Back from a short holiday break in Hawaii, U.S. President Barack Obama started a busy week Monday by nominating former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., as the next Pentagon chief and national security advisor John Brennan to become the next head of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Brennan, 57, is a 25-year veteran of the CIA and served under former CIA Director George Tenet prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and was station chief in Saudi Arabia during the fatal Khobar Tower Bombings in Riyadh in 1996. If confirmed by the Senate, Brennan would replace Gen. David Petraeus, who resigned Nov. 9 following an extramarital affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell.
Hagel, 66, is currently head of the Intelligence Advisory Board, the body responsible for providing advice to the president regarding the efficacy and legality of U.S. intelligence operations. As senator, Hagel voted in favor of the invasion of Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein but like others later became a critic of the war. Hagel would replace retiring Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
The two picks are close members of Obama’s inner circle. Brennan was instrumental in organizing the raid that killed terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. Hagel has come out against military strikes against Iran either by the U.S. or Israel and has lauded policies to encourage Iran to participate in Afghanistan peace negotiations,
Both men will face their critics during the Senate confirmation process.
The pro-Israel right says Hagel is soft against Israel’s nemesis while liberals decry Brennan’s association with the Bush administration’s policy of torturing terror suspects.
Senators Mitch McConnell, R-Ken., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, have both stopped short of pledging to try to block Hagel’s nomination, but have not ruled out the possibility, according to the Associated Press. Senate Republicans will likely want to hear strong language from Hagel in support of Israel and against Iran.
Hagel, who served in the senate from 1997 to 2009, raised hackles among Israel supporters when he said in 2008 that “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here [in Washington D.C.],” an indirect reference to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC.
But comments Hagel made in his book published that year “America: Our Next Chapter” underscores his view that Israel’s “Jewish identity” is “not negotiable,” a sign that Hagel is not the pro-Iranian anti-Semite that some in the pro-Israel right have attempted to portray him as.
“Hagel’s positions on Arab-Israeli peacemaking . . . are shared by a substantial number of Israelis in the center and left of Israel’s political map,” wrote Chemi Shalev in an editorial in Monday’s edition of Haaretz.
Brennan is less likely to face much flak from the Senate over criticisms from the left over Brennan’s past involvement in the Bush administration’s treatment of terrorist suspects or his involvement in the expansion of unmanned aerial drone strikes under Obama. Brennan withdrew his nomination to head the CIA early in the Obama’s first term because he was facing harsh criticism for his participation in the previous administrations controversial “enhanced interrogation” polices.
But that was 2008. Since then, the controversial interrogations techniques has ostensibly been stopped, and Brennan has been working closely with the White House since his nomination was withdrawn. This time around, he’s not likely to face the same level of criticism, at least from where it matters the most: the Senate.
Obama is scheduled later in the week to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and to continue tussling with Congress over the federal deficit. The president will also soon name a new treasury secretary to replace Timothy Geithner who is leaving at the end of the month.