In what may be President Obama’s first bi-partisan moment since his reelection, the commander in chief has officially nominated former Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel for the position of Secretary of Defense. He has also nominated counterterrorism chief John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency.
Nether nominee is without controversy and both of the president’s choices will rile both sides of the aisle.
Unfortunately for the president, the unifying theme of Hagel’s nomination is bringing together Republicans and Democrats for all the wrong reasons. The across-the-aisle opposition has managed to ruffle feathers even among Obama’s staunchest supporters who’ve been grumbling anonymously to the press for days.
New York Senator Chuck Schumer could barely muster a “let’s see” response when asked what he thought of the recent nomination. Considering Schumer has worked closely with — and against — Hagel for years in the Senate, it’s safe to the say the New Yorker’s opinions are already well-formed.
Dissent has been loudest within Hagel’s own party, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called the selection an “in-your-face nomination,” saying that if approved, Hagel would be “the most antagonistic Secretary of Defense, toward the state of Israel in our nation’s history.” And Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, appearing skeptical, said his party would present “tough questions” during the confirmation hearings.
But it’s Hagel’s comments from 1998 about an ambassadorial nomination that still draw the most ire — not only from Democrats — but even from the Log Cabin Republicans (see gay Republican controversies) who frequently support candidates who vote against their better interests. While the former senator has since apologized for calling President Clinton’s appointed ambassador “openly, aggressively gay,” voices within the LGBT community, in general, have been less than forgiving.
Hagel will also have supporters among Democrats, as well as national security advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, and Frank Carlucci. The former senator is a twice-awarded Purple Heart recipient for his service in VietNam. Known as an iconoclast, it should be noted, he opposed the surge in Iraq (against a Republican administration) and later in Afghanistan (against a Democratic administration), yet he approved military action in Kosovo and against al Qaeda.
When Hagel, following the president’s introduction, said that he’d always offer the president his “honest and most-informed counsel, ” few could doubt that promise — whether they believe they’ll agree with that counsel or not.
Contrary to what many of the right are claiming, Hagel’s pro-Israel stance is solid “supporter of Israel,” according to former Ambassador Dan Kurtzer.
The press conference was also an opportunity to announce the White House nominee to replace David Petraeus (see Petraeus scandal) as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
It’s not the first time Obama has sought to elevate Brennan (a twenty-five year veteran of the CIA) to the directorship at the CIA. Prior to the Petraeus nomination in the president’s first term, the White House proposed Brennan for the position, however his association with the previous Bush administration’s enhanced interrogation agenda brought resistance from the left.
Brennan’s denial of involvement with water-boarding, however, as well as his close four-year working relationship with the president — especially his expertise during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden — should make his second shot as head of one of the most powerful agencies in the world generate less controversy than before.
The fluent Arabic speaker’s knowledge of the Middle East and his previous service throughout the region make him a strong candidate and one who, while sure to face scrutiny, will be able to rise to his new position with relative ease.
Hegel, on the other hand will, have to dodge a barrage of political bullets and his enemies are already well-entrenched and ready for a fight.