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Aspin’s Resignation Deprives Community of Longtime Friend

The swift departure of Defense Secretary Les Aspin deprives the Jewish community of what one official called an “intimate” relationship.

President Clinton has nominated retired Adm. Bobby Ray Inman to replace the strongly pro-Israel Aspin.

Aspin has long been viewed as a friend of the Jewish community, both in his brief tenure at the Pentagon and during his long service in the House of Representatives.

Inman is not as well-known to Jewish leaders as is Aspin, but some Jewish officials contacted Thursday said they thought Inman was a good choice to head the Pentagon.

Inman, a career Navy intelligence officer, headed the National Security Agency during the Carter administration and held a top post at the Central Intelligence Agency early in the Reagan administration.

Jewish organizations were lauding Aspin on Thursday, following his announcement Wednesday that he would step down by Jan. 20.

“We deeply regret his resignation,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Hoenlein praised Aspin’s “ready accessibility, sympathetic ear and courageous voice,” and characterized the relationship between Aspin and the Conference of Presidents as “intimate.”

Aspin’s short stewardship of the Pentagon was a stormy one, marked by conflicts with the military bureaucracy over the Clinton administration’s policy on liberalizing rules on gays in the military.

He also came under fire on Capitol Hill and elsewhere for his policies concerning U.S. forces in Somalia.

Although Aspin, the former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, was recognized as a defense expert, he was viewed by some in the Pentagon as overly professorial and not part of the military culture.

ALWAYS A GOOD FRIEND

But he was viewed as a solid friend of Israel, and Jewish groups have always liked him.

During Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s recent visit to Washington, Aspin pledged that the Pentagon would support Rabin’s quest to maintain Israel’s strong defense capability.

And in June, Aspin told leaders of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that the United States would work with Israel to counter threats from Islamic extremism and from the spread of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

“Les Aspin always has been a good friend on issues we deeply care about” including Israel and national security, said Thomas Neumann, executive director of the Jewish Institute for National Security.

“I hope he will continue to remain active” in policy-making, said Neumann, whose group concerns itself with defense-related issues. “He was absolutely excellent on everything.” Neumann said that during Aspin’s tenure at the Pentagon, he had always been “most responsive” to the institute’s concerns.

The group honored Aspin in 1992 with its Henry Jackson Distinguished Service Award.

Aspin also won the 1990 Jewish War Veterans’ Congressional Medal of Merit.

“We basically had the highest regard for him,” said Edward Blatt, national commander of the veteran’s group.

But Blatt said his organization disagreed with Aspin’s stand on military cutbacks, especially in light of the instability in Russia and the threat from North Korea.

“Inman,” Blatt said, “is a military man, and might see things a little differently.”

Blatt praised Clinton’s choice of Inman, saying it was “wise” because of Inman’s experience.

Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents also said he thought Inman “will make a good secretary.”

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