Who Is Chuck Hagel? Obama's Nominee for Secretary of Defense

PHOTO: Chuck Hagel is pictured during his service in the Vietnam War, circa 1967-68.
Share
Copy

President Obama nominated former Senator Chuck Hagel as the next U.S. secretary of defense. To those who haven't followed the Senate closely in the past decade, he's probably not a household name.

Hagel is a former GOP senator from Nebraska and Purple-Heart-decorated Vietnam veteran, but he wouldn't necessarily be a popular pick with Republicans in Congress.

At age 21, Hagel and his brother Tom became the next in the family to serve in the United States Army. They joined the masses of Americans fighting an unfamiliar enemy in Vietnam.

In his book, he describes finding himself "pinned down by Viet Cong rifle fire, badly burned, with my wounded brother in my arms."

"Mr. President, I'm grateful for this opportunity to serve our country again," Hagel said after Obama announced his nomination Monday.

In 1971, Hagel took his first job in politics as chief of staff to Congressman John Y. McCollister, a position he held for six years. After that, he moved to Washington for the first time, where he went on to work for a tire company's government affairs office, the 1982 World's Fair and in 1981, as Ronald Reagan's Deputy Administrator of the Veterans Administration.

He worked in the private sector for most of the 80s and 90s before his first election to the Senate in 1997. Since the turn of the century, Hagel has followed a curvy path of political alliances that puts his endorsements all over the map. Hagel's record of picking politically unpopular positions could be a large part of why Obama is naming him for the job, as Slate's Fred Kaplan surmises the next Defense secretary will be faced with tough choices.

In 2000, he was one of few Republican senators to back Sen. John McCain over then-presidential-candidate George W. Bush.

After that election, Hagel fiercely criticized Bush for adding 30,000 surge troops to Iraq, in place of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group's proposal of a draw-down and regional diplomacy, which Hagel preferred. When Bush instead announced that more troops would go to Iraq, Hagel co-sponsored a nonbinding resolution to oppose it, along with then-Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del.

"The president says, 'I don't care.' He's not accountable anymore," Hagel told Esquire in June 2007. "He's not accountable anymore, which isn't totally true. You can impeach him, and before this is over, you might see calls for his impeachment. I don't know. It depends how this goes."

Hagel's fierce opposition to America's involvement in Iraq – he called it one of the five monumental blunders of history, on par with the Trojan War – will be of substantial importance as the Obama administration charts our course out of Afghanistan, deciding how to withdraw the last of the troops in 2014 and how much of a presence to leave behind.

Hagel's support for McCain, which was substantial in his competition against Bush, disappeared in the 2008 election. Hagel toured Iraq and Afghanistan with Obama during his first campaign for the presidency.

In October 2008, Hagel's wife, Lillibet, announced her support for the Obama team, after the Washington Post reported on her donations to his campaign. She donated again in 2012.

Before the 2008 election, Hagel wrote: "The next president of the United States will face one of the most difficult national security decisions of modern times: what to do about an Iran that may be at the threshold of acquiring nuclear weapons."

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...