Despite Criticism

Obama Nominates Chuck Hagel as Next U.S. Secretary of Defense

U.S. president also nominates John Brennan as new CIA director, to succeed retired general David Petraeus; choice of Hagel likely to set up tough Senate confirmation battle against critics who have attacked his record on Israel and Iran.

President Barack Obama on Monday announced his choice of Chuck Hagel as his next defense secretary and counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, two potentially controversial picks for his second-term national security team.

Hagel has faced tough criticism from congressional Republicans who say the former Republican senator is anti-Israel and soft on Iran. Brennan, a 25-year CIA veteran, withdrew from consideration for the spy agency's top job in 2008 amid questions about his connection to criticized interrogation techniques during the George W. Bush administration.

Brennan's nomination also will draw attention to the highly secretive U.S. drone program, which is highly unpopular overseas. He was the first Obama administration official to publicly acknowledge the targeted killing operations.

Obama called Hagel "the leader that our troops deserve" and said both men understand that "the work of protecting our nation is never done."

Along with secretary of state nominee Sen. John Kerry, Hagel and Brennan would play key roles implementing and shaping Obama's national security priorities. All three must be confirmed by the Senate.

In nominating Hagel, Obama signaled he is willing to take on a tough confirmation fight. The 66-year-old moderate Republican has criticized discussion of a military strike by either the U.S. or Israel against Iran. He also irritated some Israel supporters with his reference to the "Jewish lobby" in the United States. And he has backed efforts to bring Iran to the table for future peace talks in Afghanistan.

The second-ranking Senate Republican, John Cornyn, said in a statement that making Hagel defense secretary would be "the worst possible message we could send to our friend Israel and the rest of our allies in the Middle East."