Pentagon Front-Runner Has Strong Obama Ties
Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel is a contrarian Republican moderate and decorated Vietnam combat veteran who is likely to support a more rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
As President Barack Obama’s top candidate for defense secretary, Hagel has another credential important to the president: a personal relationship with Obama, forged when they were in the Senate and strengthened during overseas trips they took together.
Hagel, 66, emerged last week as the front-runner for the Pentagon’s top job, four years after leaving behind a Senate career in which he carved out a reputation as an independent thinker and blunt speaker.
Wounded during the Vietnam War, Hagel backed the Iraq war, but later became a fierce and credible critic of the Bush administration’s war policies, making routine trips to Iraq and Afghanistan. He opposed President George W. Bush’s plan to send an additional 30,000 troops into Iraq — a move that has been credited with stabilizing the chaotic country — as “the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it’s carried out.”
While Hagel supported the Afghanistan war resolution, over time he has become more critical of the decade-plus conflict, with its complex nation-building effort.
Often seeing the Afghan war through the lens of his service in Vietnam, Hagel has declared that militaries are “built to fight and win wars, not bind together failing nations.” In a radio interview this year, he spoke broadly of the need for greater diplomacy as the appropriate path in Afghanistan, noting that “the American people want out” of the war.