White House Defends Hagel as Obama Mulls Pentagon Choice

Getty Images

By Reuters

Published December 20, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The White House on Thursday came to the defense of former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel against critics who have attacked his record on Israel and Iran in a bid to head off his possible nomination as President Barack Obama’s next Pentagon chief.

With Hagel considered a leading choice for defense secretary, the administration joined allies rallying to support him against the onslaught, led by some pro-Israel groups and neo-conservatives, but also including former colleagues on Capitol Hill.

It was the second time since Obama’s re-election last month that the White House has found itself forced to defend a Cabinet candidate who has yet to be nominated for anything, a source of frustration for the president’s advisers.

Obama’s aides have been preparing for a realignment of his national security team, possibly by Friday, sources familiar with the process have said. But with Obama focused on the “fiscal cliff” standoff and the Hagel controversy also fueling concerns, an announcement could easily be delayed.

Some American Jewish leaders contend Hagel, who left the Senate in 2008, at times opposed Israel’s interests, voting several times against U.S. sanctions on Iran, and made disparaging remarks about the influence of what he called a “Jewish lobby” in Washington.

White House spokesman Jay Carney made clear Obama’s faith in the former lawmaker, who is a decorated Vietnam war veteran.

“Senator Hagel fought and bled for his country. He served his country well. He was an excellent senator,” Carney said, without acknowledging that Hagel was under consideration to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. He did not address any of the specific criticisms aimed at Hagel.

The controversy over Hagel’s possible nomination comes after U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice withdrew from consideration for secretary of state last week amid withering attacks from Republicans over her role in initial explanations of the deadly September assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

“We’ve been through this before with Ambassador Rice where there’s an effort to go after somebody,” Carney said.

The drumbeat of criticism against Hagel could prompt Obama to reconsider whether it would be worth the likely Senate confirmation battle. But the White House has given no sign of dropping him the president’s short list.

Obama himself has been criticized by some Jewish leaders for his approach to close U.S. ally Israel, especially given his strained relations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • 13 Israeli soldiers die in Gaza — the deadliest day for the IDF in decades. So much for 'precision' strikes and easy exit strategies.
  • What do a Southern staple like okra and an Israeli favorite like tahini have in common? New Orleans chef Alon Shaya brings sabra tastes to the Big Easy.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.