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The president’s nominee to become the next Defense secretary is already facing tough opposition from a wing of the Republican Party, in part over differences regarding the application of military power, but former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel has a long record of being hawkish when it comes to defense policy and spending.
“Chuck Hagel is the leader that our troops deserve,” President Barack Obama said Monday in announcing the nomination. Obama also tapped John O. Brennan, the top White House counterterrorism adviser, to run the CIA. If both are confirmed, a combat veteran would be in charge of the Pentagon and a longtime CIA officer would be at the helm of the spy agency.
Throughout his 12-year Senate career, Hagel was a strong supporter of the military, routinely voting to support defense policy bills and spending bills. The Nebraska lawmaker also voted to expand warrantless wiretapping and the 2001 law to bolster law enforcement powers to fight terrorism known as the Patriot Act (PL 107-56). He supported controversial President George W. Bush administration nominations, including Michael B. Mukasey to become attorney general in 2007 and John R. Bolton to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 2005.
But for several weeks, ever since word of Hagel’s possible nomination surfaced, the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party has excoriated the former senator for his views on Israel and Iran. Some also have raised concerns about his willingness to reduce the size of the Pentagon.
Indeed, some, such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona, have suggested that Hagel is a Republican in name only.
These attacks have left some leading voices in the GOP nonplussed, and there are indications that key Republicans are willing to give Hagel a chance to make his case.
“I don’t understand why the neocons are so upset,” said Brent Scowcroft, a former national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush who now runs a consulting firm, the Scowcroft Group. “One thing I like about him is he is a sound, solid thinker who comes to his own conclusions. He’s not knee-jerk. If Israel does something the United State supports, he supports Israel. If Israel does something we don’t support, he doesn’t support Israel. Israel is just another country to him. I don’t think he is anti-Israel.”A Reliable Republican Vote
From 2001 to 2006, Hagel voted, on average, 95 percent of the time with President George W. Bush and with his party 92 percent of the time, according to CQ Roll Call’s vote studies.
Democrats are quick to point out that Hagel also is a decorated war veteran, and he would be the first Vietnam veteran and noncommissioned officer to serve as Defense secretary.