The relationship that the U.S. and Israel has is often referred to as special. It was first uttered by JFK when Gold Meir, as Foreign Minister visited Washington D.C. It has been reaffirmed by every president since Nixon in the early 1970s and Israeli prime minister since they started making official visits to the U.S. The strategic relationship between the U.S. and Israel, usually in reference to exchange of intelligence and weapons really began back in the late 1960s, but for argument sake and the paper trail of specific archival evidence it can find solid ground in the various Memorandums of Understanding begun in the 1980s and continued to today. While, the personal relationships between president and prime minister get media attention and the words and initiatives of the U.S. Secretary of State is analyzed, equally important is the U.S. Secretary of Defense. Their role in bilateral relations and aid in times of crisis is critical. The news that U.S. Secretary of Defense Charles ‘Chuck’ Hagel had resigned has started the recriminations in the U.S., but leaves the Pentagon without a functioning chief at a critical time and for Israel, a guessing game again, as to whom will work with Israel on security issues.
It is not only a question of who will be replacing Hagel, but due to the size of the bureaucracy, issues that need to be dealt with, and tenuous relations with Israel, it is necessary that Israel get a ‘good’ placement at the Pentagon. It will hard. The next Pentagon chief will preside over a military much more deeply engaged overseas. A new war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, combat roles in Afghanistan have been extended, and currently the U.S. military is battling Ebola in Africa and cautiously watching Chinese and Russian provocations. For the American leader, this is President Obama’s fourth Defense secretary in less than six years and the first time the administration faces confirmation hearings led by a Republican Senate.
Here, Israel may privately, have the first practical signs from a political party more friendly to the cautions and concerns expressed by Israel. Senator John McCain is the in-coming chairman of the confirmation committee and his vocal opposition to Hagel two years ago was a thorn in the administrations side. As is the political reality post midterm America. The Obama administration must work with Republicans. So, while the replacement may not be whom Democrats wish, or the White House privately wants, it may just be the best candidate agreed upon by all.
Who will it be? Names already mentioned, Michele Flournoy and Ashton Carter, longtime Pentagon veterans, have been offered. Both are out of government service at the moment, but that is not a concern. While Flournoy came up through the ranks in policy and strategy, meanwhile Carter’s experience in technology and acquisitions is attractive to a 21st century Defense Department. Furthermore, both have something vital. Each have a rare combination of policy expertise and managerial experience. This is so important to run a huge bureaucracy that is the Defense Department, but what America’s friend, Israel, might need most is a good mensch.