WASHINGTON—President Obama nominated former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) as defense secretary and John Brennan, counter-terrorism specialist, as CIA director Monday, Jan. 7. The nominations reflect Obama’s defense and national security priorities, according to defense expert Carl Conetta.
Hagel’s nomination has been met with criticism, and Senate Republicans have been most vocal on the awarded Vietnam War veteran’s commitment to Israel’s security in addition to his attitude toward Iran and its nuclear program.
Conetta, co-director of the Project on Defense Alternatives (PDA), believes that Iran will figure prominently in Obama’s defense agenda, as will Afghanistan and “modest defense cuts,” but he said that the President will be seeking “a more diplomatic and political approach” to conflict in his second term.
Hagel, a conservative, a Republican, and a decorated war hero, has co-chaired Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board and will help drive the President’s agenda in these areas, according to Conetta.
The nomination of Brennan as CIA director has also been met with criticism. As the President’s adviser on counter-terrorism over the last four years, however, Conetta believes that Brennan is a safe choice for the president.
The 25-year veteran of the CIA will largely “stay the course,” said Conetta.
If approved by the Senate, Hagel would replace Leon Panetta as Pentagon chief. Brennan, meanwhile, would replace the highly decorated four-star general David Petraeus, who resigned as CIA director last year after admitting to an extramarital affair.
Hagel Appointment Historic
President Obama said that Hagel’s leadership of the U.S. military would be “historic,” as he would be the first person of enlisted rank and the first Vietnam veteran to serve as secretary of defense. The troops would see Hagel “as one of their own,” he said in announcing the nominations.
Hagel is the recipient of two Purple Hearts from the Vietnam War.
“Maybe most importantly, Chuck knows that war is not an abstraction,” Obama said. “He understands that sending young Americans to fight and bleed in the dirt and mud, that’s something we only do when it’s absolutely necessary.”
Hagel is also a successful businessman: co-founder of a cellular carrier company that was eventually sold to AT&T, CEO of American Information Systems, and board member of a number of large American companies including Chevron Corporation.
Obama said that as a Republican, “[Hagel] represents the bipartisan tradition that we need more of in Washington,” but he noted that as a senator, he had admired Hagel’s “willingness to speak his mind—even if it wasn’t popular, even if it defied the conventional wisdom.”
[Hagel] understands that sending young Americans to fight and bleed in the dirt and mud, that’s something we only do when it’s absolutely necessary.
—President Barack Obama
Some Republicans have criticized Hagel’s nomination, accusing him of being too soft on Iran and the Islamic groups Hezbollah and Hamas. The Nebraskan senator has also criticized former President George W. Bush’s policies in Iraq.
“I will not support Chuck Hagel’s nomination,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) in a statement, according to CBS. “His record and past statements, particularly with respect to rogue nations like Iran, are extremely concerning to me.”
Conetta, however, believes that Hagel will bring a “less bellicose approach to Iran.”
“From my perspective, that is a positive step,” he added.
While some would prefer that the United States maintain a presence in Afghanistan, President Obama has indicated that he believes the United States has reached the limit of what it can achieve in its present engagement in the country, according to Conetta.
President Obama has stated that he would like to have U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by 2014.
Having Hagel as defense secretary “puts him in a better position,” Conetta said. “He strengthens the president’s hand.”
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, praised the nomination, describing Hagel as “a man of uncommon independence and integrity.”
“Chuck Hagel’s candor, judgment, and expertise will serve him well as our next Secretary of Defense,” Reed said in a news release.
Brennan Safe Hands
As adviser to Obama on counter-terrorism, John Brennan has worked across a number of areas including homeland security, government, defense, and intelligence.
“He is one of the hardest-working public servants I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure he’s slept in four years,” Obama quipped in announcing his nomination.
The president praised Brennan’s integrity and commitment, not only to the job, but also to values.
“He has worked to embed our efforts in a strong legal framework. … Time and again, he’s spoken to the American people about our counterterrorism policies because he recognizes we have a responsibility to be [as] open and transparent as possible.”
Brennan, however, has been criticized for being too close to controversial CIA programs that involve torture, often referred to as “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Brennan’s withdrawal from consideration as CIA director in 2008 was understood to be on account of that association.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) released statements of concern about both Hagel’s and Brennan’s nomination.
Of Brennan, he said he had many concerns, “especially what role he played in the so-called enhanced interrogation programs while serving at the CIA during the last administration, as well as his public defense of those programs.”
Conetta believes that the two nominations will see a “tamping down” of militaristic approaches to defense and security, and he expects to see further progress on diplomatic and political strategies.
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