UPDATE 3-Obama touts Hagel, says no decision on defense secretary job

Sun Dec 30, 2012 12:11pm EST

* Obama calls former lawmaker a patriot

* Republican senators criticize former colleague

By Jeff Mason and Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON, Dec 30 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama offered strong support for former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as the potential next U.S. defense secretary but said in remarks aired on Sunday that he had not yet decided on a nominee for the Pentagon post.

Hagel is considered a leading candidate to replace outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, but the former Nebraska lawmaker has come under criticism for his record on Israel and for a comment that being gay was an inhibiting factor for being an ambassador.

"I've served with Chuck Hagel. I know him. He is a patriot. He is somebody who has done extraordinary work both in the United States Senate, somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam," Obama told NBC's "Meet the Press" in an interview taped on Saturday and broadcast on Sunday.

Any nomination for defense secretary must be approved by the Senate where some lawmakers have voiced criticism about their former colleague.

"I think a lot of Republicans and Democrats are very concerned about Chuck Hagel's positions on Iran sanctions, his views toward Israel, Hamas and Hezbollah, and that there is wide and deep concern about his policies. All of us like him as a person," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said.

"There would be very little Republican support for his nomination, at the end of the day, there will be very few votes," Graham said on Fox News Sunday.

Republican Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma said bluntly: "I cannot vote for Chuck Hagel."

Aside from his controversial statements, "he does not have the experience to manage a very large organization like the Pentagon," Coburn said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "If there's a place that we need great management it's the Pentagon."

Senator Richard Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, said on the same television show that Hagel deserved "respect for the service he's given our country in the military and in the Senate" and should be given consideration. "He at least deserves a hearing and an opportunity," he said.

Obama said he had seen nothing that would disqualify Hagel.

The president said Hagel had apologized for his comments related to homosexuality, referred to by NBC's David Gregory in the interview.

"With respect to the particular comment that you quoted, he apologized for it," Obama said.

"And I think it's a testimony to what has been a positive change over the last decade in terms of people's attitudes about gays and lesbians serving our country. And that's something that I'm very proud to have led," he said.

Obama came out in favor of gay marriage in the middle of his re-election bid this year. Earlier in his term he presided over the end of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that prohibited gay men and women from serving openly in the U.S. military.

Hagel, who left the Senate in 2008, has faced questions about his record on Israel.

Some of Israel's leading U.S. supporters contend that Hagel at times opposed Israel's interests, voting several times against U.S. sanctions on Iran, and made disparaging remarks about the influence of what he called a "Jewish lobby" in Washington.

Obama, who has strained relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has faced questions of his own from the American Jewish community about his approach to the U.S. ally.

Obama said Hagel was doing an "outstanding job" serving on an intelligence advisory board and gave no indication on when he would make his final decision about the defense chief job.

The president has already backed down once from a contentious nomination, choosing Democratic Senator John Kerry to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state rather than going with his presumed first choice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, whom many Republicans opposed after she made controversial remarks about the Sept. 11 attacks on a U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans.

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Comments (1)
There are many reasons to oppose Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense besides Israel, Anti-Semitism and Iran.

Thomas Friedman and many others that are now supporting Hagel are using magical fairy tale thinking not logic and facts. They believe Hagel will slay the ogre Netanyahu and then everyone will live happily ever after.

if you believe that
you can argue that singling out only Jews for exerting too much influence is not anti-semetic. You could argue that the US should accept an Iranian nuclear weapons program or even an Iranian ICBM program. You could argue that Israel should withdraw to the 1967 armistice lines from which it was attacked in return for nothing and still be pro-Israel.

But to me he is the stereotypical Archie Bunker type bigot. His policies have been anti gay (even now after his late and self serving apology he doesn’t support equal benefits for gay military families. He is anti-African American (with a 17/100 rating from NAACP and admires Strom Thurmond as a great role model. anti Woman (vs choice and contraception)

and

Hagel has drawn additional heat from insiders who claim he lacks the credentials needed to manage a department as large and essential as the Pentagon.

