Obama's choices to lead Pentagon and CIA run into Republican opposition

Nominees for posts of Defence Secretary and head of CIA can expect rough ride from senators

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The Independent US

Undeterred by storm warnings from Congress, President Barack Obama pushed ahead with his choice of the former US Senator Chuck Hagel as America's next Pentagon chief while nominating his anti-terror advisor, John Brennan, as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Both men may face rough rides on Capitol Hill, particularly Mr Hagel, who is a former two-term Republican Senator from Nebraska. Despite his party affiliation, a number of conservative Republicans have raised red flags, accusing him being too soft on Iran and weak on protecting Israel. His is likely to be the most difficult confirmation process of any since Mr Obama first took office.

Giving the post of Defence Secretary to Mr Hagel would be "the worst possible message we could send to our friend Israel and the rest of our allies in the Middle East", John Cornyn, the second-highest-ranking Republican in the US Senate said last night. In a radio interview several years ago, Mr Hagel disparaged the "Jewish lobby" in Washington. He has also spoken out against any military attacks to contain Iran.

A campaign to block Mr Hagel's nomination was already under way with unflattering television advertisements airing in Washington DC. But the White House likewise signalled its intention to stand by him. Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor, said Mr Hagel, a decorated Vietnam War veteran with a reputation for speaking his mind, will be "completely in line with the President" on Israel and Iran. Mr Obama called Mr Hagel "the leader that our troops deserve" who "bears the scars and the shrapnel from battles he fought in our name".

Mr Obama said, without making any specific mention of Israel, that "he recognises that America is strongest when it stands with allies and with friends".

He added that Mr Hagel, as a Republican, represented the "bipartisan tradition that we need more of in Washington.

"When it comes to the defence of our country we are not Democrats or Republicans but we are Americans." Mr Obama has now filled out his full card for his foreign affairs team. He has already nominated Senator John Kerry, also a Vietnam War veteran, to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.

Mr Brennan, the President's anti-terrorism adviser since 2009, will also face tough questions before he can be confirmed for the top job at the CIA, held by General David Petraeus until he resigned in November amid questions about an extra-marital affair. Mr Brennan withdrew himself from consideration for the same post four years ago because his years of service at the agency had been tainted by alleged connections with the "enhanced" interrogation techniques used during the Bush administration, such as water-boarding.

Mr Brennan, 57, has denied he had anything to do with the Bush-era interrogation practices. He was, however, intimately involved in the killing of Osama bin Laden and the recent reliance on unmanned drones to target and kill other terror targets, a policy that has drawn some sharp criticism overseas. His "service and extraordinary record has prepared him to be an outstanding director of the CIA", one senior official insisted, however. "Brennan has the full trust and confidence of the President. For four years, he has seen the President every day, and been by his side for some of his toughest decisions."

In the end Republicans may balk from blocking Mr Hagel's nomination given he was once one of their own.