Obama nominates outspoken Republican Chuck Hagel for top defence job

Senator Chuck Hagel
Senator Chuck Hagel Photo: REUTERS/Dave Kaup

President Obama has nominated the former Republican Senator and Vietnam veteran Chuck Hagel to be America's next secretary of defence.

His decision, which must still be confirmed by the Senate, has already proved controversial - both because he is a Republican and because of his views on certain issues.

Speaking during a press conference at the White House, President Obama said that US troops would look up to Hagel as a "decorated war veteran of character and strength".

The president also announced his counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan as his nominee for the next director of the CIA.

Hagel would bring to the post considerable experience in the military - he servedas an infantry squad leader in the Vietnam war - as well as political credibility.

Mr Obama stressed Hagel's bipartisan appeal, saying: "When it comes to the defence of our country we are not Democrats or Republicans - we are Americans".

Hagel has attracted criticism from some of his Republican colleagues for disparaging remarks about what he once called a "Jewish lobby" in Washington. He was also an outspoken critic of the Bush Administration's handling of the Iraq War.

In 1998, he came under fire for saying that a nominee for an ambassadorial post was not qualified because he was "openly, aggressively gay" - a remark for which he later apologised.

Former US President George W. Bush visits troops stationed in Iraq in 2003
Former US President George W. Bush visits troops stationed in Iraq in 2003 Credit: REUTERS/Larry Downing

Hagel was born to a poor family in North Platte, Nebraska and enlisted in the US Army as a young man. He went on to win two Purple Hearts for bravery - one of them for saving his brother's life.

After returning to civilian life, he served a stint in the Veterans Administration and made a fortune as a businessman in the fledgling mobile phone industry.

He was elected to represent Nebraska in the Senate twice in 1996 and 2002.