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President Obama’s nominations of Chuck Hagel as secretary of Defense and John Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, with his previous choice of Sen. John Kerry as secretary of State, form the core of his national security team for his second term.
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Mr. Hagel and Mr. Brennan have the President’s confidence and respect — key elements in their ability to do the jobs for which they are nominated. Mr. Obama worked closely with Mr. Hagel, previously a Republican senator from Nebraska, when he was a senator from Illinois. Mr. Obama cites Mr. Hagel’s background as a twice-wounded, decorated noncommissioned officer in the Vietnam war, with its implied emphasis on the well-being and concerns of soldiers with more recent service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mr. Obama’s choice of a Republican for such a key position suggests that he has not given up on the possibility of good working relations with the opposing party in Congress, in spite of the hissing that accompanies bipartisan efforts to resolve the nation’s problems.
Mr. Brennan has served as the President’s deputy national security adviser for homeland security and counterterrorism for the past four years. At the CIA, he would succeed retired Gen. David Petraeus, who stepped down in November after revelation of an extramarital affair.
Both nominees will face vigorous questioning from senators during their confirmation hearings, as they should. Mr. Hagel’s critics are focusing on remarks he made and votes he cast as a senator on such issues as the nomination of a gay ambassador, his clumsy reference to “the Jewish lobby,” sanctions against Iran, and a surge in troop levels in Iraq.
Mr. Hagel probably also picked up a few enemies in the Senate. Yet recent criticism of him by Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona contrasts sharply with Mr. McCain’s previous characterization of Mr. Hagel as someone he would be proud to work with “in any capacity.”
Mr. Brennan is drawing fire from critics for his positions on the CIA practice of rendition — handing prisoners over to foreign powers to interrogate through torture — and on America’s expanding use of unmanned drones to eliminate U.S. enemies in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, a tactic that sometimes kills or wounds innocent people.
Mr. Hagel and Mr. Brennan should be questioned closely at their hearings to address senators’ reservations about them. But unless disqualifying information is revealed, President Obama should be allowed to field the team he has chosen to help him govern the country.