Obama ‘to nominate Hagel today’

By Sarah Pilchick , January 7, 2013
Former US Senator Chuck Hagel (Photo: AP)

Former US Senator Chuck Hagel (Photo: AP)

US President Barack Obama is almost certain to nominate former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as his Secretary of Defence today, according to White House sources.

The nomination of Mr Hagel, who has been widely criticised for his comment in 2008 that “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people” in Washington, is proving highly controversial within US politics. However, comments from the Israeli government suggest that it is less concerned than Mr Hagel’s opponents in the Republican party.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senator from Kentucky and the party’s leader in the Senate, said that Mr Hagel will face “a lot of tough questions”.

“His views with regard to Israel, for example, and Iran and all the other positions that he's taken over the years will be very much a matter of discussion in the confirmation process,” Mr McConnell told ABC News.

An Israeli government source told the Times of Israel: “The only question we have is about his policy on the Iranian question.”

Mr Hagel, 66, represented Nebraska in the US Senate from 1997 until 2009 and was a member of the prestigious Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He became known for his vocal criticism of the handling of the Iraq war after first supporting US-led action. This break led to Mr Hagel’s reputation as a Republic Party maverick.

Mr Hagel has drawn ire from supporters of Israel for his outspoken comments in 2008, in which he claimed that “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here”, meaning Washington. He denied that his remarks were antisemitic, though they will surely play a role in his confirmation hearings before the US Senate.

However, during his time as a senior senator on the Foreign Relations Committee, he voted to provide Israel with nearly $40 billion of military aid.

His track record on Iran is more varied. While he supported labelling Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism, he rejected unilaterally imposing sanctions on the country.

Mr Hagel has a strong track record lobbying on behalf of veterans. An Obama administration official said that Hagel is thus “uniquely qualified” to help reduce numbers of servicemen in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, and to support the veterans once they return home. He also received two Purple Hearts for wounds received in Vietnam.

Due to the fact that Democrats retain the majority of Senate seats, Mr Hagel will likely receive confirmation. He stands to replace Leon Panetta, who has held the position since 2011.

Last updated: 11:10am, January 7 2013