A Democratic aide to the president defended the nomination, saying the White House is confident that it can garner enough yes votes from both sides of the political aisle.
“The President knows him well, has traveled with him to Iraq and Afghanistan, trusts him, and believes he represents the proud tradition of a strong, bipartisan foreign policy in the United States,” the aide said.
Hagel’s nomination is, however, expected to spark a row in the Senate. Many pro-Israeli groups and neoconservatives have voiced strong disapproval of Hagel over his criticism of Washington’s anti-Iran policies and Israel’s sway over the US political arena.
“This is an in-your-face nomination by the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel,” South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on Sunday, suggesting that Hagel would face a tough nomination process.
“I don’t know what his management experience is regarding the Pentagon, little, if any, so I think it’s an incredibly-controversial choice,” he pointed out.
While Hagel was considering a presidential bid in 2007, he was criticized by the National Jewish Democratic Council, which said the senator “has a lot of questions to answer about his commitment to Israel.”
In 2009, Hagel signed a statement, calling on Obama to encourage a unity government between the two major Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas.
The top nominee for the post of defense secretary was also the first Republican senator to publicly criticize the war in Iraq, calling it the worst foreign-policy blunder since the Vietnam War, and has consistently opposed any plan to launch military strike against Iran.
If confirmed, the 66-year-old will succeed current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at the Pentagon that faces budget cuts and a scaling back of the US-led war in Afghanistan.