On Monday President Barack Obama announced that he is nominating former senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska as his next Secretary of Defense. He will likely face a difficult confirmation battle, as opponents say he is not "mainstream" enough to serve in the position.
Hagel, a Republican, served two terms in the Senate and is a decorated Vietnam veteran, meaning he would be the first enlisted man to serve as secretary of defense. After originally supporting wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, Hagel became critical of the country's handling of both, which angered members of the GOP. Yet his overall Senate record was conservative, and he would be a Republican in a Democrats' cabinet.
The former senator faces opposition from some in his own party who see his views on Israel and Iran as out of step with popular opinion. Hagel has made comments about Israel and U.S. foreign policy towards the nation which cause some to label him as anti-Semetic.
In a 2006 interview, Hagel said, "The political reality is that…the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people [on Capitol Hill]." He went on, "I'm a United States senator. I support Israel. But my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States. Not to a president. Not a party. Not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I'll do that."
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Sunday Hagel would be the most "antagonistic" secretary of defense towards Israel in U.S. history:
Quite frankly, Chuck Hagel is out of the mainstream of thinking, I believe, on most issues regarding foreign policy … This is an in-your-face nomination by the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel.
Hagel also made a comment in 1998 that an ambassadorial nominee was "openly, aggressively gay." He has since apologized for the comment.
U.S. News's Susan Milligan says Hagel's status as a former senator means he's a valuable choice because he understands how the Senate and the defense budget operate. She says that opposition to his nomination stems from the Senate minority's desire to have undue control over the cabinet positions:
The issue here isn't Hagel's positions on the war (which are far more "mainstream" now than when the war was begun) or his mangled comments about Israel. It's about the right of a president to choose his or her own cabinet. Senate confirmation exists to keep a president from filling a cabinet with wildly unqualified or corrupt officials. It's not there so lawmakers in the party outside the White House—and in the minority in the Senate—can force their choice on the president.
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