President Barack Obama today announced his nominations to serve as the next leaders of the Defense Department and Central Intelligence Agency.
At a White House news conference, Obama announced his selection of Chuck Hagel to be next defense secretary and John Brennan as the next CIA director.
If confirmed by the Senate, Hagel will replace Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, who today confirmed his plans to retire. Brennan, if confirmed, will replace David H. Petraeus, who resigned as CIA director in November.
“Chuck Hagel is the leader that our troops deserve,” Obama said. “He is an American patriot. He enlisted in the Army and volunteered for Vietnam. As a young private, and then sergeant, he served with honor alongside his own brother.”
Hagel, 66, a former U.S. senator from Nebraska, earned two Purple Hearts as an infantry squad leader in the Vietnam War. He later co-founded a cellular telephone company.
Obama said Hagel’s brother rescued him when he was injured by shrapnel, and that Hagel did the same when his brother was wounded later, noting that his nominee to lead the Pentagon still “bears the scars and shrapnel for battles he fought in our name.”
“Chuck Hagel’s leadership of our military would be historic,” the president said. “He’d be the first person of enlisted rank to serve as secretary of defense, one of the few secretaries who have been wounded in war, and the first Vietnam veteran to lead the department.”
Obama noted Hagel’s dedication to service members and their families, and said his experiences give him the ability to relate to troops.
“In Chuck Hagel, our troops see a decorated combat veteran of character and strength – they see one of their own,” Obama said. “Chuck is a champion of our troops, veterans and our military families. With Chuck, our troops will always know — just like Sergeant Hagel was there for his own brother — Secretary Hagel will be there for you,” he said.
Hagel’s experience includes stints as deputy administrator for the Veterans Administration — now the Veterans Affairs Department — and as CEO and president of the USO. He served in the Senate from 1997 to 2009, where he was a member of the foreign relations and intelligence committees.
Hagel currently is a professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He is also chairman of the Atlantic Council and co-chairman of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board.
Obama called Brennan “one of our nation’s most skilled and respected intelligence professionals.” The president said Brennan’s 25 years of service in the CIA provides him with the knowledge of what the nation’s security demands are: “intelligence that provides our lawmakers with the facts, strong analytic insight and the keen understanding of a dynamic world.”
Brennan, a 57-year-old New Jersey native, is the deputy national security advisor for homeland security and counterterrorism. During his years at the CIA, he worked as a Near East and South Asia analyst, served as station chief in Saudi Arabia, and directed the National Counterterrorism Center.
“Having held senior management, analytic and operational positions at the agency, John’s committed to investing in the range of intelligence capabilities we need,” Obama said.
“John has an invaluable perspective on the forces, the history, the culture, the politics, economics, [and] the desire for human dignity driving so much of the changes in today’s world,” he added.
Obama said the primary criteria in making his choices was a simple question — “Who is going to do the best job in securing America? These two leaders have dedicated their lives to protecting our country. I am confident they will do an outstanding job.”
Obama congratulated Hagel and Brennan on their nominations and urged the U.S. Senate to act promptly to confirm them.
“When it comes to national security, we don’t like to leave a lot of gaps between the time that one set of leaders transitions out and another transitions in,” he said. “So we need to get moving quickly on this.”