In a lengthy Monday afternoon press conference, President Barack Obama announced his nomination of Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary and John Brennan for CIA, emphasizing the controversial Hagel’s military record, contrarian reputation, and preference for a dovish foreign policy as qualifications for the job.
Hagel, a former Republican from Nebraska who received two Purple Hearts as an Army infantry squad leader during the Vietnam war, has come under fire from the left and right in anticipation of Obama’s nomination. Key Democrats have taken issue with anti-gay comments Hagel made in 1998, while Republicans take issue with a host of Hagel’s stated policy positions, from opposing a troop surge in Iraq to disagreeing with economic sanctions on Iraq and pushing for a smaller Defense Department.
Though Obama’s remarks dwelt primarily on Hagel’s honorable military service, calling him an “American patriot” whose leadership of the DoD as a former enlisted service member would be historic, he also suggested a Hagel Pentagon may signal a turn to a less aggressive military stance.
Hagel knows, Obama said, that “sending young Americans to bleed in the dirt and mud, that’s something we only do when absolutely necessary.”
With the prospect of U.S. military action against Iran or intervention in Syria on the horizon, it’s likely Hagel will be probed on his stance regarding each during the upcoming Senate confirmation hearings.
Invited to speak following his nomination, Hagel promised to provide Obama with “honest and informed” feedback on every matter in his new role.
“I will do my best for my country, for those I represent at the Pentagon, and for all our citizens,” he said.
Brennan, who comes to be nominated for CIA chief after 25 years served in the agency and positions in both Republican and Democratic administrations, has received much less scrutiny than Hagel pending the nomination. He emphasized again on Monday his nonpartisan viewpoint.
“Although I consider myself neither a Republican nor a Democrat, I look forward to working closely with those on both sides of the aisle,” he said.
But at least one Republican has already signaled concern with Brennan, a public servant Obama described as “tireless.”
In a statement released immediately following the nomination, former Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he had “many questions and concerns” for Brennan, focusing on the role he played in “so-called enhanced interrogation programs” while serving under President George W. Bush at the CIA.
“I plan to examine this aspect of Mr. Brennan’s record very closely as I consider his nomination,” McCain said.