critical views of Israel. But that's the wrong issue. The question is whether Hagel is the right person to run the Pentagon at a delicate moment of transition in defense policy and spending.
Hagel has been unusually blunt in resisting political pressure from pro-Israel groups, which led Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, to charge that his past comments "border on anti-Semitism." This allegation isn't supported by anything I've heard or seen. Moreover, the secretary of defense doesn't set U.S. policy in the Middle East; the U.S.-Israeli alliance will remain solid regardless of who runs the Pentagon.
"Chuck is someone who is committed to our allies, and one of our strongest allies worldwide is Israel," argues Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, adding a comment that surely would be endorsed by other former colleagues: "I've known him for years, and there's no evidence to support the suggestion that he's anti-Semitic."
The harder puzzle for the White House is whether Hagel would be the best manager during an important inflection point in Pentagon history. The U.S. combat role in Afghanistan will be ending, and the services will be fighting over how to divide a shrinking budget.