“Yes, Hagel has crazy positions on several key issues. Yes, Hagel has said things that are borderline anti-Semitism. Yes, Hagel wants to gut the Pentagon’s budget. But above all, he’s not a nice person and he’s bad to his staff,” said a senior Republican Senate aide who has close ties to former Hagel staffers.

“Hagel was known for turning over staff every few weeks—within a year’s time he could have an entirely new office because nobody wanted to work for him,” said the source. “You have to wonder how a man who couldn’t run a Senate office is going to be able to run an entire bureaucracy.”

Others familiar with Hagel’s 12 year tenure in the Senate said he routinely intimidated staff and experienced frequent turnover.

“Chuck Hagel may have been collegial to his Senate colleagues but he was the Cornhusker wears Prada to his staff, some of whom describe their former boss as perhaps the most paranoid and abusive in the Senate, one who would rifle through staffers desks and berate them for imagined disloyalty,” said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser on Iran and Iraq. “He might get away with that when it comes to staffers in their 20s, but that sort of personality is going to go over like a ton of bricks at the Pentagon.”

Multiple sources corroborated this view of Hagel.

“As a manager, he was angry, accusatory, petulant,” said one source familiar with his work on Capitol Hill. “He couldn’t keep his staff.”

“I remember him accusing one of his staffers of being ‘f—ing stupid’ to his face,” recalled the source who added that Hagel typically surrounded himself with those “who basically hate Republicans.”

Sources expressed concern about such behavior should Hagel be nominated for the defense post. With competing military and civilian interests vying for supremacy, the department requires a skilled manager, sources said.

“The Pentagon requires strong civilian control,” a senior aide to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told the Free Beacon. “It’s already swung back in favor of the military over the past five years. A new secretary of defense should push it back in its rightful place, but it’s doubtful Hagel would be that guy.”

“It’s not clear that [Hagel] has the standing, the managerial prowess, or the willingness to gore some oxen,” said the source.

One senior Bush administration official warned that Hagel is ill informed about many critical foreign policy matters.

“He’s not someone who’s shown a lot of expertise on these issues,” said the source, referencing a recent Washington Post editorial excoriating Hagel’s record. “That [op-ed] was extraordinary.”

“Only in Washington,” the official added, “can someone like [Hagel] be seen as a heavy weight. He’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer.”

Hagel is likely viewed positively by the administration mainly because he is a Republican who often criticizes his own party, the source said.

“He’ll dance to a tune played by the White House,” said the former official. “That I think is the real problem.”

As lawmakers consider a deal to avoid sweeping budgets cuts and tax hikes, Hagel’s support for slashing spending at the Pentagon has irked many defense hawks.

“This is a time when a secretary of defense needs to be raising hell about the sequestration cuts,” said the Rumsfeld aide. “It’s not clear that Hagel has any interest in picking that fight.”

Hagel’s reluctance to chastise Iran also remains a central concern.

As chief of the Pentagon it is expected he would avoid planning for a military intervention should Tehran refuse to end its clandestine nuclear enrichment program.

“The military brass is already reluctant to offer up any military options on Iran even though it’s their job to have something on the books and to leave the options of the commander in chief open,” said the Rumsfeld aide. “Hagel will only reinforce these worrisome tendencies.”

“Chances are he’ll view any legitimate effort to talk about military options with Iran as some plot by the ‘Israel Lobby’ to box him in,” the source said.

If President Obama nominates him as I expect he will next week, even though he is the opposite of what most of his Democratic base believes, he will not get enough Democratic votes to confirm him.

You already have Senators from Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Georgia. Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Michigan, Arizona, and California express concerns against him and he hasn’t even been nominated.

This would be a major fiasco for his second term. Remember what happened to Bill Clinton when he tried to bring gays into the military early in his term and got pulverized and could never regain power.

Dec 30, 2012 1:17pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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