Obama’s nominations of Hagel and Brennan signal course adjustments at Pentagon and CIA
President Obama is assembling a national security
team designed for an era of downsized but enduring conflict, a team that will be
asked to preside over the return of exhausted American troops and wield power
through the targeted use of sanctions, Special Operations forces and drone
Obama’s nominations of former senator Chuck Hagel as defense secretary and White House
counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan as CIA director signal second-term course
adjustments at institutions that have been dominated by their lethal assignments
during more than a decade of war.
Those adjustments could include returning the CIA’s focus to its core mission
of gathering intelligence, even though it is expected to maintain its fleet of armed drones for years. The Pentagon faces an
even more aggressive restructuring to balance budget cuts against threats,
including China’s ascendent military and emerging al-Qaeda affiliates in North
Africa and the Middle East.
The nominations also set the stage for confirmation fights driven not only by
criticism of Hagel and Brennan but also by the foreign policy approach they
Hagel, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, shares Obama’s aversion to military
intervention. White House officials described him as ideally suited to managing
the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and the shrinking Pentagon budget.
But he has attracted fierce criticism from groups that question the strength of his support for Israel.
Brennan is a 25-year CIA veteran who has voiced concern over the agency’s
paramilitary mission and has imposed tighter controls on targeted killing, even
while his White House tenure has been marked by a massive increase in the
agency’s drone campaign.
Four years ago, Brennan withdrew from consideration to lead the CIA amid
questions about his role as a high-ranking CIA official at a time when the
agency employed brutal interrogation techniques — a link certain to resurface
when he faces a Senate vote.
Both men are known for their strong personalities and strongly held views.
Still, associates described them as comfortable fits for an administration that
favors covert action — including Predator drone strikes on al-Qaeda targets and
cyber-sabotage of Iran’s nuclear plants — over
In announcing the nominees, Obama said that their agenda would include
“ending the war in Afghanistan and caring for those who have borne the battle,
[and] preparing for the full range of threats.” He also emphasized their
experiences in the lower ranks of the institutions they would run, saying both
served overseas and understand firsthand “the consequences of decisions that we
make in this town.”
Obama avoided one confirmation fight when U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice withdrew from consideration to be secretary of state amid
criticism of her role in the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. diplomatic post
in Benghazi, Libya. Instead, Obama turned to a compromise pick, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.). The former presidential
candidate has established relationships with foreign leaders that could help the
administration push for tougher sanctions on Iran, expand its pursuit of
al-Qaeda beyond Yemen and Pakistan, and deal with the Syrian civil war.