Obama taps Hagel for Pentagon, Brennan for CIA

FILE - In this Feb. 21, 2007, file photo, then-Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., speaks during an appearance at Bellevue University, in Bellevue, Neb. President Barack Obama will nominate Hagel as his next defense secretary, a senior administration official said Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013. The selection of the decorated Vietnam combat veteran sets up a potentially contentious confirmation hearing because Hagel has come under scrutiny from his former colleagues over his positions on Israel and Iran. Some Republicans already have declared their public opposition to Hagel replacing Pentagon chief Leon Panetta in Obama's second-term Cabinet. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

FILE - In this Feb. 21, 2007, file photo, then-Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., speaks during an appearance at Bellevue University, in Bellevue, Neb. President Barack Obama will nominate Hagel as his next defense secretary, a senior administration official said Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013. The selection of the decorated Vietnam combat veteran sets up a potentially contentious confirmation hearing because Hagel has come under scrutiny from his former colleagues over his positions on Israel and Iran. Some Republicans already have declared their public opposition to Hagel replacing Pentagon chief Leon Panetta in Obama's second-term Cabinet. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama says Chuck Hagel, his choice as the new secretary of defense, is "the leader that our troops deserve."

Obama formally announced his choices of Hage lin the White House East Room on Monday even as critics questioned the pick over issues including Hagel's views on Israel and Iran.

Facing a potentially tough fight to get Hagel confirmed by the Senate, Obama praised the former Nebraska senator's independence and bipartisan approach, and said that Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, understands war is not an abstraction.

Hagel, a moderate Republican, has the support of some of his former Senate colleagues but is drawing opposition from others who accuse him of being soft on Iran and insufficiently supportive of Israel.

Obama also tapped White House homeland security adviser John Brennan as his nominee to lead the Central Intelligence Agency.

Brennan, 57, spent a quarter-century at the CIA. He served as station chief in Saudi Arabia and in a variety of posts, including deputy executive director, during the Bush administration.

His tenure at the agency during Bush's presidency drew criticism from liberals when Obama considered naming him CIA director after the 2008 election. Brennan denied being involved in what the government called "enhanced interrogation techniques" during the Bush administration, but still withdrew his name from consideration.

In a letter to Obama at the time, Brennan said he was "a strong opponent of many of the policies of the Bush administration, such as the pre-emptive war in Iraq and coercive interrogation tactics, to include waterboarding." Many people consider waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods to be torture.

White House officials say they don't expect Brennan to face similar trouble this time around given his four years of service in the Obama administration.

"The issue has been removed from the debate because the president and John Brennan, as his top counterterrorism adviser, brought those techniques to an end," Rhodes said.

However, Brennan's nomination will likely put a spotlight on the administration's controversial drone program. Brennan was the first Obama administration official to publicly acknowledge the highly secretive targeted killing operations.

Brennan has defended the legality of the overseas drone operations and has said they protect American lives and prevent potential terror attacks.

If confirmed, Brennan will succeed David Petraeus, who resigned in November after admitting to an affair with his biographer.

Deputy CIA director Michael Morell has been serving as the agency's acting director since Petraeus resigned and was considered by Obama for the top job. Rhodes said Morell will attend Monday's White House event and is expected to stay at the CIA.

Hagel would replace retiring Pentagon chief Leon Panetta at a time when the Defense Department is facing potentially deep budget cuts. Hagel would also be tasked with overseeing the military drawdown in Afghanistan, where the U.S.-led war is scheduled to end in two years.

Hagel is likely to support a more rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan than some military generals.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, the top Senate Republican, said Sunday he was reserving judgment on whether to support Hagel but predicted the former senator would face serious questions.

Any nominee must have "a full understanding of our close relationship with our Israeli allies, the Iranian threat and the importance of having a robust military," McConnell said on ABC's "This Week."

The second-ranking Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, said in a statement that making Hagel defense secretary would be "the worst possible message we could send to our friend Israel and the rest of our allies in the Middle East."

Some congressional Democrats also share the GOP concerns, including Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, who called the pick controversial and said Hagel needs to clarify his comments on Iran and Israel.

"There are Democrats including this senator who have questions that have to be answered before I can support him," Cardin said in an interview with Current TV's "Bill Press Show." He added that the Senate will probably confirm Hagel.

While Hagel will face opposition, Democrats privately say they do not foresee a long, protracted fight similar to what President George H.W. Bush faced in 1989 when he selected former Sen. John Tower to serve as defense secretary. Democrats led the charge in scuttling that nomination, a rare defeat for a new president. Questions about Tower's drinking and womanizing sank his nomination.

Monday's nominations leave Obama without a woman in line for a top administration post, a fact that has irked some Democratic women. The president will soon name a new treasury secretary, but current White House chief of staff Jack Lew is the front-runner for the post.

___

Associated Press writers Robert Burns, Donna Cassata and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.
Associated Press
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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