President Obama announced Monday his nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to secretary of defense and and John Brennan to director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The Hagel nomination formalizes what many expect to be a bruising battle for the president.
“Chuck Hagel is the leader that our troops deserve,” Obama said at the event Monday. “He is an American patriot.” Obama noted that Hagel is the first secretary of defense to have held enlisted military rank and the first Vietnam War veteran to serve in the post.
Obama also praised Brennan, saying, “John knows what our national security demands.” He noted Brennan’s work ethic and extensive experience.
Hagel, a Republican, currently serves at co-chair of the president’s Intelligence Advisory Board, a position he has held since 2009. When appointed to that role, Obama praised Hagel’s “sound judgments” which he saw while traveling with Hagel to Iraq and Afghanistan during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Before becoming Obama’s adviser, Hagel served two terms as a Senator from Nebraska, during which time he sat on the Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees. He voted for the Iraq and Afghanistan war resolutions before becoming critical of both wars.
Hagel came under intense scrutiny from both the political left and right when his name first surfaced as a potential nominee for the defense post. Hagel has taken numerous foreign policy positions that some view as out of the American mainstream.
He has advocated for direct talks with both Iran and Hamas, and voted against encouraging the European Union to label Hezbollah a terrorist group.
Hagel once referred to the “Jewish lobby” and its supposed efforts to “intimidate” members of Congress, and he has openly distanced himself from Israel, reportedly asserting that he was not an Israeli Senator. In December, Rep. Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.) said of Hagel, “it seems there is some kind of endemic hostility toward Israel,” in an interview with “Newsmakers.”
Hagel’s nomination will likely overshadow Brennan’s, but Brennan himself has come under criticism in the past for foreign policy and national security positions he has taken in the past.
Brennan once referred to Jerusalem as “Al Quds,” the Arabic name for the city, and he announced that the government would not use the terms “Islamists” and “Jihadists.”
After it was reported that 20 percent of detainees released from the Guantanamo Bay prison returned to terrorist activities, Brennan said that rate “isn’t that bad” when compared to the American recidivism rate.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) declared Brennan’s comment “just absolutely disconnected from the world in which we live.”
“He’s lost my confidence,” Graham said at the time.
Brennan has also advocated prosecuting detained terrorists in the civilian criminal system, and he drew sharp criticism for his handling of the foiled Christmas Day Bomber plot.