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Obama Nominates New Defense, Spy Chiefs

by VOA News January 07, 2013

U.S. President Barack Obama is putting the finishing touches on his national security team for his second term, announcing two controversial choices to head the Defense Department and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Obama Monday nominated former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel from the central state of Nebraska as his next defense secretary and counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan to head the CIA.

The president called Hagel 'the leader that our troops deserve.' He also said the former Nebraska senator represents 'the bipartisan tradition we need more of in Washington' and that he has earned respect for his willingness to speak his mind even if it wasn't popular.

Obama praised Brennan for leading the effort against al-Qaida that has seen many of the terror organization's leaders removed from the battlefield. The president said Brennan has been committed to fighting terror while remaining committed the 'values that define us as Americans.'

Both Hagel and Brennan must now be confirmed by the Senate where lawmakers are already raising objections.

The Senate's number two Republican has already criticized Hagel on Facebook for his views on Israel and Iran, saying the nomination is 'the worst possible message we could send to our friend Israel and the rest of our allies in the Middle East.'

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called Hagel an 'in-your-face' nomination, telling CNN's 'State of the Union' program Sunday his former colleague would be 'the most antagonistic defense secretary toward the state of Israel in our nation's history.'

Some lawmakers have also raised questions about John Brennan as CIA chief regarding the Obama administration's policy on drone strikes and targeted killings of suspected terrorists. In addition, some human rights groups have questioned Brennan's service at the CIA during the administration of President George W. Bush, because of its use of interrogation methods some consider to be torture.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says Hagel will get a fair hearing, telling ABC's 'This Week' program Sunday he wants to know if Hagel's views 'square with the job he would be nominated to do.'

'Whoever's nominated for secretary of defense is going to have to 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.

Hagel is no stranger to controversy, having angered many for once calling a nominee for an ambassador post 'openly, aggressively gay,' though he later apologized. He has been criticized for his stance on Afghanistan, where he said the U.S. went well beyond its mission and for his 2007 objection to the U.S. surge in Iraq.

'[It] represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam if it's carried out,' Hagel said.

Supporters of Chuck Hagel point to his military background and his service in Vietnam, where he was wounded. If confirmed, Hagel would become the first former enlisted soldier to lead the Defense Department.​

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