He said Hagel's two terms in the Senate, before he retired in 2009, spanned the latter years of the post-Cold War military drawdown and the post-Sept. 11 buildup. "From a budget point of view he has seen both ends of the spectrum and that gives him a good perspective to start from."
Hagel's possible selection has been met with mixed reviews. Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Hagel would be "terrific."
But Republicans have said he faces tough questions, with South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham declaring Hagel would be "the most antagonistic secretary of defense towards the state of Israel in our nation's history."
Hagel has criticized discussion of a military strike by either the U.S. or Israel against Iran and spoken of the influence of the "Jewish lobby" on Congress. He also has backed efforts to bring Iran to the table for talks on future peace in Afghanistan.
"The appointment of Chuck Hagel would be a slap in the face for every American who is concerned about the safety of Israel," said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
In comments to the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star, Hagel said critics have "completely distorted" his record, insisting he has backed sanctions against Iran and demonstrated total support for Israel.
The National Jewish Democratic Council issued a statement Monday saying it trusts that Hagel "will follow the president's lead of providing unrivaled support for Israel," including "leading the world against Iran's nuclear program."
Hagel often straddled party lines and had some high-profile dustups with his Republican colleagues.
In 2008, he criticized GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, saying she lacked foreign policy credentials and that it would be "a stretch" to consider her qualified to become president. His wife, Lilibet Hagel, endorsed Obama in his first run for president. Hagel also was mentioned as a possible candidate for Pentagon chief when Obama was first elected.
As defense secretary, Hagel would preside over the withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan and the waning days of the war, and would direct some of the steepest cuts in Pentagon spending in years. His task would be to restructure a pared down military that can step away from the grinding wars of the past 11 years and refocus on a swath of regional challenges from Syria, Iran and North Korea to terrorism in Africa and the defense buildup in the Pacific.
His experience and his allies on Capitol Hill will work to his benefit.
"Certainly his name coming forward is one I'm very open to," said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who served with Hagel on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "I had good relations with him while he was in the Senate. Certainly (he's) a veteran and someone who also spent a lot of time around the world understanding the relations other countries have with the U.S. and vice versa."
Defense analyst Loren Thompson, of the Virginia-based Lexington Institute think tank, said Hagel knows the political system and is known for thinking outside the box, which would help as budget cuts move forward.
"He's a veteran who understands how Congress works and has stayed plugged in to developments in defense policy," Thompson said. "He is not tied to the status quo and will think creatively about how to manage America's military forces."
Associated Press writer Donna Cassata contributed to this report.
Lolita C. Baldor can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lbaldor
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