Defense Secretary Nominee Chuck Hagel's Stance on Key Issues

PHOTO: In this Feb. 21, 2007, file photo, then-Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., speaks during an appearance at Bellevue University, in Bellevue, Neb. President Barack Obama nominated Hagel as his next defense secretary on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013.Nati Harnik/AP Photo
In this Feb. 21, 2007, file photo, then-Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., speaks during an appearance at Bellevue University, in Bellevue, Neb. President Barack Obama nominated Hagel as his next defense secretary on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013.

President Barack Obama nominated former senator Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense on Monday afternoon.

Hagel would replace current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who has served in the position since July 2011 and repeatedly declared his intentions to leave early this year. Panetta previously led the Central Intelligence Agency.

"Chuck Hagel is the leader that our troops deserve. He is an American patriot," Obama said from the White House on Monday, adding that "Chuck knows that war is not an abstraction."

While last month's nomination of Democratic Sen. John Kerry to serve as secretary of state garnered relatively bipartisan support, Hagel's confirmation is likely to be more contentious, with his past comments on Israel and gay rights likely to come under the microscope.

But as head of the Defense Department, Hagel will have to immediately deal with the debate over defense spending cuts if he is confirmed. Hagel would also be tasked with managing the withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan, after more than a decade in the country.

As the war winds down, public concern has shifted toward the economy at home and domestic spending on healthcare and programs such as Social Security. Hagel is well aware of that, and has indicated that he's not opposed to defense cuts as the nation shifts some of its focus to domestic issues.

Hagel has even called the defense budget "bloated," which makes many Republicans nervous.

So who is Chuck Hagel, exactly?

1. He's Always had an Independent Streak

The former Nebraska Republican senator and current Georgetown University professor has done anything but toe the party line. Though he voted for the Iraq War, he became one of its most vocal Republican critics. He declined to endorse GOP nominees in 2008 and 2012, and he's been generally supportive of Obama since his first campaign, though he declined to officially endorse him.

He campaigned for Nebraska Democratic Senate candidate Bob Kerrey during the last election season.

Powerful members of his own party, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), have been openly critical of Hagel, as have many Democrats. But he also has the support of some high level Democrats, including Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

He's made controversial comments about Israel and Iran. Some, including Graham, have questioned whether Hagel is a true Israel supporter. In 2006, Hagel referred to pro-Israel groups as the "Jewish lobby," a term many Israel supporters found offensive. And some are wary of his criticism of the idea of a military strike of Iran by either the United States or Israel.

Even as a young person, Hagel ruffled some feathers. He was named deputy administrator of the Veterans Administration, but resigned in the early 1980s over a dispute about cutting funding for programs benefiting veterans. Hagel was against the cuts.

He's also seen by some as reluctant to go to war. While Obama has said repeatedly that he will not accept a nuclear-armed Iran, conservatives have worried that Hagel will be too soft on the issue. But according to Slate, "For the past year, he has been co-chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, where he has won plaudits from several veteran intelligence officials for his probity and objectivity."

2. His Military Experience Has Influenced His Views

The 66-year-old is a veteran of the Vietnam War, where he served as an infantry squad leader and was awarded two purple hearts. Hagel volunteered to join the army, and the experience has influenced his thoughts on taking the country to war. If he is confirmed, he would be the first defense secretary to have seen combat as an enlisted solider. He obtained a college degree with the help of the G.I. Bill and has always advocated for services for veterans.

He's also familiar with military operations and the general culture at the upper echelons of the armed forces, specifically at the Pentagon. He currently sits on the secretary of defense's policy board.

Hagel is more likely than many conservatives to support a more rapid withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. He criticized some of the Bush administration's Afghan war policies, and has made repeated trips to the country. He opposed both the Iraq and Afghanistan troop surges, and is not opposed to defense spending cuts.

According to the Huffington Post, "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."

3. He's had an Impact in Latin America

While much attention is being paid to Hagel's record on Israel and Iran, he has taken action on Latin American issues as well. Hagel cosponsored legislation to ease trade restrictions on Cuba. He even skipped the 2008 Republican national convention to travel to Central and South America.

Hagel has also said the prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba is the reason the country is losing an "image war," and that closing it could help.

As the Washington Post noted, Hagel told CNN, "It's identifiable with, for right or wrong, a part of America that people in the world believe is a power, an empire that pushes people around, we do it our way, we don't live up to our commitments to multilateral institutions."

According to the Post, Hagel criticized Defense Department leaders for not taking responsibility for issues at the prison, such as the harsh treatment of prisoners and the desecrations of the Koran.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) has some concerns about Hagel's Cuba policy, however.

As a Miami Herald blog post notes, "Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has another concern: Hagel's position on Cuba, which has lined up with others who say sanctions are 'outdated, unrealistic, irrelevant policy.'"

Hagel voted in favor of a fence along the United States-Mexico border in 2006.

He has supported free trade agreements with several Latin American countries, including Peru and Chile.

4. He Worked With Sen. Menendez on Immigration Reform

Hagel has been a proponent of immigration reform, working with Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) on a proposal to keep immigrant families together, and he supported the comprehensive immigration reform act of 2007, which would have both increased border security and offered a path to citizenship for some undocumented workers. That bill failed.

5. He's Shifted His Position on Gay Rights

Some gay-rights group are wary of Hagel. He once referred to a gay nominee for ambassador as "openly aggressively gay," and he also supported "Don't ask, don't tell," preventing openly gay people from serving in the military.

The Log Cabin Republicans, a gay GOP group, recently published a newspaper ad opposing Hagel's potential nomination to be defense chief.

But Hagel has reportedly evolved in recent years, stating that he was in favor of ending the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.