President Obama’s forthcoming visit to Israel, his first since his election in 2008, is a welcome development. It’s hardly a secret that the president’s relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is lukewarm at best. Perhaps this visit will thaw the relationship between the two men—and the governments they head.
Many experts agree that the next 10 months are critical for the Middle East and, indeed, the rest of the globe. Iran continues to defy the world with its development of nuclear weaponry. The horror in Syria only gets worse, and tensions may spill over to Lebanon. Meanwhile, in North Africa, Islamic terrorists continue to pile up appalling body counts as they seek to expand their reach into new territories.
The world, Pat Moynihan observed many years ago, is a dangerous place. One wonders what he would make of today’s conflicts.
Now as never before, the president needs his best people to be on their game. If the U.S. fails to exert critical leadership over the next few months, Israel could face the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, a nation that makes no attempt to disguise its bloodthirsty anti-Semitism. And the rest of the region could descend into anarchy.
This is why so many people were dismayed—and continue to be dismayed—over Mr. Obama’s choice of Chuck Hagel to lead the Defense Department. Mr. Hagel’s record suggests that he is less than enthusiastic about projecting American power and our core values. His miserable, unprepared performance during his confirmation hearings only added to loud worries about Mr. Hagel’s suitability for this key role.
In the meantime, on Capitol Hill, the man who would chair the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, finds himself enmeshed in a controversy involving a friend and generous donor to his campaign, eye surgeon Salomon Melgen. According to news reports, the senator intervened to help a company co-owned by Dr. Melgen—who doesn’t even live in New Jersey—to win a port security contract in the Dominican Republic, and Dr. Melgen in turn provided the senator with a pair of round-trip flights to the DR. The senator recently reimbursed the doctor nearly $60,000 for the trips taken three years ago. It’s hard to believe that Mr. Menendez, a lifelong public servant, simply forgot to repay an amount that represents about a third of his yearly salary.
Mr. Menendez will be preoccupied over the next few months as investigators continue to probe his unseemly dealings with Dr. Melgen. In the meantime, who will be running—really running—the Foreign Relations Committee?
The Hagel nomination and the Menendez controversy could not have come at a worse time for the White House. The president’s foreign policy legacy surely will be written over the next year. That point was driven home earlier this week, when the North Koreans tested another nuclear weapon, this one much larger than its previous two. So add the Korean peninsula—and a brand-new secretary of state, John Kerry, who is certainly versed in foreign affairs but has yet to demonstrate the presence of his larger-than-life predecessor, Hillary Clinton—to the list of global powder kegs that will require the White House’s undivided attention.
The Hagel nomination and Mr. Menendez’s future remain in the Senate’s hands. We’ve called on the Senate to reject Mr. Hagel. Majority Leader Harry Reid needs to intervene in the Menendez business as well. The senator should not chair such a crucial committee while the FBI is looking into matters close to home.
The administration can’t afford distractions, not now. The world, after all, is a very dangerous place.