Hagel, who was elected to the
"I'm not a pacifist. I believe in using force but only after a very careful decision-making process. ... I will do everything I can to avoid needless, senseless war," he said.
By nominating a Republican to run the
The choice also sets up a possibly contentious confirmation fight with Israel's defenders in Washington, some of whom mounted a public campaign to head off Hagel's nomination. They criticized him for past comments calling on Israel to negotiate with Palestinian groups and for opposing some sanctions aimed at Iran.
Hagel, who would succeed
Diving into a fight over nominating Hagel would appear to mark a sharp departure for Obama, who has generally avoided battles over selections for major posts. But a decision to pick another candidate would also have been damaging to Obama because it would have been his second surrender on a top Cabinet choice within a month.
The selection of Hagel would also leave unresolved the problem of how Obama is going to add more women to the senior ranks of his national security apparatus. Senior Democratic women -- including some in the administration -- have said that aside from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, foreign policy has been decided by a small group of men in the White House.
Though senators from both parties have voiced reservations about Hagel, few have announced they would vote against him, a sign of caution the White House may be counting on to get him confirmed.
Hagel's record on Israel and Iran are likely to be the main focus of the nomination battle. William Kristol, the editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, published a "special editorial" Friday accusing him of having "dangerous views on Iran" and an "unpleasant distaste for Israel and Jews."
Critics have cited a comment Hagel made in 2008 to author and former
"The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here," Hagel said, but "I'm a United States senator. I'm not an Israeli senator."
They also have cited his calls for direct
But defenders and former aides say Hagel showed his support for Israel by voting repeatedly to provide it with military aid and by calling for a comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians that should not include any compromise regarding Israel's Jewish identity and that would leave Israel "free to live in peace and security."
They note that he also supported three major Iran sanctions bills: the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act of 1998, the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000 and the Iran Freedom Support Act of 2006.
In the Senate, Hagel initially voted to give the
Obama and Hagel formed a close relationship in the Senate, and their foreign policy views seem closely aligned. Like Obama, Hagel has called for negotiations with Iran over its
Andrew Parasiliti, an aide to Hagel from 2001 to 2005, said Hagel has never ruled out using force against Iran if negotiations fail.
"He is a patriot and war hero, and he has developed a caution, and wisdom, about the use of force that was shaped in part from his experiences on the front lines in that war," Parasiliti said, referring to Vietnam.
Hagel is close to Vice President
A Hagel nomination appealed to some White House aides after the bitter election campaign because it would show bipartisanship and might help win congressional support for expected cuts to the defense budget. He would be the second Republican to run the Defense Department for Obama, who kept
But Hagel's maverick qualities while in the Senate and his criticism of the Bush administration's foreign policy left him with little support in the conservative Republican Senate caucus. And the pro-Israel and gay rights groups that oppose him have strong influence in the Democratic Party.
Obama will need to deal with opposition from a number of pro-Israel senators from both parties who have already raised questions about their support for Hagel. One example is
The presumption is that a president will win Senate approval for his nominees for top posts. Only in rare cases, such as Sen. John Tower's nomination for the Defense post in the 1980s, has the Senate blocked such a choice.