U.S. President Barack Obama (C) speaks to the press at the White House in Washington D. C., the United States, Jan. 7, 2013. Obama on Monday announced that he will nominate former Republican senator Chuck Hagel as the next defense secretary, and counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to lead the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). (Xinhua/Fang Zhe)
WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday announced that he will nominate former Republican senator Chuck Hagel as the next defense secretary, and his counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to lead the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
At a formal announcement event at the White House, Obama called Hagel "the leader our troops deserve," and urged the Senate to move quickly on the confirmation process.
"As I saw during our visits together to Afghanistan and Iraq, the troops see a decorated combat veteran of character and strength," said the president, stressing that Hagel "knows that war is not an abstraction."
As Obama also noted in his comments, if confirmed, Hagel would become the first person of enlisted rank to serve as Defense secretary, as well as the first Vietnam veteran to lead Pentagon.
"And finally, Chuck represents the bipartisan tradition that we need more of in Washington," said Obama. If confirmed, Hagel would become Obama's second Republican Defense Secretary following Panetta and show some bipartisanship to his Cabinet in a second term.
Sitting Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also commended Obama's choices at the event, saying that "his experience, his judgment and his deep understanding of the security issues facing this country" made him the right choice.
Hagel, 66, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and a moderate Republican, is expected to be a trusted ally of Obama on the issues including the exit from Afghanistan. He served for two terms from 1997 to 2009 as U.S. senator for Nebraska, and was a leading Republican critic of the Iraq War. He is now chairperson for the President's Intelligence Advisory Board and a professor at Georgetown University.
Hagel said that he was grateful for the opportunity to serve the troops and to help "strengthen our country and our country's alliances."
NO EASY PASS
Hagel's nomination has been rumored for weeks and sparked criticism. Republican lawmakers have already stood in line to voice their opposition to Obama's selection of Hagel, raising questions over whether the former senator would be a strong ally of Israel and be tough enough on Iran.
Following the announcement, U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor issued a statement on Monday, calling Hagel "the wrong man for the job at such a pivotal time."
Hagel and Brennan, along with veteran Democratic Senator John Kerry, Obama's nominee for secretary of state announced last month, would form the centerpiece of the president's second-term national security team.
But unlike Kerry who has won bipartisan support, the nominations for Hagel and Brennan could face controversy and even a confirmation fight at the Capitol Hill.
Brennan, a 25-year CIA veteran, withdrew from consideration for the CIA's top position in 2008 amid questions about his alleged connection to harsh interrogation techniques used during the George W. Bush administration.
If confirmed by the Senate, Brennan would succeed retired General David Petraeus, who resigned abruptly days after Obama won the re-election due to a scandal over his extramarital affair with his biographer.
The battle over Hagel's nomination may have already begun. Despite his brief comments during the press conference, Hagel defended himself against allegations of his record in an exclusive interview published on Monday in the Lincoln Journal Star, his home-state newspaper.
He said the critics have "completely distorted" his record and he is looking forward to setting the record straight.
Hagel said there is "not one shred of evidence" that he is anti- Israel. He also denied he had been soft on Iran and reiterated his support for strong international sanctions.
"I have not supported unilateral sanctions because when it is us alone they don't work and they just isolate the United States," Hagel said. "United Nations sanctions are working. When we just decree something, that doesn't work."
He noted, it is also important to recognize that "the president is commander-in-chief and he makes the final decisions" on those issues.
"I fully recognize that confirmation is up to the Senate. All I ask is a fair hearing, and I will get that. I am very much looking forward to having a full, open, transparent hearing about my qualifications and my record," said Hagel.
Peter Feaver, Professor of political science and public policy at Duke University, believed that Obama had a decent chance to win the confirmation battle around Hagel.
"Obama is calculating that he will be able to rally enough wobbly Democrats and skeptical Republicans to overcome the strong opposition to Hagel," said Feaver.