Obama names Hagel for Pentagon, Brennan for CIA


President Barack Obama on Monday nominated Republican Chuck Hagel as his next defence secretary and counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to head the CIA, two choices likely to stoke controversy as he fills out his second-term national security team.
The selection of Hagel, a maverick former senator and decorated Vietnam veteran tapped to replace Leon Panetta at the Pentagon, appears destined for a bruising Senate confirmation battle against critics who have already launched an onslaught over his record on Israel and Iran.
Obama could also face opposition from human rights groups over his choice of Brennan, a CIA veteran who withdrew from consideration for the spy agency’s top job in 2008 after questions were raised about his views on enhanced interrogation techniques used on terrorism suspects during the Bush administration.
He would succeed retired General David Petraeus, who resigned amid a scandal over an extramarital affair with his biographer. The addition of Hagel and Brennan, along with Senator John Kerry as nominee for secretary of state, would round out Obama’s national security team as he faces daunting challenges of winding down the war in Afghanistan, dealing with the Iranian nuclear standoff and curbing military spending.
Obama is backing Hagel for the Pentagon post despite the fact that the former Nebraska lawmaker, even before being nominated, had become a lightning rod for criticism from the left and the right.
Former Republican colleagues have joined pro-Israel groups and neoconservatives in questioning his commitment to Israel’s security and slamming disparaging remarks about what he once called a “Jewish lobby” in Washington.
He has also come under fire for saying in 1998 that a nominee for an ambassadorial post was not qualified because he was “openly, aggressively gay” – a remark for which he has since apologized. Obama’s nomination of Hagel suggests that the president did not want to appear weak by seeming to bow to political opposition and being forced to pick someone other than his favorite contender for a top Cabinet post.
He backed down last month from a tough Senate confirmation battle over Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, his first pick to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, and instead settled on Kerry.
But the risk for Obama is that pushing Hagel’s nomination could force him to expend political capital he needs more for his next round of fiscal showdowns with congressional Republicans.
WHITE HOUSE CONFIDENT: The White House is confident it can weather criticism of Hagel’s record, get his nomination through the Senate committee that will consider it and win confirmation in the Democratic-led chamber, a source to the nomination process said.
The nomination of Brennan, who has served as Obama’s chief White House counterterrorism adviser since the start of his first term, could also make waves in Washington.
Brennan was believed to have been Obama’s top pick to lead the CIA when he took office. But human rights advocates contended that as a senior CIA official under President George W. Bush, Brennan was tainted by the agency’s use of interrogation techniques like waterboarding that are widely considered to be torture.
Brennan denied any connection to the interrogation methods but removed his name from consideration.