Brennan and Hagel: Two nominations to watch

President Obama will nominate White House counter-terrorism official John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency, to replace David Petraeus who resigned last year after acknowledging an extramarital affair.

Brennan, a 25-year CIA veteran, has had stints as deputy executive director, station chief in Saudi Arabia, and top presidential briefer; he has worked in both Republican and Democratic administrations.

Obama considered Brennan for the CIA post after his 2008 election, but Brennan withdrew his name after critics questioned his connections to enhanced interrogation techniques used by CIA during the George W. Bush administration.

Obama has credited Brennan for his work on a variety of issues, from the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden to counter-terrorism efforts in Somalia and Yemen to the challenges of the Arab Spring pro-democracy efforts. He has also been involved in the administrations increased use of unmanned drones for surveillance and attacks on suspected terrorists.

John Brennans career of service and extraordinary record has prepared him to be an outstanding director of the CIA, said a White House statement. Since 9/11, he has been on the front lines in the fight against al Qaeda. Over the past four years, he has been involved in virtually all major national security issues and will be able to hit the ground running at CIA.

Obama plans to make the Brennan announcement at the same time he nominates former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary. But the Hagel nomination is rife with controversy and will likely cause a congressional fight.

When Hagel’s name surfaced last month as a potential nominee, he faced criticism almost immediately. Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, has said on CBS that Hagel lacked the experience to lead the Pentagon. And Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican member of the Armed Services committee, said on NBC that Hagel should not expect many Republican votes. Among Graham’s concerns: whether Hagel is tough enough on Iran and strong enough in his support of Israel.

The former senator shares many of the same ideals of Obama’s first Pentagon leader, Republican Robert Gates. When Obama became president in 2009, he asked Gates to remain as defense secretary. Both Hagel and Gates talk of the need for global answers to regional conflicts and an emphasis on so-called soft power, including economic and political aid, to bolster weak nations.

On the budget, Hagel could be expected to challenge the Pentagon’s commitment to keeping as many troops on active duty as it did during the 1990s and pricey weapons systems such as the F-35 fighter jet, O’Hanlon said.

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