WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Monday he will nominate former Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican, to become Defense Secretary and tapped his chief counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, to become director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Hagel would become the first Vietnam veteran and first enlisted soldier to serve as U.S. defense secretary. He would also be one of the few Pentagon chiefs ever to have been wounded in war, President Barack Obama said in announcing his selection on Monday to take over for outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Obama said Senate confirmation of Hagel would be “historic.”
But for Hagel, the road from nomination to confirmation is packed with obstacles — political landmines that could derail the effort.
“Chuck Hagel is the leader that our troops deserve,” the president said, calling him a “patriot” who fought alongside his brother in Vietnam — and each saved the other. Hagel still “bears the scars” from the battles “he fought in our name,” Obama said.
“He understands that sending young Americans to fight and bleed in the dirt and mud is something that we only do when it’s absolutely necessary.”
Hagel said in return that he was “honored by your trust and confidence in me and not unmindful of the immense responsibilities that go with it.”
Praising troops who serve with “such dignity and selflessness,” Hagel expressed support for military families as well, specifically “who have sacrificed so much over more than a decade of war” in Afghanistan.
He vowed to work to “strengthen our country’s alliances and advance global freedom, decency and humanity” in the effort to “build a better world for all mankind.”
Obama also announced his selection of counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to lead the CIA.
“John knows what our national security demands: intelligence that provides policymakers with the facts, strong, analytic insights and a keen understanding of a dynamic world,” Obama said at the White House.
Brennan, 57, worked for the CIA for more than two decades and has been Obama’s assistant for counterterrorism and homeland security since 2009. In that role, Obama said, Brennan worked closely with many government agencies.
The results were clear, the president said. “More al Qaeda leaders and commanders have been removed from the battlefield than at any time since 9/11.”
Brennan has shaped the White House’s strategy to aggressively pursue suspected terrorists — dramatically escalating the use of armed unmanned aircraft, often referred to as drones — and to kill them in the ungoverned territories of Pakistan and in Yemen.
Brennan: Drone attacks are legal, ethical
He was also intimately involved in the run-up to the raid on the Osama bin Laden compound in May 2011.