WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama
is ready to nominate former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel
to be the next secretary of defense, the Daily Beast reported Friday, citing sources privy to the process.
According to key Democrats working on the nomination, Obama reached the decision this week, after ruling out Ash Carter, the current deputy secretary of defense, and Michèle Flournoy, a former top Pentagon official, for the position.
The nomination is expected to be announced on Monday or Tuesday.
When Hagel's name was first brought up last month as a possible replacement for Leon Panetta, it drew criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike, indicating Obama might be facing a fight with lawmakers over the decision.
Obama with Hagel (Archive photo: Reuters)
Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, told The Daily Beast Friday that he will oppose the appointment.
“Chuck Hagel’s opposition to Iranian sanctions and support for direct, unconditional talks with its leaders is both at odds with current US policy and a threat to global security," he said. "To make matters worse, he has called for direct negotiations with Hamas.
"The worst possible message we could send to our friend Israel
and the rest of our allies in the Middle East is Chuck Hagel.”
But Hagel has also attracted support from pundits and former national security officials known for their opposition to what they perceive to be a vast pro-Israel lobby. Eleven diplomats, including five who have served as ambassadors to Israel, have spoken out in favor of Hagel's appointment, and prominent columnists Thomas Friedman and Joe Klein both dismissed claims he is anti-Israel, all but expressing their support.
If picked, Hagel, a combat veteran who won a Purple Heart while serving in Vietnam, will preside over a period of budget austerity amid various security demands.
Hagel's critics include the pro-Israel lobby, the gay-equality lobby, and even Armenian-Americans. The opponents say his defenders have not addressed concerns raised about his record as a senator that suggest he holds positions incongruent with Obama on issues like Iran and Hamas.
According to the Daily Beast, when he was a senator, Hagel often made sure not to sign letters circulated by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He also voted against resolutions proposing sanctions against Iran and branding the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist group. In 2009, when he was out of office, Hagel signed a letter urging the Obama administration to encourage the Palestinian Authority reconcile with Hamas, which calls for the destruction of Israel in its charter.
One Democratic Party official told the US news website that these and other discrepancies between the positions held by Hagel and the Obama administration are to be aired out during the confirmation process.
“The president has made crystal clear what his policies are on issues like Iran and Israel, and Senator Hagel will of course have a chance to discuss those issues in a confirmation hearing,” the source said.
The ex-senator’s supporters say that he is a subject of a smear campaign led by William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, and Josh Block, the head of the Israel Project, a pro-Israel nonprofit. The former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski went as far as to blast foreign interference in the nomination process, stopping short of mentioning the Jewish state by name.